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Tigers: Tracking a Legend
Thomas F. Connolly
Vice Admiral Thomas E. Connolly was born in October, 1909 in St. Paul, Minnesota. A 1933 U.S. Naval Academy graduate, he retired from the Navy in 1971 after 38 years of distinguished service.
As Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Air Warfare) in the midst of congressional hearings concerning naval procurement of the F-111B fighter-bomber, he courageously upheld the tenants of naval aviation in the face of extreme opposition to urge its rejection. In its place, the mainstay carrier fighter of the past 25 years, the F-14 Tomcat was developed and named for Admiral Connolly.
After earning a Masters of Aeronautical Engineering for Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he became a test pilot and coauthored a university-level text book on airplane aerodynamics. He established the Navy's elite Top Gun test pilot training center, commanded two carriers, was Commander Naval Air Pacific, and the first flag officer assigned for Navy Space requirements and programs.
He was instrumental in developing the modern aircraft carrier program, the first operational navigational satellite system, the Navy's Pacific missile range, Sidewinder missile, and a naval ordinance requirements system.
Admiral Connolly's awards and honors include three Distinguished Flying Crosses and three Air Medals earned during World War II, two Legions of Merit awards, the Award for Achievement of the National Aviation Club, the Kitty Hawk Memorial Award, and, in 1998, he was inducted into the Naval Aviation Hall of Honor in Pensacola, Florida. In addition, competing as a member of the American team in the 1932 Olympics, he won a bronze medal in gymnastics for rope climbing.
Admiral Connolly, who died in Holland, Michigan in 1996 at the age of 86, was enshrined into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame on September 25, 1999 for his outstanding contributions to naval aviation and space programs.