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Kumor recipient of Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award PDF Print E-mail

By Jan Rahn

Managing Editor

A very special award turned the spotlight toward the western part of the state at the end of January.

Leon Kumor was honored as the recipient of the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award at the 18th Annual Nebraska Aviation Symposium in Kearney on Jan. 27-30. 

The award, presented by the Federal Aviation Administration, goes  to only a select few in recognition of 50 years of aeronautical experience as an aviator. 

The award recognizes and honors those who have contributed and maintained safe flight operations for 50 or more years. 

“Like you, they are the pilots who have brought the aviation industry forward for the enjoyment and benefit of future generations of men and women who will look to the skies,” said Larry Richards, manager of the flight standards Division of the FAA in a congratulatory letter to Kumor.

There are 600,000 registered pilots in all 50 states—only 1,477 have received the coveted Wright Brothers “Master Pilot Award.” 

Kumor is the 18th pilot in the state of Nebraska to achieve this honor, and the only one currently living between Lincoln and Denver. The others reside in the eastern part of the state. 

“It’s a rare and special award in our region,” said Kumor. 

His wife, Charlotte, and two grown children were able to attend the symposium the end of January.  The Kumor’s son Ron lives in Casper, Wyo., and daughter Maureen Johnson is from Laramie, Wyo. Ron shares his father’s enthusiasm for flying and makes frequent flights to Nebraska to help with farming. 

In recognition of Charlotte’s dedication and support of her husband’s 50 years of aeronautical experience, she was presented a pin and certificate from the FAA. 

About the Award

A chance encounter a year ago got the ball rolling toward Kumor’s recognition in 2010.

He frequents the annual symposiums and last year happened to sit beside a member of the FAA safety team. Through polite conversation, the FAA representative learned of Kumor’s longevity of flying without ever having an accident. 

Kumor was asked by the gentleman if he’d ever applied for the Master Pilot Award—a little while later, Kumor was interviewed for a half day by the FAA.

Letters of nomination accompanied the process, along with review of his log book, check of ratings and a check against all of the FAA records prior to the forms being submitted to Washington D.C. for the selection process. 

 umor had no trouble coming up with documentation. He had made his orientation flight in 1954 at the age of 22 and was licensed in 1957—the FAA didn’t even exist yet.

 eceipt of the award culminated a lengthy process of acquiring nomination letters and documenting all of the stringent requirements by the FAA to qualify for such a prestigious honor. 

    “This plaque—when I saw it, I was just speechless,” said Kumor. It is something he will cherish forever, maybe even persuading Charlotte to make it part of the mainstream decor rather than being swallowed up by the multitude of achievement certificates, awards and aeronautic artifacts he has acquired through his many years of loving the skies. 

The Nominations

Other pilots wrote complimentary letters of nomination, some of which included comments such as: 

“He is truly dedicated to the love of flying. Leon takes it a step further to strive to teach the younger generation about flying and stand up and represent the older generation of pilots in the ongoing issues that we now face to keep aviation as a freedom to enjoy and explore for many years to come.

“What he has done is make people such as myself realize the freedom that we do have in aviation to learn, share and enjoy with young and old the total enjoyment aviation can provide, and as always do it in a safe manner.” 

“I would like it on record that during my subsequent interview, I determined that Leon’s older sister claims that Leon’s first word was ‘airplane,’ not mama!”

“Leon has been a master at promoting the cause of aviation from the beginning of his flying activities in 1957. An airport on the farm, 15 fly-ins and many memories are the result of a life centered on aviation. He has flown countless Young Eagles as a part of his EAA Chapter 562 activities.”

The farm airport was established and registered with the FAA in 1975 with an assigned ID (2NE-7). It is on the airways charts.

Kumor’s airplane has been a valuable tool during his 22 years of involvement with Perkins County Emergency Management in doing damage assessment from tornados, hail, snow, floods, etc. for the state and the county commissioners.   

Safety is a Priority

Quite humbled by the recognition, Kumor admits his flying has been remarkably safe and incident free. 

“I’ve never scratched an airplane,” he said. 

He has never had engine failure or an emergency landing.

“Every minute of my flying has been pure pleasure,” said Kumor. “The most dangerous part is the drive to the airport.”

He has had to make a precautionary landing, however, and has had his runways designated as emergency/precautionary landing spots. Anyone can make an emergency or precautionary landing on his property. 

He said precautionary landings on his strip average about two per year. 

The Early Years

Kumor has been hooked on aviation since at the age of six when he took his first launch to the sky from the gravel road in front of his father’s farm.

As an eight-year-old during WWII he’d climb the windmill to wave whenever a group of B-25s flew over on the way to training ranges. He remembers the excitement of occasionally being seen and receiving a ‘wing wave’ from the pilots.

Known as the cow-pasture pilot, Kumor frequently takes to the skies, utilizing his cross-wind grass runways on his farm west of Grant.

Kumor bought his first plane while a student at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins—an Ercoupe for $1,800. 

He flew it home, landing on the pasture strip adjacent to the house. 

“My folks went into orbit like a launch from Cape Canaveral,” said Kumor. He was supposed to be going to school on the money he spent on the plane. 

He knew he was going to get drafted so joined the National Guard and served one year. Charlotte, also a graduate of Colorado State, went to New York to teach for a year, both of them knowing marriage was in their future once he’d served his patriotic duty.  

Tough times being what they were, in order for him to buy her a ring, he needed to sell his plane. 

“As a pilot, I made the supreme sacrifice!” he laughed. “It was a good investment—52 years of marriage!”

Being a practical newlywed and wanting to start a family,  he rented a plane.

In the early 1970s, Kumor and his friend, the late Ed Martens, a WWII B-17 pilot, bought a plane together which they owned for nearly seven years until Martens wanted to sell. Kumor then got his own plane.

As the present owner of a Cessna 152 that he bought brand new in 1978, Kumor flies regularly. 

His son has another plane Kumor acquired in 1995 from Walter Jones who founded the Grant Airport in the mid-1950s. The very rare, unique 1960 Triple-tail Bellanca is based in Casper with Kumor’s son Ronnie. 

Only 125 of the planes were built. There are still 45 of them on the registry, said Kumor.