Born: United States of America
Primarily active in: United States of America


Jack Islin, US Army Aviator and Former VFS Executive Director
John A. “Jack” Islin served as the second director of the then-American Helicopter Society (AHS) — from August 1975 to October 1977.

Islin was born in Dallas, Texas, on May 17, 1933, and went to Abington Senior High School in Abington, Pennsylvania . He graduated in 1955 with a pre-law degree from the University of Pennsylvania; he then entered the Army at the then-Fort Benning (now Fort Moore), Georgia, with a commission as an infantry lieutenant. Early in the course he was given an orientation flight by an enthusiastic Korean War veteran who had the vision of air mobile combat operations. Although the H-13B Sioux (Bell 47) had no servos, shook, and had limited performance, the pilot’s demonstration and persuasive narrative convinced Islin to apply for flight school. He entered class 56-14 at the then-Gary Air Force Base (now the San Marcos Regional Airport, Texas) — because the Army did not have its own primary school — and he graduated from helicopter school at the then-Fort Rucker (now Fort Novosel), Alabama, in 1957. He was assigned to the first “new concept” aviation combat organization, with new reconnaissance and troop carriers, in the Fourth Armored Division.

Islin flew Sikorsky H-19s and H-34s in the Tactical Transport platoon, in Germany, from 1958 to 1961. He was a training officer and taught and demonstrated air mobile operations to units of the division. After Germany, he was assigned to Camp Wolters, Texas, as part of the small cadre, to design, develop and implement the Army’s first officially recognized armed helicopter program, which provided the H-13 with .30 caliber machine guns. He also served as Chief of the Warrant Officer Candidate Program.

In 1964, Islin went to Vietnam and joined the 118th Aviation Company with the new UH-1B. He was the standardization instructor pilot, platoon commander and a leader of the combat assaults. He flew over 1,000 combat hours, went down in the Battle of Binh Gia that December, and kept refining assault operations. In September 1964, the vision and the concept expressed themselves in a spectacular operation, blessed by General Delk Oden, the Commanding General of US Army Support Command in Vietnam (and later President of Bell Helicopter). Islin led the first 100-helicopter combat assault into the jungle northwest of Saigon.

Next, still a captain, Islin went to Fort Rucker where the post was under scrutiny from the Army Inspector General and the Secretary of Defense. Islin was made fleet operations manager for 1,029 aircraft of 27 configurations and told to: 1) increase availability, 2) reduce the number UH-1 Hueys requested by the school, and 3) ensure every one of the 69 flight training classes graduated on time. It was a successful tour and Islin received an early promotion to lieutenant colonel after only nine months in grade as a major.

He earned a Master of Science degree in Systems Engineering from the University of Southern California in 1968. After graduate school, he was assigned to the Pentagon as an Executive Officer to the Assistant Vice Chief of Staff. He promoted air mobility at every opportunity.

Islin volunteered for another tour in Vietnam and joined the 1st Air Cavalry Division in 1970. There, he commanded the 11th Combat Aviation Group (200 helicopters and 3,000 soldiers) during the Cambodian Incursion, as well as the 227th Assault Battalion. He experienced, and survived, an engine failure in the Cambodian combat zone and acquired another 1,000+ combat flight hours. He was the youngest officer to have that command, and he held it longer than anyone else. He earned 76 medals — seven of them for valor — during his two tours.

From Vietnam, he attended the National Industrial College and was kept on a research fellowship. He was then assigned to the Secretary of the Army where he was the Deputy for Aviation under Norman Augustine, then Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research, Development and Acquisition, ASA(RDA). He received an early promotion to full colonel. He fought for the AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopter, the UTTAS/ UH-60 Black Hawk, and the CH-47D Chinook upgrade.

He retired at exactly 20 years and then became the Executive Vice President (later called the “Executive Director”) of the Vertical Flight Society (then AHS). His work was chronicled in the Society’s 75th anniversary book (see Notably he moved the headquarters from New York City to Washington, DC, and hired a professional staff; the photo shown is from 1975.

In late 1977, he became the director of the new Sikorsky Development Flight Center — which had just opened in West Palm Beach County to certify the new S-76, and test the UH-60 Black Hawk, the S-69 Advancing Blade Concept (ABC) and CH-53E Super Stallion. Under his leadership, Sikorsky’s S-76 Flight Test Team received the Society of Flight Test Engineers (SFTE) Kelly Johnson Award for flight test engineering.

He earned a Master of Science in Aerospace Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 1979, followed by a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in 1980.

In the 1980s, he became a group senior vice president at Citicorp Diners Club in Chicago, where he was designated one of the top 25 executives in the industry. He subsequently retired to Florida. In 2013, Islin was inducted into the Abington Senior High School Hall of Fame.

Islin was first a member of AHS in 1962–1964, when he was at Camp Wolters. He rejoined in 1969 when based in DC. Islin, who led AHS through a critical transition, also expanded membership by 20% and added the word “International” to AHS. After not having attended a Forum for nearly 40 years, Islin attended Forum 72 in May 2016 at West Palm Beach and was effusive in his praise of how far the Society has come, particularly Vertiflite, The Journal of the AHS, and the Annual Forum.

Former Executive Director Mike Hirschberg recalled Islin’s helpful encouragement during his tenure.

John A. “Jack” Islin passed away on March 26, 2024 at his home in Tequesta, Florida, in Palm Beach County.

VFS Update: Vertiflite, July/August 2024