Above the Rest
receives Master Pilot Award
has been flying,
instructing for 56 years
Lela Jane Bradshaw
(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 mothers back.
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 didnt
do it I went to the airport, he recalls. His decision
to skip class that day didnt 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 familys 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.
Weve been working on it for about three years, says
Hazel with a smile. Under the guise of celebrating their daughter-in-laws
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
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 instructors endorsement is still current. In 1967 he began
work for the Kentucky Flying Service out of Louisvilles 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 Wilkersons 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. Thats the fun of being around
a lot of pilots. You never know who youre going to meet,
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. Weve had a lot of good pilots here
in Madison. A lot of people dont even know we have an airport,
He points out that the assistant manager Ralph Rogers gives lessons
and offers sightseeing flights for those who want a new perspective
Wilkerson looks back over his years in the air noting with a grin, I
havent killed myself or torn any planes up. Ive been a private
pilot, a commercial pilot, an instrument pilot, an instructor pilot
and now a Master Pilot.
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