Sunday, August 17, 2008

08-07-08 -- FAA will honor veteran pilot for a half-century of safe flying


Don Taylor of Emmett began flying his dad's BT13 when he was 12 years old. That was in 1945.

On Friday, Taylor will receive the FAA's prestigious Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award. He'll be one of only 1,218 pilots who have received the award since its introduction in 2003.

It will be a surprise. He thinks his family is gathering to celebrate his upcoming 75th birthday. (They plan to hide this article and are asking his pals not to give away the secret.)

The award honors pilots for maintaining safe flight operations for 50 or more consecutive years of piloting aircraft.

That's not to say Taylor's never crashed his plane. He has. Plenty of times. But so did Orville and Wilbur Wright.

"The ability to crash is a talent in its own right," said Charlene Taylor, who has been in love with her crop-dusting husband since they were children.

"We've been married for 54 years, and I've never regretted it," she said. She doesn't hold a pilot's license herself but often flies with Taylor.

"The last time he went down he had spray in the hopper and he knew he had to take it down," she said.

The way his wife tells it, Taylor simply said, "OK, let's get this over with."

"He knew (the plane) was going (to flip) over on its back because the field he hit was freshly corrugated," Charlene Taylor said.

"You've probably seen bumper stickers that say 'God is my co-pilot.' Well, Don always said, 'I'm the co-pilot. God's the one flying this plane.' "

Taylor walked away from that crash as he had before.


Taylor retired from crop-dusting at age 73.

"He told me he'd retire when he turned 70. When he tuned 70 he said he'd retire when he was 71. When he finally did quit he said, 'I thought it was time I kept my promise,' " Charlene Taylor said.

Taylor still flies though, but now he does it mostly for fun. He's also a flight instructor and he holds licenses to inspect and certify planes, which he does regularly.

Taylor earned his commercial pilot's license in the 1950s and he got his first crop-dusting job soon after that when a friend saw him doing touch-and-go's and convinced him to join his company.

"He loved it," his wife said. "It suited him well. But it wasn't as fun for me as it was for him."

She said she remembers the pain he went through one year while the family was living in Modesto, Calif., when three close friends - two of them fellow crop-dusters - lost their lives in plane crashes.

"Most people think it was work, and it was. It was very hard work," she said. "But he was blessed to work at something he enjoyed."


Today, Taylor regularly flies his Piper PA14, a plane made in the 1940s. His wife doesn't join him much, though. She prefers the couple's other plane, a Cessna 182 that is more comfortable

"I can get us through the sky." she said. "I can take off, but I've told him I don't think I could land it. But he always tells me, 'You don't need to worry about that. They've never left one up there yet.' "

Charlene Taylor credits her husband's safety record to long hours of practice, and said she remembers last week watching as he practiced landing and taking off near the home.

"He told me he wished it was a little more windy because he needed practice flying in a crosswind," she said.

"He tells all his students you're never too good that you don't have to practice," she said.

David Kennard: 377-6436

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