Dave Henderson, the City of Rehoboth Beach’s first information technology (I.T.) director, will be inducted into the Delaware Aviation Hall of Fame at a ceremony this fall. The Hall of Fame was established to honor the state’s aviation greats and to promote public recognition of the role of flight in the progress of The First State and in defense of the country. It is the highest award given in aviation in Delaware outside the military.
As a child, Henderson was destined for a career in aviation. His first airplane was built from scraps of wood. When he was about 10 years old, a family friend took him for a flight in a Piper Cub. “The flight brought him such amazement and awe that it would be forever remembered and for a young man it erased any doubt he would pursue aviation as an adult,” says Amanda Fichter, who is serving as Henderson’s “wingman” for the induction ceremony. She is also the chair of the DAHOF selection committee.
Henderson’s aviation career started in the U.S. Air Force as an electronics expert in Vietnam. He held five other duty positions including taking part in the effort known as “Operation Eagle Claw” during the Iranian hostage crisis. When he returned home he went through flight training to become a pilot, purchased an 80-acre airport in Kent County that still bears his name, and began his true passion, restoring Piper Cub airplanes. He also engineered a replica of the Piper Cub that could be purchased as a home-built kit.
His business was soon a booming enterprise that extended worldwide and he was able to travel the globe. All this traveling had allowed Henderson to amass more than 9,000 flying hours. He has restored more than 150 aircraft including this famous plane, the actual aircraft built for and used in the movie Tora! Tora! Tora!
He also met the Prince of Thailand, Prince Tang. This friendship led to a six-year relationship where Henderson helped develop a civil aviation program in Thailand.
In Delaware, Fichter points out, Henderson introduced a bill that became law to protect airports from development encroachment. This law protected airports from construction of any kind, from homes to trees, which would obstruct an aircraft from landing safely.
Delaware Today selected him as one of the 50 people to watch in Delaware and George Freibert’s book Delaware Aviation History features a chapter on his amazing career.
Henderson joined the Civil Air Patrol more than 40 years ago where he became a major. He served most of his time as a search-and-rescue mission pilot and became qualified as an Incident Commander (IC2). He has received many honors, accolades, and medals. He was even presented an American flag by then-Senator Joe Biden honoring his service in Vietnam and to the Civil Air Patrol.
Later, working for the City of Rehoboth Beach, Henderson tackled numerous computer projects for the town and was instrumental in hiring the current I.T. staff. It was then when Henderson was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Possibly caused by his exposure to toxins while in Vietnam, it was deemed service connected. He is now a 100-percent disabled vet and lives in a bedroom the Department of Veterans Affairs installed in his home. The VA also purchased a new handicap van and a motorized wheelchair for him.
After John Brown died, Henderson took over the cleaning and maintenance of the Civil Air Patrol monument and created and installed the MIA monument at the bandstand that is now almost completely hidden by hydrangea and rose bushes. “Please never forget,” Henderson states, “that inside the footing for the MIA marker is hidden a very special item… I placed it there myself so a special person would never be forgotten!”
That special person was USAF Major Gerald Ayers, a pilot of AC-130 gun-ships in Vietnam. “He was KIA and I wore his bracelet from around 1975 till around 10 years ago,” Henderson recalls. “I would love to see it removed, a little story written and put on display somewhere least we forget our fallen. His family now lives in Wilmington and do not know it is there. If nothing else, I want to leave the memory of those who lost their lives fighting for this madness that goes on today,” he adds.
“If he can help someone else or spark passion in others for aviation that he has, then to him, it’s all the reward he needs,” Fichter says. “Henderson is exactly the kind of person who deserves to be honored in the Delaware Aviation Hall of Fame. I am proud to be his wingman and honored that this has allowed me to now know him as my friend.”
Graphic courtesy Delaware Aviation Hall of Fame