MASTER PILOT: Larry Prentiss, standing next to a Cessna 172M Skyhawk at Hot Springs Memorial Field, was recently the recipient of the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award.
"It is always a humbling privilege and honor to get to present a Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award to an individual who exhibited professionalism and skill in aviation expertise for at least 50 years of piloting air crafts," said Heather Metzler, FAASTeam program manager.
Recipients of the award have to meet a set of qualifications. They must have had 50 years' worth of aviation experience; had no safety violations or accidents; and must be recommended by three pilots. The Federal Aviation Administration keeps records of a pilot's aviation career through a Blue Ribbon Package.
"This is all of my aviation background that the FAA has kept a record of including my student pilot license that was issued on Sept. 10, 1966. A Blue Ribbon Package is usually pulled when there is a violation or an accident investigation that the inspector wants to look at the pilot's history. So this was done to verify that I am eligible for the Master Pilot award," Prentiss said.
Prentiss' love for aviation started at a young age when his father took him to an airport for a $5 airplane ride. The pilot let him handle the controls, dubbing him a natural. After he dropped out of junior college and got a draft notice, he volunteered for an early draft where he was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
"Because of early draft, I had my choice of service and I chose Airborne paratrooper because that was the closest I could get to airplanes," Prentiss said.
Serving in the 101st Airborne Division, he was a forward communications lineman where he set up communications between the artillery and the forward lines. As the Vietnam War was starting, Prentiss, whose wife was expecting a child, received an early discharge.
In 1962, Prentiss went to work for United Airlines in passenger service and sought a private pilot license to secure an interview to be a part of their flight crew. After receiving his private pilot license, United Airlines informed him the program had been disbanded, and to seek his commercial license and instrument ratings.
"I continued flight training and got my ratings. The whole process took about 12 months. I went into the office again and they said, 'Well, you have all the ratings, but you need more flight hours.' I got my flight instructor certificate to build more flight hours," Prentiss said. "When I got more hours, I went back into personnel and they said, 'You are over our maximum hiring age of 30.'"
Prentiss left United Airlines and started freelance flight instruction, advertising through the newspaper. The school where he got his ratings soon hired him after they found out he was teaching and flying more hours than their full-time instructors with the planes he rented from them.
"That was my first love in aviation, teaching," Prentiss said.
His career continued as he became a training center manager for Bombardier Aerospace, where he was involved in the certification of the Challenger 300. He retired in 2006 and moved to Hot Springs where he taught flight instruction.
After soaring the skies for 50 years, Prentiss has kept his feet on the ground since 2013 because a flight surgeon would not renew his aviation medical certification for medical reasons. With the change of procedures, however, Prentiss anticipates getting his aviation medical renewed and getting back behind the controls.
"I'm going to have to get back again so I can continue flying. I miss flying," Prentiss said. "There are so many decisions you have to make as far as keeping the flight safe. You have to consider weather, (if) the airplane is in good condition and you have to be in good condition. When you are at the flight controls, you are in control of your own destiny."