Local pilot Joe Bovaconti earns FAA’s prestigious Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award | VailDaily.com

Local pilot Joe Bovaconti earns FAA’s prestigious Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award

GYPSUM — It's not true that Joe Bovaconti has been flying so long that he was on a first-name basis with Orville and Wilbur Wright.

However, the Federal Aviation Administration presented him with the prestigious pilot award that bears their name: The Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award.

It's the highest honors the FAA issues to private civilian pilots.

To become a Master Pilot you have to exhibit professionalism, skill and aviation expertise for at least 50 years. They start counting those 50 years from the date of your first solo flight or a military equivalent.

Bovaconti was presented his Master Pilot Award in a ceremony this week in the Vail Valley Jet Center.

When the FAA comes calling

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The FAA came looking for him to receive its Wright Brothers Award. Along with the certificates and other honors, the FAA folks presented him with a binder more than an inch thick, stuff with every piece of paperwork a pilot generates. The method behind that madness is the FAA looking for violations and accidents.

The feds did not find any. Not one.

"That's not to say there aren't any," Bovaconti said laughing. "There may be a couple things we don't need to discuss in a public forum."

He says he's semi-retired, teaching flight lessons with Loren French at Alpine Flight Training.

"Joe is a fantastic instructor," French said. "He's the best stick and rudder pilot I've ever known. People with 10,000 hours come and still have something to learn from Joe."

"I can't think of a more deserving pilot," French said.

Bovaconti has flown everything, and flown it everywhere. He has logged more than 3,400 hours of flight time and has flown and taught in more than 40 different aircraft.

Teen dreamer

It all started when he was just a teenager.

"I took a ride in a Ercoupe when I was 14 and was hooked on flying," he said.

He started to dream about flying, building and flying model airplanes.

"I crashed most of them," Bovaconti said smiling.

He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1954, hoping he could fly. He was assigned to Airborne Early Warning Wing at Otis Air Force Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Because his crew flew every three or four days, he could have a full-time job off base.

From that Cape Cod base he logged more than 900 hours as a crew member over two years as an airborne radar observer on RC-121D Lockheed Super Constellation AC&W.

He joined the base Flying Club, but things in the military tend to be fluid.

In those days, when the Air Force had vacant posts somewhere in the world, volunteers filled them. One day, his commander sauntered over and explained that there was this post that they couldn't seem to get filled … in Iceland.

So, Bovaconti was on his way to Iceland, with his young head filled with a fantasy.

"They told me in Iceland I'd find a girl behind every tree, but I couldn't even find any trees," he said laughing.

He left the Air Force and for four years, 1958-1962, attended the University of Massachusetts on the GI Bill. While there he organized a flying club, and was president for two years.

He earned his Student Pilot Certificate, soloed in an Aeronca Champ (7AC) in October 1960 and obtained his Private Pilot Certificate in July 1961.

"In the winter we flew on skis and more than once I came close to frost bitten extremities," Bovaconti recalled.

Fresh out of college in 1962, IBM hired him as an electrical engineer. He bought a 1954 Cessna 170B in 1964 and flew it all over the east coast from New York to Florida, Midwest, Bahamas and three trips to Labrador. He sold his 170B in 1977.

In 1970, he started advanced flight training — also under the GI Bill — and earned his commercial pilots certificate, single engine land and sea, and instructor ratings, GI,CFI & CFII.

He taught primary, land and sea, instrument, flying in the Poughkeepsie, New York, area from 1972 through 1988. He served as the safety officer for eight years in the Mid Hudson Valley Flying Club, which had approximately 75 members and six aircraft.

In 1980, he bought a 1978 Lake Amphibian.

During the 16 years he owned the Lake, he flew it as far north as St. James Bay and Northern Labrador, south into the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Island.

He landed in Vail in 1986 and continued pleasure flying and teaching. He worked all three World Alpine Ski Championships: 1989, 1999 and 2015. He retired from ski school this year.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.