It was a crisp December morning at the Ottawa Municipal Airport, a morning that found Doug McMullin and Bill Qualls — along with more than 20 friends and family — packed into the airport’s small conference room. At the head of the room’s conference table lay several shining plaques; the atmosphere was relaxed, but excited.
For McMullin and Qualls, over 50 years in the flight industry had led them both to this moment.
On Saturday at the airport, 2178 Montana Road, Ottawa, the two pilots were bestowed the honor of the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, with Qualls also receiving the Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award.
“This award is named after the Wright Brothers, the first U.S. pilots, to recognize individuals who have exhibited professionalism, skill, and aviation expertise for at least 50 years while piloting aircraft as ‘Master Pilots,’” the FAA website said. “The Charles Taylor ‘Master Mechanic’ Award recognizes the lifetime accomplishments of senior mechanics.”
Both awards are requisite 50 years of experience in their respective fields.
Donald Halbert, Federal Aviation Administration Safety Team coordinator, presided over the morning’s proceedings. Halbert showed a video explaining the awards’ significance, then presented the awards to the two men, starting with McMullin.
During the presentation, McMullin mentioned that his wife, Darlene McMullin, has been with him throughout most of his more than 50-year career in aviation.
“We’ve been married for 43 of [those years],” McMullin said. “Our first date, I took her out in an airplane and flew to North Platte, Nebraska. It worked.”
McMullin and his wife have even built an airplane together, he said.
McMullin began his aviation career in 1964, completing his first solo flight before graduating high school.
“I did the solo when I was a sophomore in high school. I skipped school that day,” McMullin said, eliciting laughs from the conference room.
After McMullin, Halbert called Qualls forward to receive his awards. Qualls was accompanied by his wife of 60 years, Joan Qualls. Halbert noted the significance of Qualls receiving the Master Pilot and Master Mechanic Awards.
“This doesn’t happen too often, that we do both of these,” Halbert said. “Usually it’s just one or the other — this is a rare occasion. I think this is the first time in three years that I have done both of them.”
Qualls began his career in aviation with the U.S. military in 1955, flying six years for the Air Force before entering the private sector. In addition to doing pilot work, Qualls has also built, repaired or restored more than 22 aircraft in his lifetime.
The awards reflect well upon the two men receiving them, as well as on the local aviation culture, according to Jack Miller, former chair of the airport’s advisory board.
“It’s very fortunate for us, to have two local pilots be able to receive these kinds of awards,” Miller said.