- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 2, 2016

MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. (AP) - Jerry Ford got interested in aviation when he was 12, and that interest has ascended into a love of flying.

“My father got interested in aviation and that got me interested, and it just grew,” said Ford. “I soloed on my 16th birthday and then got my driver’s license.”

More than 50 years later, Ford is still flying.

Not only is Ford, now 67, an accomplished pilot, he’s an instructor, a member of the Civil Air Patrol, a part-time pilot for the Alabama Forestry Commission, and an adjunct instructor/professor at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville.

“He was my flight instructor,” said Al Boyd a member of the Civil Air Patrol. “He’s made an impact on thousands of people who have flown with him over the years.”

Ford was recently awarded the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award by the Federal Aviation Administration.

According to the FAA, the award was established in 2003 to recognize pilots who have practiced safe flight operations continuously for 50 or more years.

“Getting that award is a big deal,” said Harry Mattox, the fixed-base operator at Russellville Airport. “He has been doing this for a long time, and this speaks highly of him and his skills, not only as a pilot but as a flight instructor.”

According to the FAA website, there have been 44 other pilots in Alabama who have received the award.

“It’s a big honor for me to receive this,” Ford said. “It really means a lot to me.”

He said after being nominated, he had to send in an application and then local recommendation letters.

‘It was humbling to read some of those letters. They had such nice things to say,” said Ford, who first got his instructor’s certification in 1972. “To me, what they said gives me a target to shoot for, to live up to.”

He said he will always cherish the award.

Ford said safety is one of the things that he has always stressed when flying and when teaching students.

“Thank God I have not had any accidents or issues when it comes to FAA regulations,” Ford said. “When you get in a plane, the major thing on your mind needs to be safety.”

He said training and preparation are vital to being a safe pilot.

“Every flight is different with different conditions, so you have to prepare for each one,” Ford said.

Boyd said he has always enjoyed flying with Ford and enjoyed the time he spent as a student learning from him.

“He has such great people skills, and his demeanor and the kind of person he is, that’s what makes him a great pilot and instructor,” Boyd said.

Ford, who flies mostly fixed-wing Cessnas and Piper Cherokees, said he wants to keep flying and instructing as long as he can.

“I’ve seen people fly longer than they should have; their mind is not as sharp as it needs to be. I don’t want to become a liability,” he said. “I want to fly as long as God gives me the ability to fly. I want to continue, and I pray I recognize that time when I’m ready to give it up.”

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Information from: TimesDaily, http://www.timesdaily.com/

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