Johansen Awarded FAA’s Wright Brothers Master Pilot

Leave it to #4 Bob Johansen to think that the FAA spokesperson addressing the crowd at the Cradle of Aviation Museum last Friday in Long Island was talking about some other pilot – who happened to have logged 50 years of safe flight, and who was also a retired Navy pilot, and who also happened to fly for TWA.

It was only when his name was called out as the winner of the FAA’s prestigious Wright Brother’s Master Pilot Award that he realized he was the honoree.

“I was totally caught off guard and blown away,” he said after the standing ovation. “What it means is that I’ve managed to fly for 50 years without bending tin.”

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It actually means a lot more than that. Just ask the FAA official who usually has to investigate pilots who break safety rules. “We keep computer records of every interaction with pilots in what’s called their airmen certification record,” said Ronald Hughes, Manager of the Farmingdale Flight Standards District Office of the FAA. “With Bob that file is spotless. We even presented it to him along with his award pin. Not only does he follow the rules he knows the reason for the rules and has flown for 50 years without even scratching a wingtip.”

The FAA issued its first Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award in 2003 and at the Cradle of Aviation Museum ceremony Friday evening Johansen became the 2,800th pilot honored in the nation. Members of the Navy’s Blue Angels, the Army’s Golden Knights and the entire GEICO Skytypers team applauded as Johansen accepted the award.

Wayne Boggs, the Air Boss of the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach was also on hand for Bob’s ceremony. The host of the popular PBS show “Air Boss” had this to say about Johansen’s honor.  “I do a lot of flying with Bob and there isn’t a more deserving pilot. To go 50 years with a perfect safety record takes an individual with his head on straight who has a real attention to detail.”

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Johansen is the slot pilot for the GEICO Skytypers, flying the vintage WWII trainer plane called the SNJ-2 in low-altitude, close-formation demonstrations at air shows around the nation. He says the whole team shares his appreciation for flight safety.

“We’ve been flying together for so long that I know, in any given circumstance, exactly how each pilot is going to respond. And they know they can count on me too. It really makes my job easier.”

Johansen earned his private pilot’s license in 1958 and after graduation from Kalamazoo College in 1961 he joined the Navy and reported to Pensacola, FL, for flight training. He was later based at Quonset Point, RI, flying Grumman S2 “Tracker” anti-submarine aircraft from aircraft carriers.

After retiring from active duty in 1966, he joined TWA as a commercial pilot out of New York on international and domestic routes for 33 years. He joined the Farmingdale-based GEICO Skytypers in 1977. In addition to flying “slot” position on the airshow team, Johansen instructs formation and navigation planning for airshow cross-country trips.

In addition to presenting Johansen and his wife Beth commemorative award pins, the FAA presented the Skytyper pilot with his complete airman certification record documenting his 50-year history of safe flight.