The decorated former TOPGUN Commander Jim DiMatteo, now Race Director of the Red Bull Air Race, was named "Best of the Best" in a gala ceremony in California.
Aviation's most eminent figures turned out in black tie and dress uniform as the Palm Springs Air Museum – a prestigious "living history" institution that ranks among the world's top aviation museums – celebrated eight inductees into its Hall of Fame for demonstrating "The Best of the Best." DiMatteo was honoured along with such high-profile dignitaries as Apollo 12 astronaut Captain Alan Bean, who was the fourth man to walk on the moon, Clay Lacy, the general aviation icon who has more turbine engine flight time than anyone in the world, and Pat J. Halloran (Major General USAF Ret.), the top U-2 and SR-71 pilot of the US Air Force.
"I am so incredibly proud and grateful to receive this recognition, as it is one of the most prestigious aviation awards one can be honored with in our country," stated DiMatteo, who will be featured on the museum's Wall of Honour in an original oil painting commissioned from acclaimed artist Stan Stokes. "It is an unbelievable honour and very humbling to be included with other aviation icons that I respect so much."
DiMatteo, whose military callsign is "Guido," devoted nearly 30 years to flying fighters in the US Navy, logging almost 5,000 hours in five iconic aircraft (the only pilot to ever do so): the F-14 Tomcat, F/A-18 Hornet, A-4 Skyhawk, F-5N Tiger II and F-16N Fighting Falcon. DiMatteo also trained at the Navy Fighter Weapons School, known as TOPGUN, and after he went back to be an instructor and then on to be the first in history to command the TOPGUN Adversary squadrons on both the East and West Coasts, known as the VFC-13 Saints and VFC-111 Sundowners. Before he retired in 2013 as a Captain, DiMatteo concluded his military career at CNAF (Commander, Naval Air Forces, which is the headquarters of Naval Aviation) in Coronado, California.
Meanwhile, in 2007 DiMatteo was recruited as Race Director for the Red Bull Air Race – the first person from the United States ever to hold the role for what has become the official World Championship. While his foremost responsibility is to ensure the safe and efficient execution of the races, his presence extends much further, from monitoring and ensuring fairness (a task he describes as similar to a head referee) to serving as a spokesperson for the sport. When the Red Bull Air Race revamped during a three-year hiatus from 2011 through 2013, DiMatteo's input was key in determining the new direction of the sport. The expertise he shared helped to make the series even more safe, competitive, fair and – also important – exciting for spectators at the international race locations as well as for viewers watching the broadcasts live around the world.
Although DiMatteo has been awarded an unprecedented amount of individual aviation and squadron command awards, including Fighter Pilot of the Year, Adversary Pilot of the Year, TOP HOOK (top pilot landing on the aircraft carrier), and the esteemed Britannia Award from the United Kingdom for Top Strike-Fighter Pilot of the Year, he said none of those compare to being inducted into this Aviation Hall of Fame: "It is truly the most humbling recognition I have ever received. To be included with such aviation icons from the military, NASA and General Aviation is overwhelming to me. It reinforces my acknowledgement and appreciation that this has always been a team effort and not just an individual performance, and I am thankful and grateful for all those around me, my family, wingmen and squadron mates who supported me in the Navy, and all the incredible pilots and colleagues at the Red Bull Air Race whom I am privileged to work with today.
"In some ways, my job as Race Director reminds me of being a Squadron Commander. The competitive side of Air Racing is reminiscent of the feelings you get in a fighter squadron 'ready room' – competition, emotion and camaraderie amongst pilots with exceptional skills," DiMatteo continued. "I feel very fortunate to have enjoyed such a fulfilling career so far, and I'm looking forward to being part of the Red Bull Air Race Team and helping take this aviation sport even higher. SMOKE ON!"