The Combs Gates Award is given by the National Aviation Hall of Fame (NAHF), located at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, to honor a project which best promotes or preserves America's air and space heritage.
"This book is a long-overdue slice of history. The initiation of the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) just prior to WWII became the backbone for military aviation's running start after Pearl Harbor. Sensing a war coming on, many of us participated in the program during our college summer vacations. Jane Birch's They Flew Proud is a much-needed documentary on the subject."
Commander Alexander Vraciu US Navy (retired) 4th Ranked Navy Ace of WWII Navy Cross "In those early days of the late '30s, there was a great shortage of qualified pilots to meet the challenges that our country faced.I became a flight instructor, teaching aviation cadets at a primary school in Arkansas. I'm sure the readers of They Flew Proud will be unaware of the great efforts put forth by the Civilian Pilot Training Program in enhancing not only our war effort, but also aviation and its future." Experimental Aircraft Association Paul H. Poberezny Founder and Chairman of the Board
"They Flew Proud reminds us wars are fought and won by ordinary people rising to extraordinary challenges. The small airport outside a tiny Pennsylvania town serves as a metaphor for the totality of the effort required to win the bloodiest war in history. Jane Birch captures the spirit of humans fighting for the future of humanity with a book that serves as a tribute both to men and women who 'flew proud' and the spirit that gave them wings. They Flew Proud reminds this generation of our responsibility to preserve for future generations what those who flew proud won for us." Dr. Earl H. Tilford Professor of History Grove City College "In April 1945, a dream came true for an excited teenager-a long-awaited flight in a Piper J-3 with your father Gardner Birch. It launched a 20-year career in naval aviation from props to jets with over 600 carrier landings on straight and angled decks. Gardner Birch was an unflappable, affable professional. Many years later, during two tours instructing student pilots in the Naval Air Training Command, there were subtle flashbacks to lessons learned from this fine man. Whether it is landing a Piper J-3 on the sod strip at the old Grove City Airport or a Douglass A-4 Skyhawk Jet onboard an aircraft carrier, the lessons needed for a successful landing are the same. Success begins with the proper start from an accomplished instructor, such a person was Gardner Birch." Commander Richard Mackell US Navy (retired)
From the Foreword
"...Now we have Jane Birch's TheyFlew Proud, a crisply told account of her father, Gardner Birch, his fellow pilots, and their involvement in the CPTP-WTS course of training at Grove City College, in Grove City, a small town in western Pennsylvania. Ms. Birch has done a remarkable job of piecing the story together so many years after the fact. She deserves a great deal of credit for what obviously has been a labor of love, a resounding tribute to her father and his love of aviation, and a reawakening of formative childhood memories."
Dominick A. Pisano Author of To Fill the Skies with Pilots: The Civilian Pilot Training Program, 1939-1946 Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC 2001