This article was originally featured on The Scroll, by Dani Barto.

phi delta theta aviation

Eric Higgins, Indiana ETA (Middle)


Feet on the Ground and Phis in the Sky

Imagine walking onto the Indianapolis Speedway on a warm June day more than a century ago—not to see cars speeding around a racetrack—but some of the world’s first airplanes flying through the air. Famous Phi James Clifford Turpin, Purdue 1908, made his mark on history as an aviation pioneer as member of the Wright brothers’ exhibition flying team, which performed that day at the speedway.

aviation phis

Lieutenant John Rodgers (left) and J.Clifford Turpin seated in an airplane, possibly a Wright Model B aircraft.


Since the 19th century Phis have made their careers in flight. Among the earliest to do so was Famous Phi William F. Durand, Michigan State 1880, the first civilian chair of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the forerunner of NASA. During World War II over 20,000 Phis served their countries in battle, many as aviators and servicemen in the armed forces.

Flying Phis

Phi Delta Theta thanks veterans from all armed conflicts for their service and honors the memories of those brothers who entered the Chapter Grand while serving their country. Soon after the war came Neil Armstrong, Purdue 1955, Commander of Apollo 11 and the first man to walk on the moon. The list of greatness goes on, but nothing makes Phi Delta Theta greater than the men who honor it today. Brothers grace every aspect of the aviation industry with their integrity and commitment to excellence.

From the ground to the sky, Phis work as airplane mechanics, commercial pilots, Air Force flight crew, and more. Retired Air Force Captain and Vietnam veteran Philip C. Beekley, Ashland ’69, explained that, though Phis are spread all over the world, they are united in “the common bond of The Bond, in addition to aviation.” David Meierotto, Iowa Wesleyan ’98, the campus executive director for the Aviation Institute of Maintenance in Dallas, Texas, also spoke of the closeness that is inspired by the bond, especially after graduation.

“Fellowship and brotherhood grow stronger the older you get,” Meirerotto said. “I now cling to and look for those connections.” Michael Juhl, Embry-Riddle ’08, a commercial pilot for Allegiant Air, said that he typically sees Phis multiple times per week, many in passing at airports and others at specific aviation events.

“It’s such a small industry,” Juhl said. “Everybody knows everybody.” With a large number of pilots retiring soon, Juhl said there will be a great deal of openings for aviators entering the industry. “If you’re lucky the airlines hire about 50 pilots per year,” Juhl said, adding that after these looming retirements the airlines will hire about 900 people in a year. “I think it’s always going to be a stable career path compared to others,” Beekley said. Meierotto noted that a future for aviators with their feet on the ground is wide open, also due in part to a substantial amount of retirements on the horizon. “Many want to hang up their wrenches,” Meierotto said, “leaving more and more opportunities open.” Even in this hugely passionate industry, Meierotto said that there are more airplane mechanic positions open than certified people to fill them.

story musgrave

Story Musgrave, & John Fazzini at the Sebring Aviation Expo representing Phi Delta Theta


According to Meierotto, the best thing for undergraduate Phis to do is to, “Look into their options. Take off their blinders of what they think aviation is.” A new way to connect with fellow Phis in aviation began with John Fazzini, Florida ’66, the owner and developer of Ridge Landing Airpark. After graduation Fazzini found that it was difficult to stay in touch with his brothers. “We say ‘Phi Delta Theta for life,’ but I just
noticed that in Florida Alpha everyone kind of went their own way,” Fazzini said. “Phi Delta Theta has lifelong values of friendship, but in reality after graduation it’s tough, everyone goes into their own field.”

“You go from boys to men together,” Fazzini said, but then “there’s this disconnect that takes place.” Fazzini kept in contact with one brother from Florida Alpha and always felt blessed by that friendship. However, he was not content to leave the bond he had with his other brothers in the past. “It started with the fact that I owned some airplanes,” Fazzini said.

After letting some people fly the planes, Fazzini decided to create a LinkedIn group for Phis involved in aviation. The Phi Delta Theta Aviation Group is now made up of more than 130 members, including
younger members who are able to ask questions and gain job connections in the aviation field through the more experienced group members.

“I think what I had in mind was to bring brothers together in a common interest and Phi Delta Theta membership,” Fazzini said. “I can see being involved with the Fraternity in ways no one even knew were possible.”

Beekley, Juhl and Meierotto soon became members of the LinkedIn group, and have enjoyed the connections with other Phis that the social network has provided.

As a mechanic, Meierotto felt honored to be invited into the group, which was mostly made up of pilots.“It all started when I got an invite from John Fazzini to join the group,” Meierotto said. “It’s just been a lot of fun.” Beekley was also not a pilot, though he did some flying unofficially in Vietnam while he served as a flight crew member in the Air Force. It was an invitation from John Fazzini that brought Beekley into the LinkedIn group as well. “The group added another value to my brotherhood, even though it’s all
internet,” Beekley said. Juhl was very impressed by the group’s networking ability and the supportive feedback he received from the brothers when he was searching for a new job.

“We’ve always been supportive,” Fazzini said. “In college you do anything for your brothers, and when you leave school you always have those feelings.” “Through this group I was able to see and reconnect with someone I have not seen since 1964,” Fazzini said. “And I saw him on LinkedIn.” Through connections made and friendships rekindled, a number of get-togethers have taken place with the members of the group.

