Twenty area pilots have achieved something few pilots do: They have flown safely for 50 years.
On Saturday, the group of 20 was presented with the Federal Aviation Administration’s Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award.
It’s one thing to achieve the award, but regionally it’s unprecedented for so many pilots to receive it at the same time, an FAA official said.
“Never had anything of this size,” said Jim Lamb, FAA Safety Team program manager. “I can’t speak for the entire nation, but I know in the central region this is the largest group of people we’ve ever had.” The central region included Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska and Tennessee before an FAA restructuring on Oct. 1.
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The award is granted to pilots who have flown for 50 years, have never had an airplane accident that they caused and have never had their pilot certificate taken away by the FAA.
Half of one percent of all FAA certificated pilots in the U.S. have received the award, Lamb said.
Doug Moler is one of the 20 who received the award at a Saturday afternoon ceremony at Larksfield Place.
It was Moler, a native Wichitan and retired captain for Continental Airlines, who started it all.
Moler said he became eligible for the award two years ago, but thought it would be more special to celebrate if his good friend Dave Blanton, who was also eligible, put in for the award, too. But, Moler said, Dave’s brother Bobby would also soon be eligible for the award. And Dave wanted to wait for Bobby.
“As I was kind of cooling my heels, I started asking questions and found five pilots at High Point Air Park in Valley Center that were eligible,” Moler said. “I know all these guys. These guys are all my friends. We found three more at Hidden Valley Air Park, and another guy who lives in the city. It just started growing.”
“What’s remarkable is eight people are from Valley Center and five of them are from one, little flying community,” added Moler, who lives in High Point, which like Hidden Valley is a private housing development built around a grass airstrip.
Wichita’s newest master pilots
Here are the 20 area pilots who will receive the FAA’s Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award Saturday afternoon:
Ronald Black, David Blanton, Robert Blanton, Wayne Bormann, Rex Corbin, Richard Curtis, Robert “Rod” Davis, Donald Grunke, Larry Hastings, Col. Wesley “Red” Kimball, Lawrence Lay, Nicky Mardis, Jay McLeod, Doug Moler, Terry Poling, Jimmie Smith, Ernest Spriggs, David Tiday, Harold Walter, Donald Yoder