Three to be inducted into WMU's Aviation Hall of Honor

Contact: Cheryl Roland

BATTLE CREEK, Mich.--Three aviation professionals whose careers have made a lasting impact in their fields will be honored by Western Michigan University this month when they are inducted into the College of Aviation Hall of Honor for 2011.

The three inductees, one of whom is being honored posthumously, will be formally inducted as the third class of Hall of Honor awardees. They will be celebrated during an induction ceremony and dinner at 6 p.m. Friday, June 15, in the Aviation Maintenance Education Hangar on the College of Aviation campus at the W.K. Kellogg Airport in Battle Creek.

Aviation Hall of Honor awardees

  • Sidney Adams Jr. of Battle Creek, Mich, a former adjunct professor in the college and a current member of its advisory board.
  • The late Patrick D. Schiffer of Plainwell, Mich, a 1960 alumnus of the college and a retired WMU assistant professor who is being inducted posthumously.
  • Retired U.S. Army Col. Richard A. Sperling of Pleasant Hill, Calif., a 1965 WMU alumnus and a Distinguished Service Cross recipient.
Photo of Sidney  Jr.


Sidney Adams Jr.

Born in rural Mississippi as the youngest of 11 children, Adams rose from humble beginnings to earn a degree from Alcorn State University and complete a stint in the U.S. Army before serving for 29 years with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. His love of aviation took off during his tenure as an 82nd Airborne paratrooper. He eventually earned his private pilot license and became determined to pass on his passion for aviation to the next generation, especially young people from traditionally underrepresented groups.

In addition to his career with the VA, Adams has been involved in numerous city and national organizations, including the NAACP, the Organization of Black Airline Pilots, Battle Creek Unlimited, the Battle Creek Tax Increment Finance Authority, WMU's College of Aviation Advisory Board, the Michigan Aeronautics Commission and numerous others. Combining his organizational talents and passion for aviation, Adams was part of a communitywide committee that helped establish the College of Aviation at its permanent home in Battle Creek. He also helped establish the Battle Creek Flight Academy, with the mission of introducing aviation careers and opportunities to women and minorities.

Photo of Patrick D. .


Patrick D. Schiffer

By the time Schiffer graduated from WMU in 1960, he had already been hired as the aviation program's second flight instructor. He subsequently earned a master's degree and served as chief flight instructor and assistant professor. Before coming to WMU, Schiffer learned to fly a Stearman on the family farm in Michigan, served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and trained pilots at Stallings Air Force Base in North Carolina, preparing them to fight in Korea and fly AT-6s, T-28s and T-34s.

Schifffer devoted himself to WMU's aviation program, which was then in the engineering technology department. He taught almost every class and countless students, and he enhanced the program through his 27 years of service--23 of them as an FAA-designated pilot examiner and FAA safety counselor. His support for and commitment to WMU's program were essential to the college's successful development and current reputation. He worked tirelessly, helping WMU students find jobs after graduation and even offering them free check rides. After retiring in 1986, Schiffer volunteered his time and expertise as manager of the Otsego-Plainwell Airport and was a volunteer with the Kalamazoo Air Zoo. He died in 1993.

Photo of retired Col. Richard A. .


Richard A. Sperling

Sperling is a Distinguished Service Cross recipient who, with his wife Marilyn, established the Colonel Richard A. Sperling Distinguished Service Cross Endowed Scholarship for a U.S. Army ROTC cadet at WMU who is studying aviation flight science in the College of Aviation.

A native of Elmhurst, Ill., Sperling earned a bachelors' degree in business aadministration from WMU in 1965. He then joined the U.S. Army Reserve, serving as a helicopter pilot with numerous units. During his military career, he earned numerous honors, including the Distinguished Service Cross, which was awarded for his extraordinary heroism in rescuing the crew of a downed helicopter in Vietnam while under heavy enemy fire. He spent 26 years in the Reserve. As a civilian, he became a commercial airline pilot with United Airlines, flying Boeing 737s, 747s, 757s and 767s. Since his 2002 retirmement from United, he has continued to share his passion for aviation as a Boy Scout Aviation Merit Badge counselor and a Young Eagles coordinator with the Experimental Aircraft Association.

WMU's aviation college established its Hall of Honor in 2010 to recognize individuals and organizations that have made a lasting impact on the world of aviation and WMU and demonstrated the "vision, determination and drive to leave a legacy felt by generations to come." The individuals selected reflect a high level of excellence in the aviation industry over time. They made exemplary contributions in their chosen aviation specialties; served the University, college, nation or the community; and contributed to humanity.

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