One group member, Matt Lussier, Jacksonville ’04, is the Airship Pilot at Goodyear. Lussier posted a standing invitation on the page for anyone who wished to come tour the Goodyear Blimp at their own convenience. Many Phis took him up on the offer, including both Fazzini and Juhl. The brothers enjoyed their time with fellow Phis and the opportunity to take in the impressive size of the Blimp. Fazzini also mentioned a cook-out he had at Ridge Landing with a few brothers from the group, and what a great time it was.

Phi Aviators

  • J. Clifford Turpin, Purdue 1908, Wright Brothers test pilot
  • Neil Armstrong, Purdue 1955, Astronaut, Apollo 11
  • F. Story Musgrave, Syracuse ’58, Astronaut, shuttle pilot, worked on Skylab program
  • Jon McBride, West Virginia ’64, Navy fighter pilot, astronaut, STS-41-G Challenger shuttle pilot
  • Brigadier General Charles F. Blair, Vermont 1899, Record-setting Air Force test pilot
  • Thomas L. Thurlow, Stanford ’29, Co-pilot for Howard Hughes
  • Robert Rockwell, Cincinnati 1915, WWI pilot, one of 38 pilots who flew for France before the U.S. entry into the war
  • Leon Vance Jr., Oklahoma ’37, WWII pilot, Medal of Honor recipient
  • Robert Hampton Gray, British Columbia ’40, Royal Canadian Navy WWII pilot, Victoria Cross recipient
  • John R. McKone, Kansas State ’54, Commander of RB-47 Stratojet reconnaissance bomber shot down in 1960 by the Soviets
  • Scott O’Grady, Washington ’88, Air Force pilot, shot down over Bosnia in 1995 and rescued after six days by the U.S. Marines
  • Capt. James Ruliffson, Iowa State ’62, Co-founder and instructor at The Navy Weapons Fighter School, a.k.a. Top Gun
  • Bill Rademaker, Washington ’64
  • Eric Page, Washington ’16, Student pilot-in-training Gary Greenman, Embry-Riddle ’14, Flight test engineer at Gulfstream Aerospace Corp.
  • LTJG Ryan Clarida, Southern Indiana ’08, Navy pilot Mike Walsh, Colorado ’ 00
  • Marty Hope, Alberta ’98, Commerical pilot Jordan Dawson, Middle Tenn. State ’ 15, Commerical pilot-in-training
  • Alex Houmann, Middle Tenn. State ’ 14, Flight instructor at MTSU
  • Spencer Schuelke, Middle Tenn. State ’16 , Student flight instructor
  • Alex McCloud, Middle Tenn. State ’13 , Unmanned aerial vehicle pilot
  • John Poynton, Arizona ’92, Delta Airlines pilot
  • Eric Higgins, Indiana State ’12 , Navy Blue Angels pilot
  • James LaFon, Indiana State ’12, Professional pilot, flight instructor
  • Stephen Ryan, Embry-Riddle ’14 , Student pilot
  • Tim Brooks, Indiana State ’76, Army helicopter pilot
  • Berk Oneren, Embry-Riddle ’15, Private pilot
  • Lawrence P. Darkangelo Jr., Tennessee Tech ’13, Army aviation operations specialist
  • Clinton J. Durham, Tennessee Tech ’13, Army helicopter pilot
  • Scott Yoak, Embry-Riddle ’08, P-51 aerobatic air show pilot
  • H. Charles Steeber, Pittsburgh ’76, Airline transport pilot, flight
  • instructor, Senior VP of Airline Operations, Mesa Airlines
  • Kevin Buchar, Illinois ’91, Captain at United
  • Chad Hayes, Butler ’93, Captain at United
  • David Barrett, Clarion ’95, Airline pilot
  • Steve Wallace, Bowling Green ’78, Captain at US Airways
  • Al Gaiardo, Pittsburgh ’85, Private pilot
  • Carl Perazzola, Pittsburgh ’75, Private pilot
  • Michael Corbett, Davidson ’14, 2nd Lieutenant U.S. Army, helicopter pilot-in-training
  • Jason Riopelle, Virginia Tech ’09, Aircraft performance engineer
  • Jared “Roam” Aschenbrenner, South Florida ’07, USAF fighter pilot
  • Jason Klante, Minn. State-Mankato ’97, Commercial airline pilot
  • Michael Bidwill, St. Louis ’87, Flying Samaritans volunteer
  • Michael Juhl, Embry-Riddle ’08, Commercial pilot for Allegiant Air
  • John Fazzini, Florida ’66, Owner/developer Ridge Landing Airpark
  • Matt Lussier, Jacksonville ’04, Airship pilot at Goodyear
  • Michael Connor, Northwestern ’52, Marines helicopter pilot
  • RADM Daniel L. Kloeppel, Northwestern ’70, Naval aviator
  • Charles W. “Chuck” Poore Jr., South Dakota ’61, private pilot
  • W.L. Gray, TCU ’70, private pilot
  • Chris A. Lapple, California State-Northridge, ’80, private pilot
  • Samuel J. Furrow, Tennessee ’65, Private pilot
  • Mark Ochsenbein, Eastern Kentucky ’77, helicopter pilot
  • David Gallagher, Tennessee ’78, FedEx pilot
  • Randy C. Shepard, Tennessee ’75, Commercial pilot

The aviation list developed was created through a call for information on the Fraternity’s Facebook page this past July. It undoubtedly is not a complete list of Phis in the aviation industry.