Sunday, October 29, 2017

Robert Bricker: Hagerstown, Maryland, man wins prestigious Wright Brothers aviation award

Hagerstown resident Robert Bricker was recently awarded the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award by the Federal Aviation Administration. It is awarded to pilots who have conducted 50 or more years of safe flight operations, and who have exhibited professionalism, skill, and aviation expertise during their decades of flight. Bricker has logged about 25,000 flying hours.

For Robert Bricker, the dates he planned for his wife went above and beyond dinner and a movie.

The Hagerstown resident took his wife, Jean Bricker, to New York for dinner, and as a special surprise one night, did a little flyby that they still talk about years later.

“She dressed up and she was quite the knockout,” Robert said.

He flew them to John F. Kennedy International Airport to have dinner, and they were headed back to Hagerstown around midnight when he asked LaGuardia Airport over his headset if he could fly the scenic route over New York.

“You could get away with quite a bit back then,” Robert said. “I flew low level up the East River all of the way around Manhattan, down the Hudson and circled the Statue of Liberty before heading home,” he said.

His wife was blown away.

“One of the perks of being an aviation wife is that you get to go to a lot of different places, and rather spontaneously sometimes,” Jean said. “That particular night, the Statue of Liberty was all lit up and it was a crystal-clear, beautiful night. It was really fascinating and thrilling.”

“You were actually hugging me at the time,” Robert interjected while she was telling the story.

“It was romantic and I most definitely was,” Jean responded.

A high-flying award

Robert, 77, was awarded the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award on Oct. 14 in a ceremony at The Grille at Runways, at the Rider Jet Center in Hagerstown.

The award is given by the Federal Aviation Administration to pilots who have conducted 50 or more years of safe flight operations, and who have exhibited professionalism, skill, and aviation expertise during their decades of flight.

The ceremony and the recognition were a complete surprise to Robert.

“I was told we were just going to dinner. I got there and nobody was there, and someone said that they didn’t have room for us in the dining room and brought us to a back private room, and when we opened the door, there were all kinds of friends and relatives and people there that all had a special part in my life,” Robert said.

It took him a minute to find out why they showed up that night.

“I couldn’t figure out what it was all about because my birthday was in June and my anniversary was in August,” he said. “I didn’t know why they were clapping for me because there wasn’t anything going on. I was so shocked.”

This is the most prestigious award that the FAA issues to pilots. It is named after the Wright Brothers, American inventors and pioneers of aviation.

His daughter, Bobbi Bates, went through Robert’s 25,000 hours worth of log books to put together a timeline for the award. Her daughter and son-in-law suggested that she apply for the honor on behalf of Bricker after they attended a similar ceremony recently.

“When they told me about the award, I just knew we had to try to get him recognized,” Bates said.

To be eligible for the award, nominees must hold a pilot certificate; have 50 or more years of civil and military flying experience, either consecutively or nonconsecutively; be a United States citizen; and never had an airman certificate revoked.

“Safety was always a priority for my father,” Bates said. “He would ground planes and ask for a replacement if he didn’t think it was safe. That takes some incredible integrity.”

Any pilot who meets the eligibility requirements or someone on behalf of the pilot may apply for the award by filling out a nomination form and providing the pilot’s flight history and three letters of recommendation from pilots who can attest to the experience of the nominee.

Robert has been private-pilot certified since 1958; commercially licensed and flight instructor-certified since 1961; instrument-certified since 1962; multiengine-certified since 1964; ground school instruction-certified since 1966; and airline transport pilot-certified since 1981.

A dream come true

He always wanted to be a pilot.

“From the time that I was 5 years old I looked up and I just knew I wanted to fly,” he said. “I knew that someday I would fly. I didn’t know how to go about it, but I knew it would happen.”

Keeping it in the family, Robert also taught his son to fly. He is now a 767 captain for United Parcel in Louisville, Ky.

He was enlisted in the Army at Fort Eustis, Va., from 1958 to 1962. Then, he was a flight instructor for numerous airports through the area, including Langley Air Force Base and Westminster in Maryland, and Winchester in Virginia.

Bricker also was a corporate pilot for John Gordon Bennet; a crew pilot for Henson Aviation in Hagerstown; an FAA flight examiner in Western Maryland; and First Officer for Allegheny Airlines.

Now, Bricker has some time to use his experience for fun.

“It’s all recreation now,” he said. “For the first time in my life, I’m flying when and where I want to, and who I want to go with."

The night he received the award is one he said he will always remember.

“It means so much to be recognized by your peers and to be recognized by the governing agency and have a blemish-free record and career,” Robert said. “I told my daughter, Bobbi, that I didn’t think anyone was noticing, but I guess they did.”

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