Longview resident Dwight Irby recently received the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award from the Federal Aviation Administration.
As a young man, just the sight of a plane inspired Dwight Irby.
“Watching the planes in the air, I always wanted to fly,” he said.
Growing up poor in St. Helens, Ore., Irby, 72, pieced together his pilot training. He washed small planes and cars in exchange for plane rides. He bought an hour or two of flying lessons here and there, until 1965 when he took his first solo flight in a Cessna 150.
Recently, Irby became the first Cowlitz County pilot in at least a decade to win the Federal Aviation Administration’s Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award. Last year, the FAA administered 420 awards, 10 in Washington.
To earn the honor, a pilot must have a current license and have flown continuously for 50 years. In addition, none of a pilot’s airman certificates can be revoked.
Zero accidents is no small feat. In 2015, Irby twice landed his twin-engine after one engine failed. Both times he was headed to his vacation home in Palm Springs, Calif. One time, the engine failed at 17,500 feet and a second time at 15,000 feet. About 30 years ago, coming out of a canyon near his former cattle ranch in Eastern Oregon, a component of his then helicopter’s fuel system failed 200 feet above ground.
Irby calls his safe flying record a mixture of luck and caution. He said his near-accidents haven’t changed his love of flying.
“I love it just as much as I used to,” he said.
Irby’s life has been a mish-mash of careers intertwined with flying. Before Irby became a pilot, he joined the Oregon National Guard when he was 17 years old and served two and a half years.
In the following years, he started and sold a construction company, built and moved the marina from St. Helens to Willow Grove, and built and sold apartments and condominiums in St. Helens. Though he no longer owns it, Irby started Pets, Pawn & Imports (now Pets, Pawns & Instruments) on Commerce Avenue.
He lives in Willow Grove with his wife. She, his son and grandson are working on getting their pilot licenses.
Irby owns a single-seat Pitts S1T, which is used for aerobatics, along with a single engine Cessna 182 and a single engine Beechcraft B60 Duke. He is a member and past president of the Kelso Experimental Aircraft Association.
Irby said one of his favorite aspects of flying is sharing it with others, especially with children.
“It’s like flying on a magic carpet,” he said of flying his helicopter. “It’s special to be able to do that and to do that safely. It’s real special. And to give people rides is a real joy.”
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