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NAA Honors Cheryl Stearns with Distinguished Stateswoman of Aviation Award
Homepage USPA | Sep 28, 2022
NAA Honors Cheryl Stearns with Distinguished Stateswoman of Aviation Award

USPA Staff

Photo by David Cherry.

On September 28, the National Aeronautic Association announced that it is honoring Cheryl Stearns, D-4020, and five other aviators with the prestigious Wesley L. McDonald Distinguished Stateswoman and Statesman of Aviation Award. The NAA bestows this award “to honor outstanding living Americans who, by their efforts over an extended period of years, have made contributions of significant value to aeronautics, and have reflected credit upon America and themselves.” Criteria for recipients include being a U.S. citizen who has been involved in aeronautics for at least 25 years and who is known as a patriotic, moral person of ability and good character. The selection panel included every Federal Aviation Administration administrator since the mid-1990s, previous recipients of the award and other aviation luminaries.  

The NAA established the Distinguished Statesman and Stateswoman Awards in 1954, and Stearns—whom USPA nominated—is only the third parachutist to receive it (along with Bill Ottley in 1995 and Len Potts in 2011). To skydivers, Stearns is perhaps best known for her achievements in style and accuracy competition, including 33 national championships, two overall world championships (1978, 1994) and 30 world records. But in her nearly 50-year career, which encompasses more than 21,000 jumps, she’s made countless other contributions to aeronautics as both as a skydiver and a pilot.  

Stearns served 29 years in the U.S. military and was the first female member of the U.S. Army Parachute Team—the Golden Knights. She served two three-year tours with the team as a competitor and performed several high-profile demonstrations, including one onto Liberty Island (where the Statue of Liberty is located). Today, she shares her aviation knowledge as a captain with the Shelby, North Carolina, Civil Air Patrol Squadron cadets. 

Stearns has also excelled as a pilot. She earned her instrument, multi-engine and instructor ratings from the Federal Aviation Administration and earned a Bachelor of Science in Aviation Administration (magna cum laude) and a Masters of Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. She has flown more than 75 types of aircraft and accumulated more than 23,000 hours of flight time. 

“It is our privilege at the National Aeronautic Association to honor great achievements and great careers,” said NAA President Greg Principato. “These women and men have contributed so much to aviation throughout the wide spectrum of aviation disciplines.  From the flight deck to aeromodelling, to policy making and advocacy, from historic preservation to parachuting, this class of Distinguished Statesmen and Stateswomen exemplify the best of our industry.” The award citation for Stearns reads, “for advancing the sport of skydiving and inspiring people across the globe as a competitor, world-record holder, exhibition jumper, and the first female member of the United States Army Parachute Team—the Golden Knights.”  

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