CEO Of The Cockpit: Master Of My Domain


Kermit found me morose. I was sitting in my lounge chair in my home office, staring dolefully at my “I love me” wall.

Most general aviation and military pilots have an “I love me” wall or shelf in their homes. It is a place to hang all those squadron pictures, awards, plaques, old epaulets, retirement photos signed by the pilots in your base, and, of course, your shirt tail from when you soloed.

My ILM wall is a small space beside some old boxes I’ve meant to clean out. The small size of the area, no doubt, is a true reflection of my not doing very much, which was notable during my flying career up to now. My most significant achievements were managing not to crash, kill anybody, land in a river, or fly my MD-88 upside down when I was drunk in a movie.

It turned out that I was wrong about my lack of achievement. The FAA has an award for pilots like me, The Wright Brother’s Master Pilot Award. It is given to fliers who have successfully flown for at least 50 years without dropping dead or having a revocation of their license.  

There is more to it, of course. Letters of recommendation must be written and sent, and the FAA does a deep dive into its records to ensure you aren’t an unworthy miscreant. Also, if you want a decorative plaque to hang in your I love me space, you must buy it for around 50 bucks.

Two other, better-qualified pilots than I recently received their awards on the same night as me at the same airport spring rubber chicken hangar dinner.

“That was pretty impressive,” Kermit said. “Imagine, more than one hundred and fifty years of flight experience, standing in front of the crowd, getting an award for not messing up, and surviving when other, less fortunate pilots, didn’t.”

Kermit was missing the point of my malaise. 

Here is the deal, I said. It was nice to eat chicken fingers and slurp half-melted ice cream with my airport friends. It was also nice to get my one and only career award (and from the FAA, no less), but getting it led me to the thought that I will not ever qualify for two of these 50-year awards.

I am not saying that my flying days are over, but the FAA kind of intimated that when they handed me a copy of all the airman records they had for me, along with my framed certificate and newly purchased plaque.

The records were unexpected and were a nice touch. Seeing the low grade on my private written exam and my original flight engineer certificate was great. On the other hand, it gave me the feeling that my career was over now, and I should take my award, my records, and my chicken leftovers and leave the airport for good.

“I thought your comments after you got your award were nice,” Kermit said. “A lot of people thought that 40 minutes was long for a speech, but at least they had ice cream to keep them busy.”

I only spoke for about five minutes, I said.

“Seemed like 40.”

Your snarky comment, Kermit, shows how time can be tricky. For example, 50 years seems like a very long time to you and most other people. I see that half-century of my flying life going by in a flash. 

One minute, I was trying to wrestle N22276 to the ground all by myself for the first time at age sixteen, and the next, I was an overweight, overaged, gray-haired guy being given an award for being around and, as far as their official records show, not crashing.

The award was very nice, and I appreciate the people who went out of their way to make sure I received it. Still, it feels like they gave me a certificate and my FAA records, placed me on an ice flow, and pushed me off to sea for a final goodbye.

“Well,” said Kermit, “Everybody but you has already noticed that you are older than you were back in those heady days between the seventies and the twenty-twenties. I don’t think anybody expects you to stop flying, although some people in that hangar might secretly wish you would.

“My advice to you, uncle, is to quietly take your award, plaque, and records and put them where you put your Eagle Scout badge, your Order of the Arrow sash, your marriage certificate, and your third-place tennis trophy. Close the door on them all and start your next 50 years of flying.

“Who knows?” he said. “With modern technology, it is possible, albeit unlikely, that you will get that second award. Just imagine what kind of record the FAA will have on you at the end of the next half-century.”

My nephew was right. Getting the award allows me to put the past 50 years behind me and get on with my next adventures. I closed my office door, got a fresh coffee, and headed out to the airport to give a taildragger checkout to an unsuspecting, less-than-ancient student pilot.

Kevin Garrison
Kevin Garrison is a former airline captain who continues to spread his wisdom of the ages as an airport bum. He shares his thoughts twice a month.


  1. Lovely essay, Kevin. Why is it that we rarely get the recognition we think we deserve when we most likely deserve it, only to get it when we realize it’s no big deal? And after a certain point, it becomes simply a “still-Participating” award.

    • Thanks. It is true. The award is nice, but would it kill them to fund my helicopter rating? kg

  2. They can boost dickey tickers, and are much better at keeping or replacing things like knees, elbows and even backs than they were.
    Gene technology in cancer treatment means there is a chance that the huge advances of the last 20 years, might carry on.
    But the brain is still tricky.
    Some people will be good at 120 years old, others drooling wrecks at 80.
    Big demand for auto land systems assured…

  3. Some people are simply exceptional aviation writers, Ernest Gann, Gordon Baxter, and Richard Collins come immediately to mind, and on equal footing with those luminaries, stands Kevin Garrison: There is none better, in my opinion. Thank you, Captain, for brightening my day.

