Stark recognized by FAA as Master Pilot/Mechanic
Robert Stark was presented with a Master Pilot as well as a Master Mechanic award from the Federal Aviation Administration during a presentation at Air Tractor last week. "We've got a special little presentation to do this afternoon," said Air Tractor President, Jim Hirsch as Air Tractor employees and friends of Stark gathered around. Stark is one of only two recipients to receive both awards in the last three years, according to FAA Safety Team Program Manager for the Lubbock Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), Daniel Vengen. Stark also received the first Coin of Excellence to ever be given to someone outside of the FAA by the Lubbock FSDO.
The award presentation included a recap of Stark's aviation career, which was also compiled and formed a complete true copy of every document for Stark on file with the FAA. The hefty stack of papers was sealed with a blue ribbon, and given to Stark, acknowledging his lifetime of achievements.
According to Vengen, the FAA received several letters from pilots and mechanics in Olney and nearby cities, recommending Stark for each of the awards.
The Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award is named in honor of Charles Taylor who served as the Wright Brothers' mechanic, making him the first aviation mechanic in powered flight. The Master Mechanic award is a lifetime achievement award recognizing U.S. citizens who were certified mechanics for 50 years.
According to the FAA, the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award "is the most prestigious award the FAA issues to pilots certified under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 61." Named after the first U.S. pilots, the award, "recognize[s] individuals who have exhibited professionalism, skill, and aviation expertise for at least 50 years while piloting aircraft."
Though 50 years is indeed a lifetime for many, Stark has been a certified pilot for 66 years. "During the Korean War, I joined the Navy to dodge the draft and was sent to Hawaii," said Stark who began his aviation career in an air transport squadron.
According to Stark, he landed his first big plane in 1952, which was a Navy R4D equipped with photo-mapping. When returning from taking photos, a substitute Air Force crew brought some "refreshments" on board. According to Stark, he had to land the plane when the crew became incapacitated. His performance earned him a pilot seat in an iconic James Bond and Indiana Jones style DC-3, though it wasn't Stark's last crusade. He was just getting started.
Through the years, Stark earned several different certifications from commercial, glider, single engine sea and most recently, sport pilot. "I've flown everything that has wings," said Stark. "Everything but hot-air-ballons." Stark is a gyrocopter enthusiast and currently operates a locksmith business out of his hanger at the Olney airport.
"Oh, it was all a lot of fun," said Stark. "Just think about the definition of flying which is hours and hours of total boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror. You see, that thing up front that goes round and round, is actually a fan to cool the pilot. Let it stop and watch him sweat," joked Stark.
After his naval service, Stark had returned to college and received a degree in physics from the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas, and from there a Ph.D. in physics in Tulsa.
In 1965, Stark had begun his mechanic career working as an apprentice mechanic for Greater Southwest Airport. Later, he would begin Starks Avionics which has been located in Olney since 1985.
"There's really not much physics is mechanic work. Where I used most of my physics was in my DER work, which is a FAA Designated Engineer Representative," said Stark. That DER work, according to Stark, included environmental testing for things like vibration, humidity, and even artificial aging for Air Tractor and other clients.
Stark may have a lifetime of achievements, but he isn't finished. "I don't know about another 50, but I'm not through yet," said Stark.