One of the many highlights in Tom Hodgson’s flight career was being a civilian test pilot for the Air Force Geophysics Lab.
As a young, accomplished pilot between 1977 and 1981, he was tasked with doing research on the re-entry of vehicles for the development of ceramic for intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBM.
In more basic terms, he collected important data on the materials used to build missiles.
“When missiles would re-enter the atmosphere, I would be there in the Learjet at 45,000 feet collecting ice crystals and data to know what the re-entry missile went through,” said Hodgson, a licensed pilot since 1966 who holds a degree in aviation maintenance.
During his over 50-year career, he’s flown private planes for the rich and famous. Most recently he flew former New York Jets football player Joe Namath somewhere. Hodgson, who lives in Kokomo, declined to disclose exactly where.
He’s also flown both large and small corporate planes, a commercial plane for a major airline, and has even gone to the Mediterranean to train on a Russian Water Bomber Jet for the purposes of evaluating aircraft for firefighting in the U.S. through the U.S. Forest Service, a “prestigious opportunity” as he recalls.
But in all of Hodgson’s many memorable flight moments, his most recent achievement gives recognition to all of those in his past.
On Friday, June 10, Hodgson was honored with the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, given to him through the Federal Aviation Administration.
“He’s a very deserving pilot,” said Lew Owens, program manager for FAAST (Federal Aviation Administration Safety Team.)
Owens presented Hodgson with the award in front of family and friends at the Glenndale Airport in Kokomo. The honor celebrates Hodgson’s more than 50 years of flying accident and incident free.
The recognition made 69-year-old Hodgson feel a bit old, he said jokingly. But he hopes it brings more interest to aviation, he said.
“Half the reason I’m doing this is to help educate other people,” Hodgson said. “Get some people off the couch to come out and learn to fly.”
Interest in aviation has decreased over the years, said Owens. Since the FAA Wright Brothers award was first given out, roughly 30 people in the Indianapolis district have received the honor. And it seems that fewer young people have developed an interest in flying in comparison to years past.
The connection to planes isn’t like it was for older generations, Hodgson said. There was a time when as a child he can remember going to the airport and just sitting and watching the planes take off. That developed his interest. But now, with so much security at flight terminals, that isn’t always possible.
“The aviation community is really a small community of men and women who are in aviation as a career or for personal use,” Owens said. “And so when you have one of your colleagues in aviation who has been involved for 50 years or more and who has flown safely, you respect that person.”
Not very many pilots in Hodgson’s age range get the opportunity to receive an accolade of this sort. They’ve either passed away or their peers – fellow pilots – have passed away, which is unfortunate because to receive the honor you must provide a recommendation from other certified pilots, Hodgson said.
The thought of his work as a pilot being appreciated made Hodgson emotional at the ceremony, which is why he hopes his story inspires a younger generation to explore one of his deepest passions so they may find the same joy he’s found in flying.
For more information on the FAA Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award visit: https://www.faasafety.gov/content/MasterPilot/.