Retired aviator Marvin Miller recalls deftly maneuvering an aircraft carrying a Kansas governor through darkening skies as thunderstorms fired up in bunches from Wichita to Topeka.
Miller mused in an interview this past week about how it always seemed as if passengers would pick the worst times to engage pilots in conversation — that stormy day with Gov. John Carlin holding no exception.
As Miller weaved through threatening clouds, Carlin approached the pilot for the first time on a flight to see how things were going and to ask about their location.
“I don’t know, Governor, but we’re making good time,” Miller quipped in response.
On June 18 at Topeka’s Philip Billard Municipal Airport, the 75-year-old Topekan was given the Federal Aviation Administration Wright Brothers Master Pilot award with around 11,000 hours of flight time. According to the FAA’s website, the honor “recognizes pilots who have demonstrated professionalism, skill and aviation expertise by maintaining safe operations for 50 or more years.”
Miller, now an advisor with the Aviation Explorer Post 8 that operates out of Billard, piloted the governor’s airplane for 11 years.
He served for 27 years with the Kansas Highway Patrol until his retirement in 1992. In that time, Miller also flew “blood runs,” transporting boxes of blood from the bank in Wichita to hospitals in need, and steadily rose through the ranks to captain and ultimately commander of the state’s aircraft troop.
David Osborne, president of Air Explorer Squadron 8, appreciates how steady Miller is as a person and leader. Osborne said the longtime post member is dependable, has a level temperament and is a selfless man who has done much for countless people.
“He has a huge interest in helping other people, especially youth,” Osborne said. “He’s given a large portion of his life to help young men and women grow in their leadership ability and their experiencing of and exposure to career opportunities in aviation.”
Miller, as the state’s 53rd recipient of the Wright Brothers award, said he was “quite honored” by the recognition. While the post’s goal isn’t to churn out pilots — rather it is to develop leadership and life skills through exposure to aviation — the flyers the program does produce are top notch.
“I don’t train second-rate pilots,” Miller said. “I train professional, first-class pilots. That’s my goal.”
Miller grew up in eastern Kansas and attended high school in Paola, but has lived in the capital city for 35 years, spending nearly all those years volunteering with the post. He became hooked on airplanes and flying from a young age as his cousin had a small aircraft and would take him airborne.
And those flying genes have translated well. Miller’s three adult sons have navigated the post program and gone into aviation careers.
His youngest son Darren wrote of his father in a recommendation letter for the Wright Brothers award that students under his tutelage had moved on to be pilots of all varieties — military, test, airline and corporate — or mechanics and instructors. Some also became aerospace, aeronautical or civil engineers.
Others left aviation for careers as attorneys, doctors or business owners, but retained a love for aviation groomed in the program at Billard under the guidance of Miller.
“We would have students over to the house and we would talk, eat and sleep airplanes,” Darren Miller wrote.