The Aero Club of Northern California annually provides three scholarships to college students actively studying aviation at a Bay Area college. Successful applicants must be at least a sophmore, have completed at least 15 hours of college level aviation coursework and have a cumulative GPA of 2.5.
James M. Nissen Scholarship
James (Jim) M. Nissen (1915-1994) was born in Livermore, California. In 1937, after receiving his engineering degree at the University of California at Berkeley, he was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Navy, and later became a naval aviator and flew various military aircraft including the PBY Catalina. He briefly flew trans-Pacific seaplanes for Pan American Airways before accepting a research test pilot position in 1941 with Ames Research Center at Moffett Field with the National Advisory Committee on Aviation (NACA), now NASA. In 1945 he joined North American Aviation as a test pilot. At the same time, with two partners, he founded an aviation company and developed 16.4 acres of land leased from the city of San Jose, creating a small airport. In 1946 he sold his share of the business and was hired by the city of San Jose as its first Airport Manager. Over the next 29 years (1946-1975) he developed the small airfield into the Bay Area’s third major jetport--Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC). At the time of his retirement as Director of Aviation, SJC had achieved national status with service to every major U.S. destination city, including non-stop flights coast-to-coast and service to Hawaii. The airport at the time was also home to more than 600 general aviation and corporate aircraft. The new $1.3 billion dollar Terminal B at SJC, which opened in 2010, is named the James M. Nissen Terminal Complex. Mr. Nissen was a past member of the Aero Club Board of Directors. This endowed scholarship was funded by a contribution from Sallie (Nissen) Moran.
Robert L. Hamilton Scholarship
Robert (Bob) L. Hamilton (1936-2002) was born in Hanford, California. In 1954 he joined the United States Army and was initially trained in helicopter maintenance. After a tour in Germany, he was accepted into the Army helicopter pilot program and following his training served two tours in Vietnam as a rescue helicopter pilot. He was awarded the prestigious Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, two Bronze Stars, and 30 Air Medals. In 1986, he was inducted into the Army Aviation Hall of Fame at Fort Rucker, Alabama. While most of his 6,300 flight hours were in helicopters, he also piloted fixed-wing aircraft and flew professionally for several companies in the San Jose area. Many of his flight hours were in the large twin-rotor Chinook CH-47 -- the first helicopter to utilize fly-by-wire flight controls systems. Mr. Hamilton was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. Mr. Hamilton was a past officer and member of the Aero Club Board of Directors. Funds for this scholarship were established by a very close friend of the Hamilton family at the time of Mr. Hamilton’s death.
Thomas E. Leonard Scholarship
Thomas (Tom) E. Leonard (1922-2016) was born in San Francisco, California. Tom attended California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo. But, the onset of WW2 interrupted his college education. During the war years, Tom worked for Pan Am at Treasure Island and served in the U.S. Army Air Corps. After the War, Tom returned to Cal Poly and completed his degree in Aeronautical Engineering. Although he intended to rejoin Pan Am after graduation in 1946, Tom accepted an invitation to teach for one year at San Jose State College. He soon discovered that he loved teaching and his one-year commitment ended up lasting more than four decades. By 1950, he had become the Department Chairman of the Aeronautics program. He developed the first four-year college-level aeronautics program at San Jose State, secured an FAA Air Agency Certificate authorizing the college to operate an approved Airframe and Powerplan (A&P) program in 1954 and completed his Masrer’s degree in Education in 1956. As the school curriculum expanded, so did the need for facilities. He successfully negotiated a 50-year land lease to build a state-of-the-art off-campus facility on San Jose Airport. The new on-airport facility was completed in 1962 and became a flagship aviation program in California. By the 1980’s, enrollment exceeded 800 students majoring in aircraft maintenance, flight operations and administration. Tom retired from SJSU in 1985, but continued to teach part-time until 1994. Mr. Leonard was a past president and and long-time member of the Aero Club Board of Directors. Funds for this scholarship have been contributed by many of the thousands who’s lives were touched by this unique man.
Aero Club of Northern California Scholarship
This endowed scholarship was established to recognize the many contributions made by members and donors to the Aero Club of Northern California. Funds for this scholarship come solely from member donations, proceeds from the annual awards dinner silent auction, and donations generated at other Aero Club events.
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