Polk State Aerospace Program Coordinator Receives Highest FAA Award


Posted on by Polk Newsroom

During his 52-year flying career, Mike Courtney flew for three major airlines, racked up 24,000 flight hours, met the stewardess who would become his wife and proudly watched his two sons also fall. aviation lover.

It was a career that brought him immense joy and fulfillment, and on Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration’s highest honor, the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award.

“It’s an honor and a beautiful cornerstone,” said Courtney, program coordinator for Polk State Aerospace. “But aviation is teamwork. The people I worked with are responsible for it.

As understated as it may be, the Master Pilot Award is no small feat. The FAA’s most prestigious honor, it recognizes those who have “demonstrated professionalism, skill and expertise in aviation for at least 50 years,” according to faasafety.gov.

“Mike’s record has been one of the best. His resume reads like a dream career for any aspiring airline pilot, and it is quite possible that Mike has a position of significant influence at Polk State College, where he can help young practitioners of his beloved profession. to be successful in their endeavors in aviation, ”Orlando FAA Safety Team’s program director for operations Robert Jex said during the award ceremony Friday morning at the Central Florida Aerospace Academy.

Courtney, who fell in love with flying at the age of 6, as he watched planes land and take off from McGhee Tyson Airport near her childhood home in Maryville, Tennessee, began his career in 1964, when he made his first solo flight. For the next five decades, he worked as a pilot for Eastern Airlines, Sun Jet International Airlines, and Southeast Airlines, as well as an airplane crash investigator and analyst for Aerosafe, Inc.

During this time, he saw the aviation industry evolve both in terms of technology in the cockpit and the management of personnel on board.

“When I started, you expected the drivers to be tough. Most of the people I flew with were former WWII pilots. They took care of everything and didn’t need anyone. The idea was that if the airlines hired the right pilots and trained them well enough, there would be no mistakes, ”said Courtney.

Today, with pilots still in the driver’s seat, airlines are taking a team approach to crew management, Courtney said.

“The industry has realized that humans will always make mistakes. Preventing tragedy is all about trapping, throwing in and correcting those mistakes, and for that to happen, the crew has to work as a team, ”he said.

Over the course of her career, Courtney has also gone through many personal changes.

In 1969, en route from Chicago to San Juan, Puerto Rico, Courtney had to leave the cockpit to use the toilet. The same moment he grabbed the cockpit door handle, a hostess on the other side inserted his key, which was attached to his uniform, into the lock to bring the pilots their lunch. When Courtney opened the door, the bottom half of the flight attendant’s uniform tore open, leaving it exposed from waist to toe in front of a plane full of passengers.

From this awkward introduction, love grew. Courtney and Doris married and had two sons, Rob and Alan, both also airline pilots.

“The first time I flew in the jump seat behind my sons, I had tears,” Courtney said.

“Once in Atlanta, I was landing, and the pilot of the plane behind me said on the radio, ‘Daddy, is that you?’ It was Rob. Once over Charleston, W.Va., I heard on the radio, from the plane 2,000 feet above me, “Hey daddy, how are you doing there?” It was Alain. You can’t buy things like that.

Despite all the changes he went through in his career, both personally and professionally, one thing that never changed was the honor of being entrusted with a plane and human lives.

“You pilot 600,000 pounds of metal worth a quarter of a billion dollars. You might be taking off in a blizzard in the middle of winter. Your job is to move this plane with such precision and care that the people on board wouldn’t even know, if they closed their eyes, that the plane had moved. There is nothing quite as rewarding as this, ”Courtney said.

Three years ago, with his piloting career behind him, Courtney joined Polk State Aerospace as a program coordinator. In this role, he strives to pass the lessons of his half-century of experience to the next generation of pilots.

“I try to teach them that from the first day they are involved in aviation, it is a professional exercise. They must put all of their effort into whatever they do. They have to have what the industry calls “conscientious compliance,” which means they have to do the right thing whether someone is watching or not. This is the key to security, ”he said.

Courtney’s experience adds immense value to Polk State Aerospace, said aerospace professor Ryan Wallace, who nominated Courtney for the FAA award.

“I have the great privilege of teaching aviation history, but Mike has lived it,” said Wallace. “There is no better resource than Mike.

“It is sometimes difficult for the students to bring concepts to life, but Mike is able to do it through his firsthand experience with incidents and historical scenarios. It has strong links with some of the case studies that we present in our program. It inspires and excites students and makes it real. We wanted to show our appreciation.

Polk State Aerospace offers the Associate of Science in Professional Pilot Science, the Associate of Science in Aerospace Administration, the Associate of Science in Aviation Maintenance Administration, and the Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Science, which focuses on both on pilot sciences and administration.

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