Veteran’s day story: Tammy Duckworth, aviator.


A Corvair pilot sent me a link to this story. It is about marking the 10th anniversary (11/12/04) of Major Tammy Duckworth’s helicopter being hit in Iraq. Although she is a serving member of Congress today, Grace and I have known her a long time, and have a special family connection to her, noted below. This is a story of a veteran that transcends any political perspective.


Tammy Duckworth is an American aviator of the first order. Note that she is planning on naming her daughter ‘Piper.’ In the story below is tells of her getting out of Walter Reed on a four day pass to go to Oshkosh. We had our 601XL in the Zenith booth that year and Tammy spent a few hours there. To their great credit, the Zenith crew treated her with deep respect and affection. She wanted to see if she would be able to get into a low wing plane unassisted. Although she had thousands of hours in helicopters, she confessed to having never been PIC in a fixed wing plane, and honestly asked if it was difficult; Roger Dubert  assured her that she would be fine as long as she didn’t try to hover. It was just as Tammy wanted, being joked with like any other aviator.


My brother in law Col. John Nerges told me that in 30 years of nursing including heading the nursing intensive care unit of Walter Reed 2003-2005, he never saw a human fight to live with greater will than Major Duckworth.





From our website in 2009:

Tammy Duckworth, above center, and her husband Bryan Bowlsbey, left,  at our booth at AirVenture 2009. From the right, Mark Petniunas , Dan Weseman  my wife Grace Ellen, myself, and Roy Szarafinski  Tammy and Bryan are old friends. Tammy had recently accepted a post as Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C.




From our website in 2005:

“From The first stop on the trip was Washington, D.C. The officer in the center of the photo above is my brother-in-law John Nerges. He is head of the nurses in the intensive care ward at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. On this day, Feb. 11, John was being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. Although he is Airborne and Air Assault qualified, and has been deployed with both the 82nd and 101st Divisions, the focal point of John’s career is the care for severely wounded soldiers. The above photo was taken in the Eisenhower Suite at Walter Reed, where the ceremony was held. My sister Alison, herself a critical care nurse, left, and my father, a career naval officer, right, pinned on John’s insignia. It was a very moving ceremony where John’s promotion was read by a recovering, severely wounded Army helicopter pilot. The pilot’s mother was on hand to thank John and his staff personally for saving her daughter’s life. With characteristic humility, John said the credit was entirely for his staff. It was a most memorable day in my family’s history in many years. John had said that his only regret was that his own father, a veteran of World War II fighting in Burma, did not live to share the day with him. Our entire family is very proud of John.”


From our Website in 2008:

“My 20 years of working with Corvairs have brought us many rewards. The most valuable of these is certainly the people we’ve met along the way. I can think of no other career which would have allowed us to cross paths with so many unique people we respect. At the very top of this pinnacle is Major Tammy Duckworth and her husband Bryan Bowlsbey. For a bit of background, read this link to our stop at Walter Reed Hospital in 2005. The helicopter pilot I was writing about was Major Duckworth. We did not use her name at the time because she was not publicly known and was still serving in the Army. We had actually met her and Brian briefly at Oshkosh several years before. Our brother-in-law John rarely speaks of his work, and never mentions any soldier’s name, thus seeing Tammy and Brian at the ceremony was unexpected. Through all of the unspeakable acts of human courage and endurance John has certainly seen, the survival of Major Duckworth in spite of her horrific wounds and 13 months at Walter Reed still astounds him.

Yet, she has done much beyond survival: She was subsequently appointed as the Director of Veterans Affairs for the State of Illinois. She has returned to flying in a Piper, and has plans to build a homebuilt. She is a relentlessly positive person. Her husband Bryan, an Army officer himself, who has just returned from another tour in Iraq, has been the kind of support we all vow to be on our wedding day, but few are called to live up to. Major Duckworth’s father was a Korean War veteran. He passed away while she was at Walter Reed. He was buried a few miles away at Arlington National Cemetery. It is my understanding that they are the only Father-Daughter Purple Heart combination in U.S. history.”


About William Wynne
I have been continuously building, testing and flying Corvair engines since 1989. Information, parts and components that we developed and tested are now flying on several hundred Corvair powered aircraft. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics and an A&P license from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and have a proven 20 year track record of effectively teaching homebuilders how to create and fly their own Corvair powered planes. Much of this is chronicled at and in more than 50 magazine articles.

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