Mar 17, 2017
When Dale Johnson, of Eustis, was a little boy, he loved watching the airplanes go by, dreaming of one day being able to fly one. Now 85 years of age and after a lifetime of pursing his dreams, he was awarded the Wright Brothers Master Pilot award, the highest honor from the Federal Aviation Administration, during a ceremony at the Leesburg Airport on Monday, acknowledging his more than 50 years of experience and excellence.
"I think it's a recognition of love for aviation," Johnson said. "I'm honored to have the award and so happy to have everyone here that has been a part of my journey."
More than 100 friends and family members gathered for the presentation, given by Orlando FAA Safety Team Ops Program Manager Bob Jex, who said this was the largest gathering he'd ever seen in honoring one person.
Johnson grew up in Pennsylvania and took his first airplane ride at age 10. After moving to Eustis with is family in 1946, he finished school and joined the Florida National Guard and served as a communications specialist, and took his first solo flight in 1957 at the Florida State University Flying Club.
He became a high school teacher of biology, math and physics for 20 years but decided he wanted to pursue his love of aviation. He married his wife, Eileen, in 1968, and took some of his retirement money out to buy his first plane, a Cessna 150, which led to the start of Sun Air Aviation in Leesburg in 1973.
While training at his own school, Johnson became a certified instructor and has trained more than 1,000 students who have gone on to pursue their own aviation careers at major airlines, military aviation, charter and private businesses.
Johnson continues to keep his certificate current and has logged more than 20,000 hours of flying time, with 15,000 of them from dual instruction.
"They couldn't have picked a better person to honor," former student Ed Daughtery said. "I took flying lessons from him and eventually worked for him. He's a great person and friend, and he deserves this recognition."
Johnson was awarded a certified plaque and lapel pin for his lifetime achievement award. His wife also received a lapel pin for her support during his aviation career. Johnson will also be published into the FAA Roll of Honor of Master Pilots, which currently has 3,961 names since its beginning in 2003.
"I think everyone has something they look at that they think they can never achieve," Johnson said. "I never thought I could fly on my own but I decided one day that I wanted to do that and I kept pursuing it more and more until it became my whole life's work. If you have a dream, go for it."
Source: Daily Commercial