On Wednesday, Federal Aviation Administrator Randy Babbitt, attended the National Business Aviation Association's annual meeting. There, he presented the FAA's Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award to six outstanding legends of aviation: Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan, Bob Hoover, Clay Lacy, Russ Meyer, and Arnold Palmer.
The Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award recognizes pilots who have demonstrated professionalism, skill and aviation expertise in maintaining safe operations for 50 or more years. And it would be difficult to find six people more deserving of this honor.
Neil Armstrong took his first flight lesson at age six, so it is no surprise that his storied career would lead him to the very limits of our imagination--the surface of the moon. Since becoming the first man to walk on the moon, he has mostly avoided public appearances, but it is worth noting that in recent years he has become a staunch advocate for NBAA's signature cause: business aviation. And, while he is a humble man, he represents one of humankind's most dramatic achievements.
Bob Hoover is known among pilots as one of our greatest aerobatics pilots. His air show performances in business airplanes like the Strike Commander and Sabreliner business jet have thrilled millions. He is famous in the aviation community for his ability to pour tea when rolling his plane, but he has also made tremendous contributions as both a test pilot and safety innovator. Despite his aerobatic exploits, his most remarkable achievement may have been his World War II escape from a P.O.W. camp--by stealing a plane and flying to safety.
Clay Lacy is a pilot and the president of charter service Clay Lacy Aviation. He has also set air racing records and shot aerial photography for feature films including Top Gun and The Right Stuff. In 1988 he raised more than $500,000 for children's charities with an around the world flight.
Russ Meyer is Chairman Emeritus of Cessna Aircraft Company. In addition to leading Cessna for more than 30 years, during which Cessna built 67,000 aircraft, Russ was also head of Grumman Aviation. Blog readers may be interested in knowing that Russ is also the pioneer of the Cessna Citation Special Olympics Airlift, an idea he first developed in 1986.
Arnold Palmer may be the only of the honorees more famous for his non-aviation achievements. But he has also been an enormously important advocate for flight, first as a golfer shuttling home during tournaments and later using his celebrity to promote aviation. Many readers may not know that in addition to winning a slew of major golf titles, in 1976 he set the around-the world speed record for the Lear 36, a mark that still stands today.
While each of these men has a resume of acheivement that differentiates him from the others, they have at least one thing in common: a long record of safety.
Whether orbiting the globe in space or in our own atmosphere, whether shuttling to the moon or to the Special Olympics, and whether filming air-to-air scenes for Hollywood films or living the right stuff celebrated by those films, these aviators have flown safely, innovated safety techniques, and advocated for safety.
For that, these Wright Brothers Master Pilots deserve our recognition.