Morris resident Charlie Gibbs’ is the Federal Aviation Administration’s newest Wright Brothers Master Pilot.
The Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award is given to pilots who have maintained safe flight operations for 50 years or more, said Samuel Heiter of the FAA Safety Team Great Lakes Region.
“It’s a neat thing the FAA does. We’re looking at third- and fourth-generation pilots now and I think its important we recognize these folks,” said Heiter.
Gibbs has been flying 50 years and has 4,000 flying hours, he said. Although he did fly for traveling purposes for his business, he flies mostly for fun. His interest in flying started when he was a child in Indiana.
“I grew up in Valparaiso, Ind., on a farm across the street from a rural airport. I used to go stand at the end of the runway and stick my thumb out and once in awhile I got a ride,” said Gibbs.
Gibbs went on to learn how to fly at Purdue University. By 1962, he had his private pilots license and, through the years, got his commercial license, instrument rating, single and multi engine ratings.
Gibbs was alerted that he qualified for the master pilot award by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and was encouraged to apply for it by members of the Sunday Morning Breakfast Club, which is a group of Chicagoland pilots who take weekly flights to specific destinations for breakfast. The group has about 50 members.
About six months after applying for the award, he received notification he had won. The FAA asked when they could present it to him and the breakfast club arranged for a dinner to celebrate Gibbs’ honor.
On April 21, the club met at Branmor’s American Grill and Steakhouse in Bolingbrook. About 40 people attended.
“What stood out about (Gibbs) was the comments made by his peers,” Heiter said. “They talked of his professional way he approaches flying and that he is a person people look to for advice.”
As part of the application, there had to be letters of recommendation.
Gibbs said, according to his research, there are 597,109 active pilots in the U.S., 2,118 pilots have received the award, and 68, including Gibbs, are in Illinois.
Gibbs is a member of the American Bonanza Society, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association and the local chapter of the EAA, Chapter 95.
In 1986, he was president of the 10,000-member American Bonanza Society and at that time the Beechcraft Bonanza planes were having a number of accidents. The company decided to voluntarily retest the planes and found out the tail surface was breaking under certain conditions, Gibbs said.
“So they came up with a fix for it and put it on every plane, and at that time they had over 10,000 planes,” said Gibbs. This was done at no cost to the plane owner. That fix is still in use today on V-tail Bonanzas.
“I was president of the society at the time and the president of the Beechcraft at the time called and said we’re sending a plane to pick you up,” said Gibbs. He was told the results of the test and was put in charge of notifying all of the members of the American Bonanza Society.
As his award proves, Gibbs is accident and violation free, but he has had his close calls.
As a student pilot he was turning downwind and leveling his wings when all of a sudden he saw a wheel come between the propeller and windshield. It was another plane coming in who never saw Gibbs.
“His wheel was six inches from my windshield and we never touched,” he said. “He landed and never knew anything about it.”
“That kept me out of the air for about a week,” said Gibbs.
In another incident, he was flying his 1949 A Model Bonanza and ended up flying into the edge of a thunderstorm. This was before there was equipment for weather avoidance, he said.
“I went in at 8,000 feet and got spit out at 14,000 feet,” Gibbs said.
Nowadays, Gibbs flies 2002 Diamond Star, his favorite of the 10 planes he’s owned.
“The plane I have now is the most fun,” he said.