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Local Pilot Honored with FAA 50 Year Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award

September 21, 2021 11:12 | Anonymous

On June 13, 2021, I had the honor to present a fellow aviator and friend the Federal Aviation Administration’s Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award. The event was sponsored by EAA Chapter 1008 during their Fly-In at the Mandan Regional Airport, Lawler Field. 

The Wright Brothers Award recognizes pilots who have demonstrated professionalism, skill, and aviation expertise by maintaining safe operations for 50 or more years. 

James D. McLeish has been developing his skills and safely flying for more than 62 years, which places him well on his way to the 100 year award (If there was one), an award he tells me he will try to shoot for. Go Jim!

62 years ago, Airman James D. McLeish, sitting in the baggage sling of his father’s friend’s Ercoupe, took to the skies. From that point and all through his high school years, Jim dreamt of becoming a pilot. With the help of a friend, Jim accumulated four hours of time in a Cessna 140 before going off to college, which had a flying club on campus but no aircraft. Jim, along with a few of his club members, organized and managed to purchase a Cessna 140 for $2200. His first solo was on November 22, 1960, out of the Fort Collins Airport in a Cessna 150. The remainder of Jim’s training was in a Cessna 140, up to his Private Pilot check ride, which he took out of the Denver Stapleton Airport on June 7, 1961.

Jim has flown several various types of aircraft over the years: Cessna, Piper, and Beech single engine and several multi-engine aircraft, including a B55 Beech Baron, a TC-56 Baron, and a B60 Duke. One of his particular favorites was an A33 Beech Debonair. Later on, he flew a N35 Beechcraft Bonanza with the curious but appropriate endorsement of “you are checked out in the Debonair; it’s about the same, just go.” Not something you’d see in a logbook today.

Joining the United States Air Force Reserve in 1966, Jim earned his Instrument Rating along with Trans World Airlines (TWA) new hires, trained on the airbase where he was stationed.

From 1968 to 1973, Jim was a company pilot flying the Duke, a Cessna 180, and J35 Bonanza. That pretty much kept him flying every few weeks or so until his final trip with the company in December of 1973.

Since that time, Jim and his wife, Yvonne, moved back to their farm here in the Dakotas, where they live today.

Jim’s trip of a lifetime? Jim’s brother and family lived in Costa Rica and had obtained a Duke they needed to bring back to the states. Since Jim had the experience and willingness to get the legally required Costa Rican private pilot license, he then managed to fly the Nicaraguan and Cuban airspace all the way to Florida. The U.S. Government and Nicaraguan Government were not getting along at that time, so he flew off the coast flying parallel to the airway to the Grand Cayman Islands for fuel. The flight over Cuba to Key West and Miami was exciting, trying to make sure he understood the clearances. 

Jim, along with his neighbor, have restored and flown various other aircraft over the years, such as a  K-35 Bonanza, 1946 Ercoupe, Cessna 150 they converted to a tailwheel aircraft, and a Piper PA12. The day of the award, Jim joined us with his favorite aircraft, the Beech Bonanza seen here in the photo. 

Jim has served as president of the North Dakota Flying Farmers. He’s been on the North Dakota Aviation Council, and supports aviation organizations such as the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the Experimental Aviation Association (EAA), and the American Bonanza Society. With more than 4700 hours of total time, Airman James D. McLeish has lived the aviation dream.

As a National FAA Safety Team ASI, Fellow Airman, Colleague, friend, it is my honor to have presented the FAA Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award to Mr. James D. McLeish. 

Jay M Flowers/National FAASTeam ASI/AFS-850

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