Although they were honored for flying perfectly for 50 years, that’s not nearly enough flight time for two local pilots feted by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Frank Bria, 71, of Aspinwall and Joseph Chabal, 86, of West Deer received the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award on Friday night at the Anchor Inn in Harrison.
Both are founding members and past presidents of the Deer Lakes Pilots Club.
The award is one of the FAA’s most prestigious given to pilots who have held a pilot’s certificate for five decades and have flawless safety records.
Bria and Chabal are a special breed, according to Mark Flynn of Oakmont, president of the Deer Lakes Pilot Club, which is based at McVille Airport in South Buffalo Township.
“They guys are very meticulous and very safety-oriented,” Flynn said.
Both men were unassuming as they accepted their awards.
It was hardly evident that collectively these senior pilots landed at well over 400 airports around the world — in every state except Hawaii.
They have flown planes on floats on the Allegheny River and on snow skis, plus built some of their own aircraft, according to Wendy Grimm, a manager for the FAA based in Allegheny County.
After flying for decades, Chabal decided to build his own two-seater plane at 72.
“When I started to build it, a buddy said, ‘You’ll never live to fly it,’ ” Chabal recalled.
He went on to fly that plane for many years.
A retired research engineer for PPG, Chabal looks at his longtime tenure in terms of accomplishment as a pilot as “nothing special.”
“I loved the adventure and scenery,” he said.
Especially memorable was a trip in the Northwest Territories of Canada, flying up the Mackenzie River where he saw great expanses of wilderness.
“It’s something that I did that I have never regretted,” said Chabal. “You can never replace the things we saw.”
Bria retired from the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics in 2011 after 42 years wearing many hats. He also served as an FAA aviation safety counselor.
“Frank flies with a grace and an artistic natural ability that comes from a deep understanding of the equipment and the immutable laws of physics,” Grimm said.
He gravitated not just to flying but to the machines themselves, buying, fixing, then selling planes.
Like Chabal, some of Bria’s best times were working with young pilots.
“I loved showing young people to learn to fly,” he said.
His advice to aspiring pilots: “Stick with it.”