50 years of perfect flying earns PTC pilot place on prestigious list


The Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, an award that recognizes pilots who have “demonstrated professionalism, skill and aviation expertise by maintaining safe operations for 50 or more years,” features over 1,700 pilots who have graded out perfectly and flown accident free for a very long time. It is a rare honor to receive and Peachtree City resident Curtis Wagner was recently presented with the award.

“I couldn’t have done it without the support that I received from my family – my wife, Nell, and my children, Laura and John – as well as the support of the FAA, Air Traffic Control and the huge network of people who support each flight,” Wagner, a Peachtree City resident since 1976 said.

Wagner took his first airplane ride in a Piper Cub when he was around 12 or 13 years old. After attending North Carolina State University on a golf scholarship, he joined the Air Force in 1959. His first solo flight was in a Beechcraft T-34A Mentor out of Moultrie, Ga. Wagner completed his Air Force Primary Instruction and went to Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, Texas for Basic Flight School in July of 1960. There he flew the Lockheed T-33 “T-Bird” and finished near the top of his class. Next up was the C-124 Globemaster II out of Charleston, S.C. and he qualified as an aircraft commander in October of 1963. Wagner flew long range, critical logistic missions in support of the war in Southeast Asia, as well as in the Berlin crisis and the Cuban Missile scare of late 1961 in his time in the Air Force. His commitment ended in 1965 and he began second officer and flight engineer training with Delta in May of that year.

During his time with Delta, where he eventually earned the title of captain and the fourth stripe, Wagner flew Delta’s DC-6, 7 and 8’s as well as the Curtiss-Wright C-46, the Convair 440, the DC-9 and the DC-930. Later, he flew the Boeing 727, the 757, 767 and 767ER as well as Lockheed’s L-10-11 Tri-Star and finally the MD-11. Overall, he amassed over 24,400 hours of accident/incident free flight hours, holds Airline Transport Certificates for seven airplanes, has commercial single engine land privileges and has reciprocating engine powered and turbo jet flight engineer privileges as well. He also owns and flies a Mooney M-20E single engine airplane

Wagner, who retired from Delta in 1996, has seen a lot of the world and had some interesting travels. There was a time he was resupplying a weather station for the winter in Greenland one summer. The plane had to land each day on a gravel strip and the sun never set. Many of Wagner’s flights with Delta were domestic flights but later in his career, he was at the helm of many international flights. These days, he flies the Mooney to golf tournaments around the country. Wagner is an avid golfer who plays in numerous Senior Master Golfer events.

To get the award and the recognition, months and months of research goes in to looking into the pilot’s records. Wagner stated that a violation such as missing an altitude, being cleared for 10,000 feet and being at 10,050, would be enough to make a person ineligible for the award.
Wagner first heard about the award several years ago when a friend of his qualified for the honor. He had a good time going back over his career when applying for the award.

“It brought back a lot of memories,” Wagner admitted. “This award represents a dedication of a lifetime to aviation.”

In 2008, for his 70th birthday, his son arranged for someone to bring up a plane just like the one he first solo’ed on in the Air Force to Falcon Field and take him for a spin.

“It felt like it was yesterday,” Wagner said. “I suited up and it was just like riding a bicycle. Just a wonderful feeling.”

Wagner spoke about what it takes to have a mistake free career. “Flying is unkind to people who are not prepared,” he said. “You would not fly if you weren’t 100 percent dedicated to it.”

Earlier this month, in a ceremony at Falcon Field in Peachtree City, Capt. Curtis Wagner received a commemorative wooden plaque and certificate from the FAA Flight Standards Division, a gold lapel pin signifying 50 years of accident/incident free flight operations and an official and very complete “Blue Ribbon” adorned copy of his entire airman record. His name is also in the “Roll of Honor,” also known as the Aviation Hall of Fame, a leather bound book on display at the FAA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Wagner was humbled by the attention the award brought his way and was quick to pass off praise to his friends and family who continue to fly and share his passion for aviation and golf. The pilot is just one person in the process of someone reaching their destination via an airplane, and the Wright Brothers’ Master Pilot Award attests that Capt. Wagner is one of the best.