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HAL to take 'One Hell of a Ride' with Rocket Man

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Fri, Mar 12th 2021 07:00 am

The Historical Association of Lewiston’s March program will be “One Hell of a Ride.” William Suitor will present this event at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 25, at the Village of Lewiston’s Red Brick Municipal Building gym, 145 N. Fourth St.

The year was 1964, the beginning of the Space Age. Bell Aerosystems was deigning the Bell Rocket Belt for the U.S. Army. Suitor grew up on Lake Ontario and was neighbor and family friend of Wendell Moore, a rocket engineer at Bell Aerosystems. The Army contract required Bell take a young man of “draft age,” with no aviation experience, and prove a young soldier could learn how to fly the rocketbelt.

Suitor was 19 with no aviation background and use to mow Wendell’s lawn (nepotism is a wonderful thing). After several months of exciting (severe understatement) flight training, he was kicked out if the nest and on his way to “One Hell of a Ride” traveling all over the world demonstrating the Rocketbelt.

Suitor flew more than 15 varied and exciting rocket propelled devices for more than 1,000 flights with never serious injury, a tribute to the incredible team of Bell engineers and technicians. From 1966-69, he worked with most of the Apollo astronauts flying and training in 1/6th gravity.

He left Bell in 1970 and was hired by the New York Power Authority. Suitor worked operations for 32 years, and did Rocketbelt flying and teaching on his days off.

He appeared in “Lost In Space,” James Bond’s “Thunderball,” and “The Fall Guy,” flew in the halftime show of the first Super Bowl in 1967, and the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Olympics. Suitor is enshrined in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington.

He lives in Youngstown, married “the boss’ daughter” Cheryl Quirk in 1967, raised seven children, and has 17 grandchildren. He wrote a book about his rocketbelt experiences: “One Hell of a Ride.”

This community event is free and open to all. Attendees can use the north door on Onondaga Street. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all present must wear appropriate facial covering and practice social distancing during the presentation. Hand sanitizer will be available. There will be a 50-person seating limitation. There will be no refreshments served at this meeting.

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