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Richard Witkin

Reporter, New York Times

Richard Witkin, one of the country’s foremost experts on aviation and space technology, covered the field for the New York Times from September 1959 until his retirement in January 1989.

After joining the Times he worked for a time as a general reporter and re-write man, and then turned his full attention to aviation and space news reporting. He was named aerospace editor in October 1963.

Witkin won many journalism prizes. He was a member of the Times team that was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for coverage of the space shuttle Challenger disaster. Later in 1987, he received the Sharpless Award of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association for coverage of general aviation.

In prior years, he won the Lauren D. Lyman Award of the Aviation/Space Writers Association, a Page One Award of the Newspaper Guild of New York, and the 1975 Publications Award of the Flight Safety Foundation. In 1983, he received a president’s citation from the Air Traffic Controllers Association. He was awarded an honorary doctorate in aeronautical sciences from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida in 1988.

In 1965, Witkin temporarily changed his specialty and became the Time’s chief political reporter in New York City. He held that post until he returned to aerospace coverage in 1968.

His newspaper career began with the Detroit Free Press in 1940. In 1941, he worked as a news writer for radio station WOV in New York and between 1945 and 1954 was with the United Press, where he wrote news broadcasts, became night radio editor and then covered the United Nations from 1947 to 1954.

Born on August 8, 1918 in New York, Witkin was a graduate of Harvard College, cum laude, and of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

He was in the military service from 1941 to 1945. A B-24 pilot based in Italy, he returned to the United States after 33 combat missions and left the service with the rank of captain. He won the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with five clusters.

Witkin was the editor of the book, “The Challenge of the Sputniks” and was a contributor to “The New York Times Book on Project Apollo.”

Witkin died in 2013 at the age of 95.