SecAF celebrates aviation heritage, meets with aviation leaders at Oshkosh

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson laughs with Women's Auxiliary Service Pilot Jane Doyle while she autographs a T-shirt following a group portrait of women aviators in Oshkosh, Wisc., July 26, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson laughs with Women's Auxiliary Service Pilot Jane Doyle while she autographs a T-shirt following a group portrait of women aviators in Oshkosh, Wisc., July 26, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson encourages Wisconsin Civil Air Patrol Cadet Hamilton at the Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture 2017 in Oshkosh, Wisc., July 26, 2017.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson encourages Wisconsin Civil Air Patrol Cadet Hamilton at the Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture 2017 in Oshkosh, Wisc., July 26, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson learns about innovative development using virtual reality during the Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture 2017 in Oshkosh, Wisc., July 26, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson learns about innovative development using virtual reality during the Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture 2017 in Oshkosh, Wisc., July 26, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Multiple B-25s simulate the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo at the Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture 2017 night show in Oshkosh, Wisc., July 26, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Multiple B-25s simulate the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo at the Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture 2017 night show in Oshkosh, Wisc., July 26, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

OSHKOSH, WISCONSIN (AFNS) -- Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson visited Wisconsin July 26-27, 2017 to celebrate aviators’ shared heritage with generations of Airmen at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture Oshkosh 2017.

Wilson met with Airmen of all ages from retired Lt. Col. Dick Cole, the last living Doolittle Raider, to a group of high school girls in EAA’s Women Soar You Soar program.

“Meeting Dick Cole and offering a toast to the men in Doolittle’s Raiders was a great honor for me,” said Wilson. “The Air Force turns 70 this year, and men like Lt. Col. Cole are the giants whose shoulders we built upon when we created a separate force. The courage and dedication to service of Jimmy Doolittle’s Raiders inspire the next generation of Airmen.”

On April 18, 1942, 80 men achieved the unimaginable when they took off from an aircraft carrier on a top secret mission to bomb Japan. These men, led by Lt. Col. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle, came to be known as the Doolittle Raiders.

The raid was extremely important in the development of American air power. It marked the first combat use of strategic bombardment by the then U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II. While the attack itself caused little actual damage to the Japanese war industry, the psychological impact on the Japanese military, and the American public, proved to be immense. It forced the Japanese military to pull forces back from the front lines to protect the home islands, and showed Americans that the war could be won.

“The Doolittle Raid was a remarkable example of what American Airmen can achieve when their leadership empowers them to innovate,” said Wilson. “That mission continues to inspire Airmen today who are creating new tactics for remotely piloted aircraft, designing new techniques to leverage our space assets and using technology in ways we never would have thought possible only a few years ago. Our job as leaders is to enable innovation in order to increase the lethality of the force.”

At the event, Wilson also met with commercial innovators who are advancing unmanned technology and advanced simulation.

“We need to engage the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators,” said Wilson. “We need to innovate faster than the enemy, and a lot of that innovation is going to be coming from outside the Air Force. We need to get out where they are and not make them come to us through a bureaucratic process.”

Wilson also met with the EAA chief executive officer, Jack Pelton, and Airline Owners and Pilots Association CEO and president, Mark Baker, to talk about the nation’s pilot shortage and discuss ways the Air Force and commercial and private aviators can work together to attract more of the nation’s brightest young men and women to a career in aviation.

The secretary’s visit to Oshkosh comes at a time when the service is facing a shortage in pilots and major airline hiring has continued to increase. The Air Force is pursuing a variety of initiatives to retain its current pilots, but will also have to train more pilots in the years to come.

Wilson also spent time with Air Force recruiters, met with the head of the Wisconsin Air National Guard and presented the Gen. Carl A. Spaatz award to Wisconsin Civil Air Patrol cadet Noa G. Bender.

EAA’s AirVenture at Oshkosh is one of the world’s premier events for aviation enthusiasts, drawing more than a half million people and 10,000 people every year. Beyond displays and demonstrations, attendees can participate in forums and workshops with leaders in aviation and technology.