2018 Honorees Announced

Lt. John Kapstein, Providence Journal, August 1943.

Awardees have Woonsocket, Cranston, Newport, Providence, East Greenwich, East Providence and Narragansett connections, and include alumni of St. George’s School, Hope, Central, East Providence, Woonsocket and Cranston High Schools, and the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island School of Design.

The Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame will induct five new members and recognize the contributions of six other individuals at their 16th annual ceremony and dinner to be held at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center in Cranston on Saturday evening, November 17th.

Admiral Richard E. Byrd (1888-1957) headlines the list of honorees. Byrd, retired early from the Navy in 1916 because of an ankle injury, was assigned to be the Inspector-Instructor of the RI Naval Militia in 1916. He supervised the Militia’s acquisition of its first seaplane, and helped usher this state into military aviation. He then became the Militia’s last commander, serving in that capacity until the Militia was federalized on April 6, 1917. He eventually earned his wings at Pensacola and went on to his spectacular career as a polar explorer and pioneer aviator. He will receive Special Recognition accolades.

This year’s Galkin Award, named for the Hall of Fame’s most generous benefactors, goes to Providence inductee John J. Kapstein, a highly decorated WWII attack bomber pilot who became a force in East-West business, entertainment, and cultural trade during the depths of the Cold War. The award, first given in 2017, is named after Warren and Robert Galkin, and is given to an individual whose contribution to aviation includes an advancement of the field, be it though technology, design, implementation, exploration, bold initiative and/or risk-taking.

RI Aviation Hall of Fame will also acknowledge the sacrifice of Air Force Colonel Fredric Moore Mellor, Rhode Island’s 1965 MIA whose remains were so recently returned home.

Everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend. Online ticketing is closed, but limited seating remains. For further information, please call 401-398-1000 or 401-831-8696.

Honorees are selected by an ad hoc committee representing a number of aviation groups. The committee includes all previous inductees, such as Robert Crandall, former chairman of American Airlines; Jennifer Murray, the first woman to fly a helicopter around the world; and Apollo 8 Astronaut Bill Anders.

2018 Inductees

Thomas J. H. Peirce (1888-1956), a Providence native, is one of the most accomplished and least known Rhode Islanders from the first half of the 20th century. After attending Providence public schools, he graduated from the RI School of Design (RISD) in 1907 and became an accomplished designer, architect and engineer. In 1916 Peirce was one of the first two military aviators in the state (and the first Naval Aviator). Had his RI Naval Militia flying time counted, he would have been among the first 25 men ever to fly for the Navy. He commanded the Aeronautical Section of the RI Naval Militia from the time it acquired its first airplane in early July, 1916. He served as a flight instructor at Pensacola and Hampton Roads, VA and commanded the first Naval Air Station at Squantum, MA. Later he was sent to the Panama Canal Zone, where he served as XO until the armistice was signed.  In 1924 he joined the Army National Guard, eventually becoming a Lieutenant Colonel in the 118th Engineers. In the 1920s and 1930s he resumed his architecture and design business, and was very active in promoting aviation and airport development. A lifelong proponent of aviation, he was secretary of the committee in 1929 that chose Hillsgrove as the site for the Providence Airport. By 1935 he was a member of the State Planning Board, and for several years served as Chief of the State Division of Forests, Parks and Parkways. In 1939 he moved to Siesta Key, just outside of Sarasota, Florida; but by the time he left Rhode Island, he had left behind an architectural and engineering legacy. He designed many public buildings still in use in the Providence area, and is the holder of at least three patents.

Raymond Noble Estey (1886-1980), a native of Waterbury, CT, moved to Rhode Island in 1909 and became an early photographer for the Providence Tribune. He assisted 2006 inductee Gerald Hanley with his first airplane in 1913, and produced some of the very first aerial photos of Rhode Island that year. While retaining his job as a news photographer, he joined the RI Naval Militia in 2015 in order to fly. He documented early militia flying in 1916. When he was unable to obtain a flying rating after war was declared in April, 1917, he left the militia to join the Lafayette Flying Corps. Arriving in France just as the Lafayette Flying Corps was disbanded, he joined the US Army Air Service and flew in combat with 99th Aero Squadron until the end of the war. After the war he was a vocal proponent of aviation and veterans’ causes. He continued his career in aerial photography, moving to California in 1941. He died in 1980 in his 95th year.

John J. Kapstein (1918-2016) is the only American buried in Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery, roughly the Russian equivalent of Arlington National Cemetery. A native of Providence, he graduated from Hope High School and enlisted in the 103rd Field Artillery of the RI National Guard in 1934 by lying about his age. He eventually became a highly decorated World War II bomber pilot. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, eight Air Medals, the French Croix de Guerre, and the Russian medal of the Great Patriotic War, all related to his combat missions flying the B-26 Martin Marauder in the Mediterranean Theater. His final assignment was the Office of the Inspector General of the Army Air Forces at West Point. After the war Kapstein helped train pilots and acquire aircraft for the newly created country of Israel. Kapstein later became a force in East-West business, entertainment, and cultural trade during the depths of the Cold War; he received the Russian Order of Friendship in October, 2009, from Russian Ambassador to France. He died in Italy in 2016 in his 99th year.

