Capt. Robert Dobbs flew planes for more than 50 years, but for the Onancock pilot, flying was never a job.
“I’ve been fortunate to always do what I wanted to do,” Dobbs said of his career in flight, which spanned from piloting commercial and charter jets to flying sky divers and serving in the U.S. Air Force.
“It wasn’t a job. If you like what you’re doing, it wasn’t a job,” Dobbs said.
The Federal Aviation Administration honored him for his lifelong service in flight in October with the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award.
Dobbs’ name will be published in the FAA’s Roll of Honor as a recipient of the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award. He also received a distinctive certificate and lapel pin, awarded during a ceremony last month at the Accomack County Airport
Named for the first U.S. pilots, the award recognizes individuals who have shown professionalism, skill and aviation expertise for at least 50 years in flight.
It is the most prestigious award the FAA issues to certified pilots.
Dobbs officially launched his flying career in 1958 at the North Perry Airport in Broward County, Florida, but his interest in aeronautics began before that with a friend.
“He was trying to get his airline pilot’s rating, and he worked at a garage and I worked at a garage, too,” Dobbs said. “He wanted someone to share fuel with him, so I went out and shared costs.”
“He taught me how to fly,” Dobbs said.
His first solo flight took off Sept. 1, 1958, and was “very thrilling,” Dobbs said.
By the following June, he had soloed in a Cessna 150 airplane, a Stinson and a Cessna 120. That July, he took his first flight test to earn his private pilot’s certificate.
Dobbs went on to receive his Airplane, Single-Engine Land Commercial Pilot Certificate, multi-engine rating to his Commercial Pilot Certificate and Instrument Rating.
He served in the U.S. Air Force Reserve from 1954-1962, with one year of active duty, he said.
In 1966, Dobbs was hired as a flight engineer for Miami-based Eastern Air Lines, where he progressed through the ranks to co-pilot and then captain.
He retired from Eastern Airlines in 1989 and began flying as a co-pilot for United Express for United Airlines in 1992. In 1996, Dobbs captained a Boeing B-727 for Kiwi International Air Lines.
He eventually followed his wife, Ute Dobbs, to Onancock, making it his permanent home in 1997.
From September 2007 to October 2013, Dobbs flew for Chesapeake Aviation, a local charter service flying to and from Accomack County Airport in Melfa.
Though he is now retired, Dobbs shares his passion for flight with several family members, including his grandson, who has a private pilot’s license and flies one of Dobbs’ old planes.
“The award meant a lot. I really did it for my grandson,” he said.
“I never thought I’d make a career of it,” he said of flying. “It was a hobby that turned into a career.”