SUSSEX BOROUGH — A Montague pilot who has loved planes since he was a child has been presented the prestigious Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award in recognition of being an active pilot with a clean flying history for more than 50 years.
Richard Deming, 70, was honored by the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, on Thursday at Sussex Airport, surrounded by friends, family and members of Chapter 891 of the Experimental Aircraft Association, or EAA.
Since the award’s establishment in 2003, only 2,512 pilots have received it, according to the FAA’s honor roll, last updated on June 7.
Forty recipients hail from New Jersey, and only one other pilot from Sussex County has received the award: Carey E. Bowles, of Sparta, in 2006.
The award, according to FAA’s official website, “recognizes pilots who have demonstrated professionalism, skill, and aviation expertise by maintaining safe operations for 50 or more years.”
Deming has been an active pilot for 52 years.
“It leaves me speechless so to speak, to think that something like this could happen to me,” said Deming after accepting the honor.
“I’m not a master pilot, maybe the award is for my endurance,” he continued. “I’m as proud as a peacock to be able to accept it.”
Deming still remembers his first solo flight, taken on Aug. 26, 1961, aboard his Cessna 150 from his then-hometown of Groton, Conn. He recalled the crystal blue waters hitting the coastline perfectly, and loved to fly out to the small islands across the coast.
“I’ve loved airplanes since I was a kid,” said Deming, who began his journey in the sky through private lessons when he was around 15 years old.
“I was so scared, but I went every day to watch him and wish him well,” said Deming’s 94-year-old mother, Della, of her son’s earliest days as a pilot.
His wife, Florence, also remembers the first time she was ever in a plane that he flew.
“That’s around the time we started going together,” she said. “When he was flying I always felt he had it under control.” The teenage sweethearts got married two years later in 1963.
As a young adult, Richard Deming dreamed of working with commercial airlines, and received his commercial flight license in 1968. He never got to carry through with this initial dream because of financial limitations, but built a new dream for himself: In 1972 he began working as a police officer while still maintaining his relationship in the sky as a freelance flight instructor.
“Being a flight instructor was a little intimidating at first,” Deming said, because he often had to test veteran pilots with years of experience on him. The job, however, allowed Deming to maintain his active pilot status, taking the required biannual flight reviews himself.
For Deming, safety has always been his key priority. He recalled one situation in particular, when his help was requested in Ontario. His police partner’s car engine blew up while driving back from Ontario and he had to leave his car behind to hitchhike his way home. Deming graciously accepted his partner’s request to be flown back to the area so he could retrieve the car.
Deming always flies over an airport before landing, in order to get a better view of its landing strip, and became alarmed at the landing conditions at Ontario’s Red Lake Airport.
“We flew over the airport and there were trees 100 feet high right before where we would be landing,” said Deming, who said he still remained calm and focused during the unexpected circumstance, and landed without incident.
As a flight instructor, Deming also had trying moments, as the experience was “like driver’s ed sometimes,” he said.
He continued to work as a police officer until 1997, when he retired and moved to Windsock Village Airport, in West Ossipee, N.H. He worked as a flight instructor until 2008.
He lived in the airport itself, alongside other pilots and professionals, as a part of a culture of people passionate for flying. His home was 50 feet from the landing strip.
“He works so hard,” Florence Deming said. “That’s what made him the pilot that he is.”
He moved back to Sussex County, to Montague, in 2008, to be closer to his children.
The Demings have two children, Todd and Scott, and six grandchildren, who have vivid memories of Windsock Village Airport and flying with their father and grandfather as pilot.
As a kid, Todd Deming, who lives in Lafayette with his family, remembers “puking in the plane, numerous times.” Although a lover of flying itself, Todd’s body didn’t always agree with him, becoming no stranger to motion sickness.
Still, Todd Deming has always admired his father for all of his accomplishments, particularly recalling when his father worked as a pilot for Wings for Christ, a Christian organization that provides air transportation to missionaries, airlifts supplies, and support training for missionaries, during the late 1970s.
“I’m very proud of my father,” said Todd Deming. “He’s an excellent pilot, safe, and always under control.”
Richard Deming’s name will be presented on the FAA’s honor roll. Additionally, he received a certificate, plaque and lapel pin for himself and his wife.
Deming is a newer member of Chapter 891 of EAA, and enjoys the camaraderie between present and past pilots. He still flies his white-and-red 1957 S-172 out of Sussex Airport on a weekly basis.
“I can’t resist flying to get breakfast in Blairstown,” he said, despite airplane fuel’s current price tag of $6.25 a gallon.
Although she hasn’t flown with her son in around eight years, “I love to fly with him,” said Della Deming, “and I’d like to go again.”
Della will have her wish granted soon; Richard Deming made a promise that when she turns 95 in July, they are going to fly together again.