    • Thanks, WBJohn. My head is so big now from your nice comment that it will be difficult to get my headset on today when I fly. Also, my wife can forget about me taking the trash out tonight!

      • I think you should get two nights off of trash duty. Afterall, you didn’t kill anyone, and you didn’t crash (as far as the record goes). 50 years is more than enough time to fail at least once.

        definitely lol when I read your stuff.

  4. Regardless, Kevin, congratulations. No small achievement to reach the half century mark as a pilot. I’ve 13 to go; hope someone along the line realizes how much I’ve loved flying to make the effort to recommend me when I’m eligible.

    Consider this, in the 120+ years since Orville and Wilbur proved they could do it…you’ve held a certificate allowing you to take to the air at the controls of a powered aircraft for a little over 41% of the time we’ve known we can do it.

  5. Great story and it wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Charles Taylor award. If you know someone who is eligible and deserving of either award, make an appointment with your local FAAST program manager today!

  6. The WBA and the CTA are achievements to be proud of. To have three in one ceremony is to be lauded but EAA Chapter 983 had 31 Inductees at one time! Largest presentation at one time by the FAA! That’s a lot of experience. I’d post a pic but don’t think that’s possible here.

  7. Kevin, you are setting your sights way to low. I only have 47 years as a pilot but I am shooting to beat the famous Canadian test pilot George Neal. He soloed in a Tiger Moth in 1935 and made his last flight solo in his Chipmunk in 2015. Only 34 more years to go, no problem 😀

  8. Thanks for a great read, Kevin! Now I know the name of my ILM wall, and can look at it proudly, with diplomas, family photos and my WBA plaque… Even have a few Air Show Award Plaques for our “Neo Classic” Comanche. Getting the 3/4″ thick pile of papers from the FAA Research staff provided lots of fun reminiscing over 60 years of the joy of flight.

  9. Beautiful. It’s great to have you back!

    In my field we get a Doctor of Divinity after 25 years. We used to joke that DD stood for “didn’t die,” which we young ‘uns all thought was hysterically funny. Years later a colleague said, “Some of us DID die before reaching this point. Others crashed and burned [he wasn’t speaking literally] long before this point. But we made it – we DIDN’T die – and that’s worth celebrating.”

    Enjoy your award. It’s worth celebrating.

  10. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of self-criticism and overlook our accomplishments. Your article is encouraging. Thanks for the great read!

  11. Having received the Wright Brothers master pilot award in 2017, I found it was a functional acknowledgement of my flying career from a PA18 cub to my ninth jet type rating and everything in between. It is also a great way to let observers know that. Our CAF (Commemorative Air Force) unit has about twenty master pilots, but we also have about 15 master mechanics (Charles Taylor) awards. I’ll get my Charles Taylor next year. My alma mater has plaques that recognize those alums with the Master Pilot and Mechanic awards. They are displayed where students, visitors and faculty see the accomplishments of many alums. A great selling point for the University’s aviation programs.

  12. Having read and been entertained by this blog for a number of years now (I miss Paul), it is notable that the list of old, not so bold, Wright Bros.Master Pilots has been swelling; an aviation acknowledgement that was a rarity not too many years ago, has become fairly commonplace. And, IMHO, not as much a personal ego inflation device as it was in the past. I’m also quite certain that my ILM wall would be unrecognizable by most WBMP recipients, but that’s not my point in writing.

    What if there were significant inactive flight lapses after soloing? For illustration purposes, assume a pilot only flew/logged flight time in 25 years of the 50 year time span from his/her first solo and still became a recipient of WBMP. Should this pilot be diminished in the eyes of his peers or should s/he just have a smaller ILM wall? Just askin’.

  13. Good stuff Kevin. I have “the plaque” and am left wondering how much it will bring in a garage sale!

    Orville passed away in 1948 at the age of 76. Wilbur went early, in 1912, at 45 years of age. A lot of changes in aviation have happened since 1903.

  14. I received mine in 2013. I fly–A LOT–30,000 hours in my almost 63 years of flying. I fly a King Air as my “job”–am typed in 5 jets, commercial ratings in airplanes, helicopters, gliders, balloons, single and multi-engine sea–flight instructor in all of the above, and ground instructor ratings.

    I didn’t think much about the 50 years for the Wright Brothers award–until the final year before qualifying for it. I kept telling myself “don’t screw up NOW–you are SO CLOSE to qualifying!” From that perspective, the program WORKS–don’t do something dumb–and jeopardize it! Perhaps the FAA should consider adding a “further achievement” award–a stick-on sticker for each additional 5 years as a way to continue to encourage pilots to carefully consider their record when making flight decisions.

    Does anybody have a “current count” on how many Master Pilot Awards have been awarded?