Retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Lloyd Newton – better known by his call sign, "Fig" – was recently presented the General Carl "Tooey" Spaatz Award by the Air Force Historical Foundation. This award, created in 2007, was designed to recognize sustained, significant contributions to Air Force history during a lifetime of service.
The ceremony, which was attended by about 200 people, took place at the Pentagon City Sheraton just outside Washington, D.C., in a room that fittingly overlooks the Pentagon and the U.S. Air Force Memorial.
"We're very excited for Fig," said Bennett Croswell, president, Pratt & Whitney Military Engines. "The impact he's made on Air Force history puts him in a very select class."
"What's more, the contributions he made to Pratt & Whitney show that he never lost sight of the mission," Croswell continued. "He worked tirelessly day-in and day-out to support the Air Force and all of our military customers at home and abroad during his time with us."
Newton joined Pratt & Whitney Military Engines in 2000 as vice president for business development after retiring from the United States Air Force (USAF) as a four-star general. His last role in the U.S. Air Force was commander, Air Education and Training Command from 1997 to 2000.
"To have done the things that he did at the time when he did them is truly remarkable," said Bill Dalecky, Air Force Historical Foundation board member and head of Air Force Programs out of Pratt & Whitney's Washington, D.C., office. "Many candidates were considered, but I strongly believe that there could not have been a better recipient for this year's award."
In 1974, Newton became the first African-American pilot to join the elite U.S. Air Force Aerial Demonstration Squadron, also known as the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. He recalls being "over the moon" with excitement before actually realizing the gravity of the selection.
"Ebony magazine called to ask if they could run a story on me," he explained. "As it turns out, I was the first African-American ever selected to be a Thunderbird – which was a great honor – but when I met with them, I had to tell them the truth: it was never my goal to make history. From the time I was growing up, I just wanted to serve my country."
And serve his country, he did.
Before becoming a Thunderbird, and later a decorated commander, Newton flew 269 combat missions from Da Nang Air Base, South Vietnam, including 79 missions over North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
Heather Summerer, while leading communications for Military Engines, became a close colleague of Newton during his time at Pratt & Whitney. What struck her the most about him was his incredible modesty, which she feels makes the achievements of his Air Force days even more impressive.
"I remember attending the Paris Airshow one year with Fig," said Summerer. "He was adamant about taking time to visit the enlisted airmen on duty at the U.S. Air Force exhibit to personally thank them for their service."
"When I started to introduce him," she recalled, "a young airman stopped me saying, 'General Newton needs no introduction.'" To this day, Newton's portrait is still in the hangar where the airman served – at Nellis Air Force Base; home of his beloved Thunderbirds.
"Fig represents the best of what is truly an incredible set of military personnel, and we are honored that he shared his expertise with Pratt & Whitney," Summerer said.
Newton was born in Ridgeland, South Carolina, and earned a bachelor of science degree in aviation education from Tennessee State University in Nashville, where he was commissioned as a distinguished graduate through the Reserve Officer Training Corps program in 1966.
According to the Air Force Historical Foundation website, the Tooey Spatz Award is named after Carl Andrew Spaatz, who flew in combat during the First World War - shooting down three enemy aircraft - and who pioneered the concept of aerial refueling.
Gen. Spaatz served as commanding general, U.S. Army Air Forces, and upon creation of the United States Air Force, became its first chief of staff, retiring in 1948. He was a founder of the Air Force Historical Foundation in 1953 and was its first president.