Miles Above the Rest

Lexington, Ind., resident
receives Master Pilot Award

Wilkerson has been flying,
instructing for 56 years

By Lela Jane Bradshaw
Contributing Writer

(December 2010) – When Fred Wilkerson was a child in North Carolina, a family visit took him to the local airport. The experience made such an impression on the boy that he was soon secretly planning another trip behind his mother’s back.

Fred Wilkerson

Photo provided

Fred Wilkerson (far left) on Nov. 9
receives his Master Pilot Award,
accompanied by his wife, Hazel, and
FAA representatives Lou Owens and
George Ballard, who traveled to Madison
from Plainfield, Ind., to present it.

“I was going to ride my bike to school and I didn’t do it – I went to the airport,” he recalls. His decision to skip class that day didn’t get him out of work, since the men at the airfield quickly had him painting the cloth on the wings of planes with stiffener to help prepare them for flight. “They put me busy!” he said, laughing.
“A mechanic out there had just done an inspection on a Cessna 140,” he recalls. Then the man asked a fateful question: “‘Do you want to go around with me?” Sitting in the cockpit, Wilkerson was allowed to work the break on the plane. “Man, I felt like I was an airline pilot!” The experience proved more than a passing adventure, and upon the family’s move to Bennington, Ind., Wilkerson was soon taking lessons at the Madison Airport from Don Ledgerwood.
That was during the 1950s and his flying days have come full circle. On Nov. 9, Wilkerson became one of only 22 pilots in the Great Lakes Region ever to receive the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award. Presented by the Federal Aviation Administration, the award recognizes his years of service to the aviation industry and dedication to safety. Only pilots who have been active in aviation for more than 50 years are eligible for this honor. Unbeknown to Wilkerson, his wife, Hazel, together with sons, Ken and Mark, compiled the required paperwork and recommendations for the award.
“We’ve been working on it for about three years,” says Hazel with a smile. Under the guise of celebrating their daughter-in-law’s birthday, the family convinced Wilkerson to head over to the Madison Elks Lodge, where a celebratory luncheon waited. The 35 guests included not only friends and family, but FAA representatives Lou Owens and George Ballard.
“It was a nice surprise,” says Wilkerson.
While Wilkerson spent time crop dusting and flying charter planes, his genuine passion for instructing others greatly shaped his career. He received his Instructor license in 1958, and today at the age of 74 his instructor’s endorsement is still current. In 1967 he began work for the Kentucky Flying Service out of Louisville’s Bowman Field, where he was to become the chief instructor. As an FAA flight examiner, he oversaw more than 250 pilots getting their license.
“A person has to have a desire,” he says of those interested in learning to fly. He stresses that a good teacher will never “knock down that desire” an aspiring pilot has. “The student comes first” he acknowledges, “The teacher has to teach the student everything they know.”
In addition to teaching his sons and his wife to fly, another memorable student was Rose Will Monroe – the lady most closely associated with wartime icon “Rosie the Riveter.” After years of building B-29 and B-24 bombers, it was under Wilkerson’s instruction that she finally achieved her dream of learning to fly in her 50s.
“Her daughter was really proud of her. She was a real nice lady,” he says of his famous student. “That’s the fun of being around a lot of pilots. You never know who you’re going to meet,” says Hazel.
Wilkerson hopes that his award will help bring more attention to the Madison Municipal Airport, where he and his wife have served as managers for the past five years. “We’ve had a lot of good pilots here in Madison. A lot of people don’t even know we have an airport,” he says.
He points out that the assistant manager Ralph Rogers gives lessons and offers sightseeing flights for those who want a new perspective on Madison.
Wilkerson looks back over his years in the air noting with a grin, “I haven’t killed myself or torn any planes up. I’ve been a private pilot, a commercial pilot, an instrument pilot, an instructor pilot and now a Master Pilot.”

Back to December 2010 Articles.



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