The History of the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame

The first inductions into the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame (RIAHOF) took place in December, 2003, in conjunction with the USS Saratoga Museum Foundation’s celebration of the Centennial of Aviation.

The first reaction from skeptics was to snicker and say, “Well, this is Rhode Island; you’ll run out of candidates in a few years.”

Little did those skeptics know just how rich and varied our aviation history is, and just how many wonderfully skilled and talented contributors to the aerial age have been born in RI, were educated here, lived here for a portion of their lives or performed some great aviation-related act or service here.

Each year’s induction, and the publicity it receives, generates more recommendations from people just like yourselves. Many of you have written or called to let us know about the role a family member, neighbor or friend may have played in our state’s rich aviation history. In fact, six of our last ten inductees were not even on our radar screen the previous year. They have been honored because some of you picked up the phone or sent us an e-mail.

That means that some of our original nominees from 2003 are still on the waiting list, because each year brings forth more new and deserving nominees. Once more the skeptics were wrong; we will not run out of deserving candidates for some time to come.

Purposes & Goals

RIAHOF exists to increase public awareness of the history and technological development of aviation, with an emphasis on the role played by the state of Rhode Island and its residents in aviation’s progress over the years. To accomplish that goal, RIAHOF recognizes and honors individuals and organizations who played a role in that progress.

We hope to inform and educate the public about aviation history in general, and Rhode Island’s aviation heritage in particular. To accomplish that goal, we intend to:

  • Acquire, preserve, protect and interpret vintage aircraft and other artifacts;
  • Collect and display materials associated with Rhode Island’s aviation heroes;
  • Restore to operational condition artifacts of significance, so they can be observed in the historical environment and context their builders  and users intended;
  • Provide a suitable facility for displaying, maintaining (and restoring as necessary) our collection, and provide maximum public access to the collection and related programming;
  • Develop exhibits to show what life was like during periods covered by the collection;
  • Develop a significant math and science center, a living laboratory for cutting-edge computer technology and virtual reality;
  • Become an economic engine, creating jobs and generating economic impact;
  • Motivate students through innovative programming, providing them with useful skills and experiences to help them become productive members of society;
  • Become a true community resource: a safe haven for children, a vocational training center, and an important family recreation and entertainment destination and a facility for major special events;
  • Work with other organizations which will support this mission.

Officers and Directors

President and Treasurer: Francis L. Lennon

Mr. Lennon is a West Point graduate, a decorated Vietnam veteran and former Green Beret with corporate experience in commercial aviation.  He holds an M.A. in International Relations from Boston University. For 20 years he ran his own marketing, promotion and publishing business. He has also been an analyst on MSNBC for terrorism and special operations issues. His introduction to museums came in 1996, when he took over the Geneseo, NY-based Wings of Eagles Air Show and the National Warplane Museum. Since 1998 he has led the effort to create a family attraction, educational center, museum and memorial in Rhode Island, featuring an aircraft carrier as the centerpiece. He also successfully negotiated the relocation of the Russian submarine Juliett 484 to Providence, organized and ran Rhode Island’s salute to the centennial of aviation, and launched the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame.

Secretary: William E. Sheridan

Mr. Sheridan is a practicing attorney with extensive experience consulting on municipal planning issues. He served for more than 30 years in various capacities in State government, retiring as Assistant Chief of the Statewide Planning Office in the RI Department of Administration, where he was responsible for Comprehensive Land Use and Transportation Planning. He is also a private pilot and a Founder of the Quonset Air Museum. He received his JD from Suffolk University, and also earned a Masters Degree in public administration from the University of Rhode Island. Mr. Sheridan is also former chief of the Fruit Hill Volunteer Fire Department, an organization he served for 25 years.

Vice President: BG James J. D’Agostino, USAF (Ret)

General D’Agostino is the former Deputy Commanding General and Assistant Adjutant General for Air of the RI National Guard. He started his military service by enlisting in the Army, and earned the Combat Infantry Badge in Vietnam. He spent 21 years with the Air Force, to include service as the Base Civil Engineer responsible for the Coventry and North Smithfield Guard Stations; six years with the National Guard Bureau; and United States Property and Fiscal Officer for Rhode Island. His civilian experience includes 11 years with the City of Providence, culminating as Deputy City Traffic Engineer. He is Past President of the Reserve Officers Association (Rhode Island).

Director: Jo Ann Engelhardt

Ms. Engelhardt is Managing Director of the Bessemer Trust operation in Palm Beach, Florida. Previously she served as President and CEO of Merrill Lynch Trust Company’s Florida operation. She also served on the board of the USS Saratoga Museum Foundation for a number of years. A Brooklyn native, she holds a JD and an LLM from NYU. Her banking experience (which also includes US Trust and Citicorp Trust) combined with her legal background make her a very valuable asset to guide the board in such matters, and the ideal person to establish and development the Foundation’s endowment program.

