HARLINGEN — If Paul Chapman had crash-landed his plane over the King Ranch after the engine started to chuck and putt he might not have been awarded the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award.
The Federal Aviation Administration awards the Wright Brothers honor to pilots who have made significant contributions to aviation and have 50 years of accident-free flying. Chapman reached that rank recently.
The FAA announced the winners in the agency’s monthly May report.
Chapman had begun preparing for a gliding touchdown over the King Ranch before the engine stalled while flying from Dallas to Harlingen.
It turned back on, and he made it back home safe that day.
He credits his accident-free flying to his instructors, mentors and the good people who also enjoyed flying with him.
Chapman is a retired Marine Corps officer with extensive military aviation experience, ranging from instructing in the F-4 Phantom to forming the first Aero Club at the United States Naval Academy while he was assigned there as a history teacher.
Chapman served two tours in Vietnam, flying missions in the F-4 as well as participating in low-level, high speed, visual reconnaissance in the TF-9 and TA-4 fighter jets with the callsign “Playboy.”
“I was a backseater in the F-4,” Chapman said. “I did a lot of ground support, dropped a lot of bombs, shot rockets and napalm.”
Chapman, a Harlingen resident, retired as a major in the U.S. Marines. He served from 1961 to 1981.
Immediately prior to retirement, he served in Washington, D.C., at Headquarters, USMC, as the spokesman for the Corps during the Tehran hostage crises.
He is currently the chief flight instructor at Sun Valley Aviation in Harlingen, and instituted a monthly aviation community coffee to include a safety seminar.
The “coffees” typically draw more than 50 pilots to the presentation from a variety of aviation professionals.
The event has recently been acknowledged as part of the FAA Wings program.
The long-time flight instructor also leads the South Texas Independent School District Aviation summer camp. It provides classroom instruction and adventure flight time for students and teachers interested in learning about aviation.
“I felt humbled by the award from the FAA,” Chapman said. “And I am very proud to have received the award.”