NASM Leader Don Lopez, 84, Dies

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Donald S. Lopez, 84, author, aviator, and deputy director of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in Washington, D.C., died of a heart attack on March 3. Lopez joined the Smithsonian in 1972 as part of the team that planned the NASM, which opened in July 1976. "The nation has lost a true hero and the Smithsonian has lost a great leader," Smithsonian Institution acting secretary Cristián Samper said in a news release on Wednesday. "Don Lopez was an American Ace fighter pilot, author, educator, and museum professional beloved by all who came in contact with him." Lopez flew 101 missions in China, piloting Curtiss P-40s and North American P-51 Mustangs for the U.S. Air Force, and later flew North American F-86s in Korea. Among many other awards and honors, Lopez was heralded as one of the "living legends" at the Gathering of Mustangs and Legends at Rickenbacker Field in Columbus, Ohio, last year.

"Don’s contribution to the museum cannot be overstated," museum director Gen. J.R. "Jack" Dailey said. "For 35 years, he was the guiding spirit, contributing his vast knowledge of aviation, exceptional leadership skills, unflagging enthusiasm, and a sense of humor that endeared him to all."