Whether in the air or on the ground, David Witchey’s life focused on making a difference. While at SHS, David participated in as many activities as he was able to assist in rounding himself. To that end, he was a member of the Latin Club and Bi-Phy-Chem, ran cross country and track, acted in Whippet Theater and Black Fork Players and represented the school at Buckeye Boys State.
Beginning in David’s boyhood flying was his deepest passion. From building plastic models and teaching his siblings the difference between a Corsair and Spitfire to eventually building his own ultra-light aircraft, everyone who ever was with him for more than a few hours was graced with, “So, you want to go fly?” His biggest dream was to be the first man on Mars. He grew up watching test pilots become astronauts and set that as his goal. At 16 his parents gave him the money to learn to fly. Instead he saved that money, attended Ohio State University on an ROTC scholarship and later learned to fly in the Air Force. After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aeronautical engineering at Ohio State, David served in the Air Force, first as a student pilot, next an instructor pilot, then an F-15 fighter pilot and finally a test pilot.
During his dozen Air Force years- 1980-1992- David rose to the rank of major. He consistently executed missions with excellence. In 1983 he was awarded Outstanding USAF Training Command Flying Instructor of the Year. In 1986 he was selected as the youngest fighter flight commander in Europe for his F-15 squadron stationed in Germany. In 1989 his work was named the Best Technical Project and Presentation for his test pilot class. A major achievement was serving as test pilot for the GBU-28 bomb program in 1991. During the Gulf War, David was central to developing and testing a “bunker buster” bomb that, before exploding, could penetrate 100 feet of earth or 20 feet of concrete and was used to destroy Iraqi underground command centers.
Though twice nominated for astronaut training, David saw that being an astronaut in the 1990s differed from the 1960s. So in 1992 he retired from the Air Force and moved his family back to Shelby. He then began flying for United Airlines. During that career he was honored at the Best Airline Engineer Line Check in 1995. He also continued doing research to improve air-to-ground communications. On one occasion he explained his research in an airliner cockpit to the Vice President Al Gore.
Through it all David gave his time and energy to his family, friends and community. He wrote a grant request that resulted in a major gift from Apple Computer Corp. that included hardware, software and training for Shelby Schools’ staff and that enabled students to use computers to study a new wetlands area, thus combining nature and technology. He served as a grant reviewer for the Richland County Foundation. In addition he led efforts to promote and construct the Playscape for Shelby youngsters.
While David relished flying, what he really loved was making a difference. So it was no surprise that, when he died in an ultra-light crash in April 2003, hundreds of Shelbians as well as Air Force comrades and astronauts turned out to memorialize him and the impact he had made on their lives. The gifts with which he was blessed – energy, intelligence, compassion- were ones he gave back in abundance. David’s legacy lives on with his wife, their three children, his siblings and family and all the lives he touched so much.
Nominators: Ruth Marie Winans Witchey Wires ’53, Nicole Witchey Putnam ’98 Standing in: Nicole Witchey Putnam ’98, Ryan Witchey ’00, Presenters: Leonore Witchey-Lakshmanan ’79