Dr. William Frances Wright Jr. of Hobbs piloted his first solo flight about three years before Sally Fields took to the air, and that was a long time ago, as baby boomers will remember. He’s still flying, but the Flying Nun only flies in reruns.
Honored last week with the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Aviation Administration’s most prestigious award, the retired Hobbs ophthalmologist received the FAA’s “Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award” in the presence of dozens of friends and fellow pilots for more than 50 years of aviation.
Lubbock-based Daniel J. Vengen, FAA Aviation Safety program manager, presented the award at the McDonald’s restaurant on Lovington Highway. Wright’s wife, Sandra Wright, said she picked the venue because it was the only place she thought she could surprise her husband with friends showing up en masse.
“The FAA guy came up and I didn’t catch on. My pastor and long-time friends and new friends came in and I didn’t catch on. It was a complete surprise,” Wright told the News-Sun. “I didn’t think my wife had it in her to do this, but it’s nice to see friends around. I think I enjoy seeing friends around more than anything else.”
In addition to fellow pilots, Wright saw a number of the members of his church, the Church of the Nazarene, come into McDonald’s and take a seat.
Since the FAA award is named after the founding fathers of American aviation, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Vengen started his presentation by asking for clarification whether there’s a familial relationship with the retired Hobbs ophthalmologist.
“We don’t think so,” Wright laughed. “We might be, but nobody has ever connected the dots.” He told the News-Sun an aunt had researched that genealogy question, but had been unable to find a relationship.
Vengen explained the master pilot award, which includes a lapel pin for the pilot and another for his spouse, as well as a certificate, honors individuals who have exhibited professionalism, skill and aviation expertise for at least 50 years while piloting aircraft.
Once the award has been issued, the recipient’s name, city and state is added to a published “Roll of Honor” on the FAA’s safety website.
Wright’s first solo flight occurred in 1964. In addition to his medical practice, he served as an aviation medical examiner. He often transported patients when the need arose. Wright retired from the medical practice about 15 years ago, but at age 72, he still flies, usually taking his wife with him.
Piloting came naturally to Wright.
“When I first started out, my dad had a plane. With my last name being Wright, I always wanted to learn to fly,” Wright said. “I read the history. My dad had flown. My uncle had flown. It was a family thing.”
After growing up in northern New Mexico, Wright attended universities around the country, gaining his education and learning to fly. He settled in Hobbs in the early 1980s.
“My dad said the only reason I moved to Hobbs was so I could fly up there (Albuquerque) to see him. It wasn’t true, but he thought so,” Wright told the News-Sun. “I moved to Hobbs to work. I had gone to school all around the country and wanted to move back to New Mexico. In 1982, Hobbs was booming and the rest of the state was in a recession, so it was financial.”
Wright and his wife have been married just six years.
“You won’t believe this,” Sandy told the News-Sun with a twinkle in her eye, “but we met on the internet. His wife had died and my husband had died. We met on Christian Singles.”
After applying the pin on Wright’s lapel, Vengen explained the FAA’s philosophy that every pilot has two loves — flying and a spouse. Therefore, the FAA provides pins for spouses in honor of the hours spouses stay home supporting and waiting for their husband or wife to return.
Vengen asked Sandy how many hours she had waited.
“None,” she laughed. “I go with him.” With a chuckle and no further comment, Vengen handed the pin to Wright for the husband to pin it on Sandy’s collar. After all, she did support his affection for flying.
To earn the award, a pilot must be a citizen of the United States, must be licensed by the U.S. Civil Aviation Authority or Federal Aviation Administration, must have flown for at least 50 years since his or her first solo flight and must have not had any airman certificate revoked.
The Wright Brothers “Master Pilot” Award presented to Wright reads “in appreciation for your dedicated service, technical expertise, professionalism, and many outstanding contributions to further the cause of aviation safety.”