Richard F. Gillis, a native of New Jersey, enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1954 after graduation from high school. Upon completion of the aviation cadet program he was commissioned a second lieutenant. He flew the F-86D and F-89 with the 54th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS) at Ellsworth Air Force Base (AFB), South Dakota, and received the Air Defense Command’s “We Point With Pride” award for successfully coping with a serious emergency in the F-89. At Suffolk County AFB, NY, Gillis served as the flight test maintenance officer and wing quality control officer for the 52nd Fighter Interceptor Group flying F-101s deploying during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He flew F-102As with the FIS, at Harmon AFB, Newfoundland, then returned to the F-101 at Charleston AFB, SC, with the 444 FIS as quality control officer and chief functional test pilot. In 1969, he was assigned as and RF-101 reconnaissance pilot with the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing at Shaw AFB, SC, until departing for Vietnam where he flew RF-101c reconnaissance and test missions while maintaining 16 aircraft for the 45th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. He flew 100 combat and 170 functional test missions. Gillis returned to the country in 1979, as Air Force advisor to the Texas Air National Guard at Ellington AFB, where he flew F-101s and T-33s with the 147th Fighter Interceptor Group. After serving at Craig AFB, as Chief of Maintenance he became Director of Maintenance Engineering at Air Training Command (ATC) Headquarters, Randolph AFB, TX, and was promoted to colonel. At Wright Patterson, AFB, OH, Colonel Gillis was A-10 Deputy Program Manager for Logistics before becoming Director of Logistics Airlift and Trainer Systems, winning awards for his innovations on the C-17. In 1989, at Robins AFB, GA, he won Best Depot Maintenance as Director of Maintenance, was promoted to brigadier general and vice commander, then returned to Randolph AFB, ATC headquarters as Deputy Chief of Staff, Logistics. He assumed command of the Air Force Acquisitions Logistics Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, having earned his second star. In 1988 Major Gillis returned to Warner Robins Air Logistics Center at Robins AFB as Commander where he reorganized the Center along product lines into a lean, responsive business model, brought in J-Stars, built giant repair hangars and improved infrastructure and environmental conditions in industrial areas, while focusing on quality of life issues and bringing in air shows and the military tattoo event. He was involved with the Museum of Aviation at Robins AFB from its beginnings in 1989, acquiring aircraft, funding and buildings, culminating with the completion of the Eagle Building, prior to his retirement in 1992. During his 38 years of service, Gillis was a command pilot with over 5,500 flying hours. His decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters and Air Force Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters.
In recognition of his distinguished military contributions to aviation, Major General Richard F. Gillis was enshrined into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame on April 29, 2006