Growing up under segregation in Ridgeland, S.C., retired Air Force Gen. Lloyd W. “Fig” Newton still remembers the day he climbed into his first plane and left all that behind.
“After we got airborne, it was like total freedom,” said Newton, recalling a flight he took with a friend in a Piper J-3 Cub while he attended Tennessee State University.
To this day, Newton still remembers how ecstatic he was when he told his parents about the experience, an opportunity denied to people like him back home. He’d come a long way from the small farm he grew up on.
“I was just totally exhilarated by having that opportunity,” he said.
On June 15, Newton will be a special guest at this year’s Hangar Party at the Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport, to benefit the Aviation Heritage Park. This year’s Hangar Party also posthumously honors Willa Brown, a Glasgow native who became the first African-American woman to earn her pilot’s license, among other firsts.
Adult tickets for the event cost $40 and are available at Ford’s Furniture, Barbara Stewart Interiors, Nat’s Outdoor Sports and Chuck’s Wine and Spirits on Three Springs Road.
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Dan Cherry, who serves on the Aviation Heritage Park’s Board of Directors, said Newton makes a great guest because he’s a role model worth emulating by anyone. But to young African-Americans in particular, Cherry said, he’s an example of black excellence.
Newton’s career kept soaring after his flight in that Piper J-3 Cub.
Before retiring in 2000, ending a more than 34-year career with the Air Force, Newton had flown 269 combat missions in Vietnam and joined the Air Force’s Thunderbirds squadron, known for its death-defying aerial maneuvers.
Cherry and Newton flew together as Thunderbirds in the 1970s. During that time, Cherry said Newton became like a mentor to him, even though Cherry outranked Newton as the unit’s new commander.
Cherry describes Newton as both a “superb guy” and a “fantastic pilot.”
“The guy was just amazing, never out of position,” Cherry said.
During his career with the Air Force, Newton filled appointments under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, according to a biography sent by Cherry to the Daily News.
Newton’s career culminated as commander of the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command, a position that made him responsible for the recruitment, training and education of all Air Force personnel. His command encompassed 13 bases, 43,000 active duty personnel and 14,000 civilians, according to his bio.
For Newton, it’s a fitting way to end his career. He values education as the best way to level the playing field.
“The broader the minds of individuals ... the better the decisions they’re going to make,” Newton said. “Education really is the foundation of our democracy.”