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1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Todd Marshburn, director of Amentum Rotary Wing Flight Training, shows a picture of the pin he’s about to present to Scott Tomlinson, Fort Rucker flight instructor, after presenting him the Federal Aviation Administration Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award for 50 years of accident- and incident-free flying during a small ceremony Cairns Army Airfield Feb. 4. Tomlinson’s wife, Helen, put the pin on her husband before he put a duplicate on her. (Photo Credit: Jim Hughes) VIEW ORIGINAL
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2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Scott and Helen Tomlinson speak after the presentation. (Photo Credit: Jim Hughes) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- A third generation Army Aviator and Fort Rucker flight instructor received the Federal Aviation Administration’s most prestigious award Feb. 4, honoring him for 50 years of accident- and incident-free flying.

Scott Tomlinson, who took his first solo flight when he was 16, received the FAA Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award certificate and pin from his boss, Todd Marshburn, director of Amentum Rotary Wing Flight Training, during a small ceremony at Cairns Army Airfield.

“Flying was in my bloodstream,” Tomlinson said. “My dad was an Army Aviator and my grandfather was a flight instructor in World War 2. When I graduated high school, I went right into the Army and went to flight school. I graduated in July 1973 and I’ve been hanging around aircraft ever since.”

Tomlinson flew in the Army for about 10 years before becoming an Army chaplain. He retired as a major after 22 years in the Army and eventually found his way back to Fort Rucker to become a flight instructor.

“I’ve been here at Fort Rucker for about 14 years as a flight instructor,” he said, adding he finds instructing highly rewarding. “It’s exciting. It’s also nice to be around young people and see them catch new skills, and also to give them the experience they need to move on with their lives.

“At Fort Rucker, we emphasize what training is, and the basic definition is that learning is a change of behavior as a result of experience,” Tomlinson said during the ceremony. “We’re giving these young men and women experience, so they can become good and safe pilots for the Army.”

And he has no plans to stop doing it.

“I still enjoy what I’m doing and still passing the physicals, so I’m going to continue until the Lord directs me elsewhere,” he said.

Above and beyond training the nation’s Soldiers, Tomlinson also taught his wife, Helen, to fly.

“Her favorite statement to me was, ‘Please don’t talk to me that way.’ She’s been the only student to talk to me like that,” Tomlinson said. “The biggest miracle is we’re still married after the experience.”

Helen quickly added that Scott was a great instructor.

“He’s awesome,” she said. “I’ve been flying with him for many years. About six years ago, we decided to get our own little Cessna 172. Four years ago, I got my private pilot license and two years ago I got my instrument rating. We truly love to fly together – it’s fun.”

On its website, the FAA says the award is given to recognize individuals who have exhibited professionalism, skill and aviation expertise for at least 50 years while piloting aircraft as Master Pilots.

To be eligible for the Wright Brothers MPA, nominees must meet the following criteria:

* Hold a U.S. Civil Aviation Authority or FAA pilot certificate;

* Have 50 or more years of civil and military flying experience;

* Up to 20 years of the required 50 years may be U.S. military experience;

* The effective start date for the 50 years is the date of the nominee's first solo flight or military equivalent;

* The 50 years may be computed consecutively or non-consecutively; and

* Be a U.S. citizen.

Marshburn said that since the award started in 2003, the FAA has only presented just over 6,000 of them.

“To say that this is a big deal is an understatement,” he said. “This is fantastic. Mr. Tomlinson has every FAA certification and he’s been doing it for 50 years – and he’s still enjoying it. To me that’s a testament to really what the award is about – not only accident and incident free, but really his expertise, dedication and professionalism.

“Scott is the embodiment of what I like to see,” Marshburn added. “Most people his age wouldn’t be doing anything similar – he’s still teaching the next generation. It’s great, it’s wonderful, it’s what I live for, and it gives me a real source of pride simply because it’s so rare to see nowadays.”

Tomlinson added his thoughts on Army Aviation.

“The Army has a great program for young men and women – they can come in right out of high school and go right into flight school – it’s probably the best opportunity in America,” he said. “Army Aviation is the best way to learn how to fly.”

For more about the award and a list of all pilots who’ve achieved the honor, visit https://www.faasafety.gov/content/masterpilot/Default.aspx.