Honoring 50 years of flight for "Steady Ed"

Published on Wed, Feb 19, 2014 by Quinn Welsch

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Fifty years were put into context for Semiahmoo pilot Ed Brown last October when he was awarded the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award for safe and honest flight by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Brown, 76, has been in the flying business since the early ’60s. His career began in the cockpit of an Ercoupe but eventually 
landed him in the four-engine military-style DC-7 freighter, among others. Yet the Cessna 172 is Brown’s bird of choice. 

“It doesn’t do anything exceptional, but it will do anything,” Brown said.

Like the Cessna 172, Brown has a range of capabilities in the sky. He’s been adding pilot certifications since he took his first solo flight when he was 25. Since then, he’s been a certified commercial pilot, instructor, multi-engine pilot, engineer and more. The award he received is only given to pilots who have never had their pilot’s license revoked, experienced an accident and who have 50 years of flight (starting from their first solo flight).

FAA safety manager Dr. Jean Francois Mpouli presented Brown with the award on February 13, at the Washington Pilots Association’s (WPA) North Sound Chapter meeting in Bellingham. 

Most pilots don’t even fly for 50 years, Brown said. Only a few pilots in the area have achieved the award, he said. And that might be generous. 

Since the first award was issued in 1962, less than .4 percent of the pilots in the United States have achieved it, said WPA North Sound President Kelley Beerman. “It is a very difficult award to achieve,” he said.

Brown’s sense of safety was instilled in him when he became a firefighter for the Seattle Fire Department in 1959. His 
superiors at the fire department told him: “When you get in trouble, you’re going to react, and you’re going to react the right way,” Brown recalled. “That’s what I try to do.”

And Brown’s seen trouble before. While flying freight into Vietnam and Thailand during the Vietnam War as a contractor for Airlift International, Brown knew he was better off in the clouds. He never stayed on the ground longer than he had to, he said. 

After the war, he started Beaver Lake Aviation, in Rogers, Arkansas. But Brown found the Southern weather a little more erratic than what he was used to in the Northwest.

While flying a Piper PA-30 Twin Comanche on a charter trip out of Little Rock, Brown experienced an airman’s nightmare.

“Life is funny,” Brown said. “It gives you the test first and the lesson afterward.”

After a couple of unsuccessful approaches, Brown was running low on fuel. With no clear approach, Brown only had one option: head to Tulsa, approximately 250 miles northwest. After safely landing, it appeared the airplane was very thirsty. 

“I had them fuel the airplane. They fueled three more gallons than the tank holds,” Brown said. “I don’t know if the tanks expanded or if the equipment was off.”

While in Arkansas, Brown certified nearly 200 pilots-in-training. But Arkansas wasn’t where his heart was. He missed the Northwest. He moved to Blaine in 1985 where he opened a short-lived flight school. He also opened a hangar in Concrete that he still operates out of.

Brown still flies, trains pilots and repairs planes today. In a field that is becoming increasingly digital, he is glad to be where he is in his career. The award has helped solidify that. 

“It puts my 50 years of flying in perspective,” Brown said. “It makes you feel good knowing you’ve done something well.”