Four Local Pilots Receive FAA Safety Award
A century after the first pilots to fly — and first to crash — airplanes in North Carolina, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) created a safe flying award and named it for them.
The Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award honors a lifetime of safe flying for pilots who have flown safely for 50 years or more.
Last month, four local pilots, all from the Carthage chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), received the award. The four received their awards in a special ceremony held at Gilliam-McConnell Airfield in Carthage.
One was Roland Gilliam, builder, owner and operator of the airfield. Each pilot received an award certificate and a lapel pin, with a smaller pin for their spouses.
In addition to chapter president Gilliam (54 years safe piloting), those honored pilots included Marshall Hall (60 years), Charles (Chuck) Peterson (58 years) and Jack Kitchin (50 years).
Gilliam and the three other pilots joined 2005 award recipient Robert Kroll in the EAA chapter room to accept their awards from FAA safety team official Bob Sutherlin. He’s an experienced pilot himself with 49 safe years in the air.
“All these people have a good aviation history with no scars,” Sutherlin said. “If you’ve had a violation where you lost your license or had it suspended, or an accident where you were careless and reckless, you can’t get the award. I get mine next fall, so every time I fly I say, ‘Oh, please, God, don’t let me do anything wrong, or stupid!’ We had some real good gentlemen who got the award today.”
Gilliam started flying in 1958 and has more than 7,000 hours in various aircraft.
Hall began flying in 1952. He flew in Vietnam as a tail gunner in a B-52, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his efforts. He has owned many aircraft, including an Ercoupe, a Cessna 170 and others.
Peterson began his flying career in 1954 as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. He became a commissioned officer in 1956, flying the F-86, then the PA-18, various trainers (the T-6, T-28, and the T-33) and the F-104 as well as delta wing aircraft.
In 1966, he joined United Airlines and had a successful career flying many different commercial airliners, ending with the Boeing 757 and 767s until his retirement in 1995. Peterson served in the Milwaukee Air National Guard for many years. He now owns a V-tail Bonanza F-35 and has been involved in building several light sport aircraft, most recently an RV-12.
Kitchin, Gilliam’s boyhood friend from the Norfolk, Va., area, lives now in Currituck, not far from the Wright brothers’ monument. Kitchin got his pilot’s license in 1963 after Gilliam had given him his first ride in an airplane.
Both had the same flight instructor. Kitchin later worked as a corporate pilot from 1964 until 1980. He has owned and flown Mooneys and other recreational aircraft. He presently flies his Mooney M20J.
The FAA instituted the Wright Brothers Master Pilot award in 2003, 100 years following the two Ohio brothers’ historic flights at Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks. Similar pilot awards (such as the Golden Eagle Award) had been presented by various FAA offces.
Those awards had been issued to recognize local pilots who have exhibited professionalism, skill and aviation expertise for at least 50 years as active pilots.
The FAA consolidated those local awards into one national program. The names of these four pilots will now appear on the FAA’s Role of Honor.
This EAA chapter is named for James Rogers McConnell, who left Carthage to serve France as a volunteer ambulance driver in the early days of World War I.
Later, he was one of nine original members of the famed Lafayette Escadrille and the last American fighter pilot to lose his life in aerial combat before the United States entered that war.
The airfield bears his name and is home to two memorials honoring fighter pilots from Moore County who lost their lives defending foreign lands against invaders — McConnell and 2nd Lt. Robert Hoyle Upchurch from High Falls, the Flying Tiger of World War II whose body lay buried and honored for 63 years in China.
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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