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Gloria Whitton Heath Award

COMMISSION: Gloria Whitton Heath Award

In 2021, I received a lovely email from Deborah Kirkman, the Director of Advanced Aviation for the Flight Safety Foundation. Debbie had seen my work and wondered if I might be interested in creating a sculpture for the Foundation. She then proceeded to share Gloria Whitton Heath’s impressive story with me.

Gloria Whitton Heath (1922–2017), an aviation pioneer, is regarded as one of the most accomplished women of the 20th century. After graduating from Smith College in 1943, she was selected to serve as a Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) during World War II. She flew B-26 bombers used for target practice at Grissom Air Reserve Base in Indiana and earned the rank of second lieutenant. Gloria was 25 when the war ended and the WASPs were disbanded.

Disbanding the WASPs, however, didn’t slow Gloria’s career in aviation. Her lifelong passion for flying and flight safety fueled her illustrious career. Gloria was a founding member of the Flight Safety Foundation and won numerous awards including the Engineering Sciences Award of the International Academy of Astronautics, Lifetime Achievement Award of the Women in Aerospace, the President’s Award of Flight Safety Foundation, and a Congressional Gold Medal.


By the time Debbie finished telling me Gloria Heath’s story, I was all in and excited to sculpt a bust of Gloria for the Flight Safety Foundation.

My process of creating a likeness of an historic figure starts by learning all I can. This led to a series of working meetings with Flight Safety Foundation CEO, Dr. Hassan Shahidi, and his team.

The Flight Safety Foundation organization is composed of a fantastic group of professionals; the experience of working with them was as rewarding as sculpting the piece itself.


The goal of the award I was asked to sculpt was to honor deserving women who contributed significantly to the field of civil aviation. The Gloria Heath Trophy, I was told, was to be unveiled in 2022. The timeline was tight! To make matters even more challenging, I was given just six historic photographs from which to work.

I am obsessive when it comes to capturing detail and depicting my subjects with historical accuracy. To do this for Gloria, I went so far as to obtain a vintage US Army Air Corps World War II flight helmet along with a pair of original flight goggles, which I used as reference.


While I was working on the sculpture, the Flight Safety Foundation put out the call for nominations for the award. They received a total of 19 nominations from all over the world. An impressive showing considering this was the first year the trophy I was sculpting would be presented.

I finished the sculpture and soon after was told that the first awardee would be Poppy Khoza, the Director of South African Civil Aviation Authority. Ms. Khoza was presented her award at the Flight Safety Foundation’s Annual Networking dinner at the National Press Club, Washington DC, in June 2022.
Ms. Khoza traveled from South Africa to receive the award, and her moment of triumph was witnessed by many esteemed colleagues and one sculptor, yes, me, whose feet are most often firmly planted on the ground in my studio.

The event was magical and beautifully orchestrated, the atmosphere jubilant! After the program concluded, attendees literally mobbed the stage for a chance to have their pictures taken with my sculpture of Gloria Heath. There’s no telling how many selfies Gloria has shown up in!

The Gloria Heath Trophy, which took over 300 hours to complete, captures Gloria’s effervescent personality and her passion for aviation. Her infectious smile reflects her love of flying and evokes a sense of excitement for the future – it projects her indomitable spirit and effervescent personality.

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