CW5 Joseph S. Ludovici, U.S. Army (Retired) (1938-2017) was eight months old when he was taken on his first airplane ride; he soloed on his 16th birthday, after his sophomore year at Woonsocket High School. Joseph was a lifelong pilot, both as a civilian and as a member of the RI Army National Guard (1955-1997). From 1985 to 1997 he served as an instructor pilot for the RI Army National Guard, from which he retired as Chief Warrant Officer 5 (CW5). In 1969, he took over as owner/president of Skylanes, Inc, a fixed base operation at North Smithfield Airport started by his father Sabbie, a 2004 honoree of RI Aviation Hall of Fame. In 2005 the Federal Aviation Administration awarded him the coveted Wright Brothers’ “Master Pilot” Award. Two years later the Aviation Safety Group of Massachusetts presented him with their Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2008 he received Aero Club of New England’s Rhode Island Award. In addition to his various service awards and commendations, Joe earned the Humanitarian Service Medal when he was activated to support relief efforts during the infamous “Blizzard of 1978”. In Joe’s lifetime, he logged well in excess of 20,000 flight hours, including more than 12,500 in airplanes and more than 7,500 in helicopters. Most of these hours were spent instructing the more than 5,000 students Joe taught to fly.

Special Recognition Awardees

Theodore Phinney Grosvenor (1897-1985), was born in Providence, the scion of one of the first families of Rhode Island, operators of the Grosvenordale Mills. After graduating in 1916 from St. George’s School in Newport, he entered Harvard that fall, joining ROTC. He enlisted in the Navy on March 23, 1917, with the intention of going into aviation. He earned his wings in December, 1917, and was assigned to the US Naval Air Station at Killingholme, England. For the most part he crewed H-16 Flying Boats, patrolling the sea lanes for enemy surface ships, submarines, planes and dirigibles. He returned to the family textile business after the war, then became an investment banker after the mills were sold. He returned to service during WWII, first patrolling for German subs in the Caribbean. He was then transferred to Hawaii where he commanded a Carrier Aircraft Service Unit, maintained most types of combat aircraft, receiving new planes, training personnel in their duties and commissioning men and planes as squadrons. He resigned from the Naval Reserve on November 1, 1949 as a Commander. After World War II, Ted returned to Newport where he continued to fly and sail until poor eyesight curtailed those activities. He took up art–sculpture in particular–and made many fine pieces for friends and family. He was active in the community and played an important role in establishing the Newport County Boys and Girls Club.

Henry D’Amico (1921-2009) was born and raised in East Providence to Italian immigrant parents. A graduate of East Providence High School, he was a WWII fighter pilot who flew 75 combat missions over Europe in his P-47 Thunderbolt, affectionately named Li’l-Rhody.  As part of the 9th Air Force, 1st Lieutenant D’Amico flew escort flights, dive bombing and strafing missions, and close support for ground troops.  His squadron was the first unit to provide air support for the D-Day operations in the Invasion of Normandy, during which he flew cover over Cherbourg. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, EAME Theater Medal with 4 Bronze Stars for Air Offensive (Europe, Normandy, Northern France, and Germany campaigns), and the Air Medal with twelve Oak Leaf Clusters. He married his sweetheart and attended the University of Florida on the G.I. Bill, where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture. He went on to have a very successful career, raised four children with his wife Jean, and spent summers in Rhode Island visiting family.

China Service Award:

Harry A. Smith (1923-2012), nose gunner on a 14th Air Force B24 Liberator bomber, was a member of a crew that bailed out of a lost aircraft over China and trekked some 800 miles to safety over a several week period in 1944. Born in Cranston in March 1923, he attended Central High School in Providence and enlisted in the Air Corps in 1942. He attended aerial gunnery school at Tyndall Field, Florida, followed by training at the Flexible Gunnery school in Laredo, Texas. He then went to Lowry Air Field near Denver for the armorer’s course, where he learned basic maintenance on all aerial guns, up to 37mm. Smith was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for “extraordinary achievement in aerial flight”, participating in more than 200 hours of combat flying as an aerial gunner from bases in China between December 1943 and August 1944. His discharge record identifies service in New Guinea, India and Burma in addition to China. He also earned multiple Air Medals and campaign decorations. A welder by trade, he died in Pennsylvania in 2012.

A Big Thank You to Our 2018 Sponsors & Donors:

Southwest Airlines


Taiwan Economic & Cultural Office



RI Military Order of Foreign Wars (MOFW)

BG James D’Agostino

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