When John Swantek piloted his first solo airplane flight from Pontiac in 1968, at age 16, he did not imagine the award he would receive from the Federal Aviation Administration five decades later. Swantek was recently honored for 50 years of safe flying.
FAA Safety Team Program Manager Sam Heiter came to Midland to present Swantek with the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award — as he became only the fourth Midland-based pilot to receive the recognition.
“I never planned for this — I just knew I love to fly, and having an equal number of safe takeoffs and landings is essential,” Swantek said.
At the award presentation ceremony, he reminisced on his years of flying and the changes that have occurred in general aviation over that time. He talked about the flights he has made across the nation, and locally.
Heiter noted Swantek’s long and safe flight record, as well as his past and ongoing involvement in promoting safe general aviation and aviation education.
Now retired, the local pilot continues to fly about 50 hours per year, and is active in flying Young Eagles flights from Barstow Airport — giving local young people ages 8 to 17 the opportunity to experience small plane flight. In addition, he was a member of the local committee that developed and built the Midland Community Aviation Discovery Area at Barstow Airport in 2016, and he currently serves on the board of the Midland Aviation Education Association.
Since he now spends winters in Arizona, Swantek recently joined the Sedona (Ariz.) Flying Club and learned the skills and techniques involved in flying in mountainous terrain. A special thrill, he said, has been flying over the Grand Canyon in a small plane, using the FAA’s designated low altitude air corridor that commercial flights cannot fly, and getting amazing close aerial views of the majestic natural wonder.
Swantek first got the flying “bug” at age 15 in suburban Detroit, when his father learned to fly and bought a plane. From there, he earned Private Pilot, Instrument Pilot, Commercial Pilot and Flight Instructor licenses by age 19. When he arrived at Michigan State University in 1969, he joined the MSU Winged Spartans flying club and soon was teaching flying part time while he worked on his university degree.
A minor change in Swantek’s uncorrected vision — not allowed for military pilots at that time — prevented him from becoming an Air Force pilot, but his love of being in the air remained strong, and he joined the Grand Forks (N.D.) Air Force Base Aero Club. After leaving the Air Force, he came to Midland in 1976 to take a job with Dow Chemical, and immediately joined the local flying community at Barstow Airport, including doing some part-time local flight instructing.
Over the years, Swantek added a multi-engine pilot license to his credentials, and served on the Barstow Airport Commission for three years. He also has mentored several local residents who were interested in flying and now are licensed pilots. He has memberships spanning many years in the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association, National Association of Flight Instructors, Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association, and the national and local chapters of the Experimental Aircraft Association.
Swantek was a member of a flying club at Barstow Airport before buying, with a partner, his current Mooney airplane in 1999. Mooneys, with their sleek, low wing design and retractable landing gear, are known among pilots for their speed and fuel efficiency.