The son of a decorated World War Two pilot, Richard E. Gillespie grew up around airplanes and learned to fly while he was still in high school. He worked his way through college ferrying airplanes and flying charters for his hometown airport in upstate New York. Graduating from the State University of New York with a BA in History in 1969, Ric enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as an officer with the First Cavalry Division. In 1973 he began a twelve-year career as an aviation accident investigator and risk manager in the aviation insurance industry.
In 1985, with his wife Pat Thrasher, he founded The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery. Known by its acronym TIGHAR (pronounced tiger), the nonprofit foundation has an international membership of scholars, scientists and enthusiasts whose volunteer expertise and financial contributions support the organization's mission to promote responsible aviation archaeology and historic preservation.
As TIGHAR's executive director, Ric Gillespie has led over three dozen aviation archaeological expeditions to remote areas of the U.S., Canada, Europe, Micronesia and New Guinea. He has also conducted dozens of educational seminars at air museums around the U.S. and has organized and moderated conferences of air museum professionals in Britain and Europe.
TIGHAR’s best known historical investigation is the Earhart Project - a comprehensive, science-based inquiry into the iconic mystery of Amelia Earhart’s 1937 disappearance. Since launching TIGHAR’s investigation in 1988, Ric has led eleven expeditions – most recently in July of 2012 - to the remote uninhabited South Pacific atoll of Nikumaroro where a large and growing preponderance of evidence suggests Earhart died as a castaway.