Two Hardin County men named to aviation hall of fame

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By Amber Coulter

Two men with Hardin County ties are being inducted into the Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame.

Sgt. George Elmer Larkin Jr., who fought and died in World War II, and Scott Hubbard, a Stanford University professor who worked for NASA for 20 years, are among four Kentucky residents and natives to be honored Oct. 26 in Lexington.

Hubbard, a 1966 graduate of Elizabethtown High School and an expert in commercial space development, plans to attend the induction ceremony and banquet.

It didn’t take him long as a child to become interested in space as he watched the launch of Sputnik and the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union.

“I was reading science fiction as well as science fact, and I got very, very interested in science and space, space projects and space travel,” he said. “It just stayed with me as I went through my education and my career.”

During his time at NASA, Hubbard directed the program’s Ames Research Center in California. He was the first Mars exploration program director and an early contributor to the scientific field of astrobiology.

“They called me to Washington and asked me, as the administrator put it, to fix the mess,” he said.

Hubbard is credited with the engineering concept of the “Airbag 

landing” used for the Mars Pathfinder exploration vehicle and is the author of “Exploring Mars: Chronicles from a Decade of Discovery.”

Hubbard also participated as the NASA representative in the post-accident analysis for the loss of the space shuttle Columbia.

After all his accomplishments, Hubbard still was surprised by his induction.

“It’s a great honor, and I’m delighted to be in the company of such accomplished individuals,” he said.

Larkin was one of 80 airmen to volunteer for the April 1942 mission that became known as the Doolittle Raid. During the mission, 16 B-25 bombers launched from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet and bombed Tokyo months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Larkin was a flight engineer on one of the bombers, bailing out over enemy-occupied China and surviving.

Members of the raid were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Chinese Army, Navy and Air Corps Medal, Class A, 1st Grade. The Commonwealth of Kentucky also awarded Larkin a $100 war bond for being the first Kentuckian to take part in the bombing of an enemy capital.

Six months after the mission, Larkin was killed in action at Assam, India.

He was born in Colesburg and later moved to Elizabethtown, joining the U.S. Army at Fort Knox in 1939. He became an aircraft mechanic and was assigned to McChord Field in Washington as a flight engineer, later joining a crew flying the then-new B-25 bombers.

A historical marker honoring Larkin was placed on the Hardin County Courthouse lawn in 1983. An interpretive marker was again placed for him on the lawn on Public Square, near the entrance facing East Dixie Avenue, this past October to commemorate the 70th anniversary of his death.

Also being recognized are Scottsville native Suzanne Guy Alexander and Dr. George Gumbert of Lexington.

Alexander’s career with the Federal Aviation Administration included air traffic control supervision of the country’s busiest airspace.

Gumbert, a physician, founded the Kentucky Aviation History Roundtable.

Amber Coulter can be reached at 270-505-1746 or acoulter@the