10/28/05 — Aviation pioneer will be honored

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Aviation pioneer will be honored

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 28, 2005 1:47 PM

An astronaut, three aerial combat aces, private pilots and proud citizens will convene in the town of Coats Saturday, Nov. 5, to honor a pioneer aviator.

The occasion will be the unveiling of an historical marker dedicated to the late Alton Stewart, North Carolina's first licensed pilot -- and father of Goldsboro's Hal Stewart.

A barnstormer, racing pilot and flight instructor, Stewart died in a plane crash in Dunn on Christmas Day in 1929 at the age of 31.

His flying career began after he repaired a World War I Jenny that had made a forced landing in Harnett County on Jan. 7, 1919. He subsequently was given flying instructions by military aviators and soloed after six hours.

Flying was his life thereafter and included service as a commercial and acrobatic pilot, airport designer and acquaintance of such notables as Charles A. Lindbergh and Will Rogers.

Stewart's pilot license was signed by Orville Wright.

Featured speaker at the unveiling will be astronaut Dr. William Thornton, a Duplin County native who made two space flights in the Challenger.

On the program also will be Col. Clarence "Bud" Anderson, who was credited with more than 16 "kills" during World War II; Barrie Davis, of Kinston, who shot down six enemy aircraft, and Korean War fighter ace Dolph Overton of Smithfield.

The program will begin at 2 p.m. near the site of the Stewart family home at 100 N. McKinley St. -- N.C. 55 -- in Coats.

Flights of vintage aircraft including a P-51 Mustang and Stearman biplanes will be made during the ceremonies.

Dr. Thornton was the first North Carolinian -- and the first physician -- to fly in space. Col. Anderson has been described by the legendary Gen. Chuck Yeager as "the best fighter pilot I ever saw."