A surprise birthday party for Alpine’s James Blair turned into an even bigger surprise when representatives from the FAA in Lubbock showed up at Alpine-Casparis Municipal Airport.
There, among friends and family, Blair celebrated his 80th birthday, and received the FAA’s most prestigious award for pilots. The Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award recognizes 50 years of exemplary aviation flight experience, distinguished professionalism, and steadfast commitment to aviation safety.
FAA Team Program Managers Daniel J. Vengen and Craig Patterson were down from the Flight Standards District Office in Lubbock to present Blair with a plaque, a pin, and a special ceremony commemorating his accomplishments.
Over the past 54 years, Blair logged over 14,000 flight hours. As a young boy, he first rode with his father in a PA-12 Super Cruiser. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1959, and trained in weather observations. In 1966 with the help of the VA benefits program, he started taking flying lessons in Houston, and soloed on June 4, 1966. He received his private pilot license 30 days later. He was 26 years old.
He continued training to obtain instrument, commercial single engine, and multi-engine certifications, and went on to become a certified flight instructor in 1976. He also earned his airframe and power plant mechanics license and low altitude waiver.
Over the years, Blair’s many in-air activities included crop dusting, commercial helicopter piloting, and parachuting.
“The award was very much a surprise, and I appreciated it very much,” said Blair. “It’s been a great adventure, and I’m still piloting.”
He currently flys a cloud-seeding operation for Trans Pecos Weather Modification in Reeves County.
Said Blair, “Cloud seeding works. We don’t make it rain, but we enhance the rain, we make more rain fall.”
He also sits on the airport Board of Directors.
Blair and his wife Isabelle live in North Double Diamond, and James keeps his C-175 at Alpine-Casparis, where he can often be found in hangar 35, tinkering on his C-175.
A pilot in her own right, Isabelle once owned and operated Pecos Air Center, and managed Pecos Municipal Airport for more than 30 years before turning all her attention to Alpine. She currently serves as secretary to the Alpine-Casparis Airport Board of Directors.