Director: John V. Gibbons, Jr.

Mr. Gibbons is responsible for all restoration and maintenance projects. He holds a private pilot license as well as an Airframe and Powerplant mechanic license.  At one point in his career he was also crew chief for fan jet Falcons assigned  to  General Electric ‘s Flight Propulsion Division. He is the former Director of Maintenance  for Executive  Airlines. Later, he owned and operated a major automotive repair facility and a Midas Muffler franchise in East Greenwich, RI. He has been involved with the USS Saratoga and USS JFK projects for more than 18 years. During that period he supervised and execute the disassembly, transport and reassembly of two F4 Phantoms, an F9F Panther and an AV8-C Harrier. He has been active in local politics, including service on the North Kingstown Zoning Board, Asset Management Commission, High School Building Committee and one term on the Town Council.

Director: CAPT Richard D. Suttie, USN (Ret)

Captain Suttie served 32 years in the Navy as an aviator, diplomat and educator. He now directs Homeland Security’s partnership program involving some 360 universities across the US.  Previously, he was the Assistant Dean for Executive Education at USC’s Marshall School of Business, and  Superintendent of Schools for a private K-12 school system in Los Angeles.  Captain Suttie logged more than 3,500 hours in various naval aircraft, primarily the P-3 Orion. He embarked with Battle Group staffs on USS Midway and USS Missouri, and was subsequently assigned as Naval Attaché in London. He was Dean for Research and Wargaming at the Naval War College, and was qualified as a Major Defense Acquisition Programs Manager.  Rich is a native of San Diego and a graduate of USC, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, the Maxwell School of Public Policy at Syracuse, the Naval War College, and the Naval Postgraduate School.

Director: Dr. Geoffrey Wilson, LCDR, USN

Dr. Wilson received his Doctorate in Medicine from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in 2004. Upon graduation from internship he reported to the USS John F. Kennedy(CV-67) as the General Medical Officer, caring for more than 3000 sailors from July 2005-July 2007.  He assisted in the ship’s decommissioning in 2007.  He then went on to a Residency in Anesthesiology at the Tufts Medical Center in  Boston. From 2010 to 2014 he served as VP and then President of the Medical Staff at Naval Health Clinic New England in Newport. During that period he deployed twice to the Naval Hospital at Guantanamo Bay. He is now assigned to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in DC.

Director: COL Ernest R. Oliveira, USAF (Ret)

Colonel Oliveira is a Vietnam veteran who earned the Distinguished Flying Cross during his three combat tours in Southeast Asia as a B52 Electronic Warfare Officer. He also commanded the 281st Combat Communications Group, Rhode Island Air National Guard.  He holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from UMass, Dartmouth as well as advanced degrees from College of Naval Warfare and Salve Regina.  At the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport he served as Branch Head and as the Chief Engineer for the SEAWOLF Class Submarine Combat System Program.  He is now a Special Projects Manager at McLaughlin Research Corporation, supporting the SEAWOLF Program, Advanced Unmanned Undersea Vehicles and a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) / Joint Congressional Plus-up initiative.

Director: Bradley A. Senter

Mr. Senter of Texas City, Texas served for 21 years as President of the USS Saratoga Association, representing the the 65,000 sailors, marines and air crew who served aboard USS Saratoga (CVA/CV-60), and also those who served on the World War II carrier CV-3. He enlisted in the Navy and served in Saratoga from1961-64. After re-enlisting he served aboard Saratoga’s sister ship, Independence, and two WWII-era destroyers. Shore duty in Great Lakes followed; he was then transferred to Danang, Viet Nam with a Naval Intelligence assignment. His tour  included the Tet offensive. He worked for the Galveston County Sheriffs Department before joining Union Carbide as a process specialist. He retired in 2002.

Director: RADM Donald E. Weiss, USN (Ret)

Admiral Weiss, a former Commanding Officer of the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, has served as a board member of the USS Saratoga Museum Foundation, Inc. for several years. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and was designated a Naval Aviator in February 1970. Before his retirement he also commanded the USS Carl Vinson Battle Group (Carrier Group Three) and also all U.S. Naval Forces in Japan. After his Navy retirement, he served as a senior executive with Lockheed-Martin.

Director: Michael Spieth

Mr. Spieth has been employed for 20 years at Tech-Etch in Fall River, MA, in a manufacturing engineering capacity. He uses CAD/CAM software for design, and hardware/software for automation to improve production. He has been involved in the aviation community since 1999 when he obtained his private pilots license.  Since 2007 he has been a member of Rhode Island Chapter 1363 of the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association). He became vice president in 2008  and is now president. He also served as vice president of  the Rhode Island Pilots Association and has been president since 2016. His volunteer role with the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame and the JFK project began in 2012, with an emphasis on improving the workshop area to better enable the restoration of aircraft.

Click here for our current selection committee listing (PDF file).

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