Aviation legend Mama Bird Johnson honored

“To Mama Bird, With Love” was the title of a tribute to Evelyn Bryan Johnson when more than 400 people got together on May 26 to honor the 95-year-old aviatrix.

Johnson became “Mama Bird” early in her long career as a flight instructor. Her students – now more than 9,000 and counting – called her that because of her “protective and caring way with students,” one explained.

Johnson soloed in 1946. Since then she has logged – as of late May – 57,620 hours, more than any other woman in history and all but a handful of men. She retired only recently as an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner, a post she held for 53 years. She has not retired from flying, however. At the ceremony she announced that the city of Morristown, Tenn., has renewed her contract to manage Moore-Murrell Airport (MOR), which she has managed since it opened in 1953.

The tribute, sponsored by the Tennessee Museum of Aviation and Aviation Hall of Fame, attracted a veritable Who’s Who in aviation and government, including former Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker. He recalled that Mama Bird had threatened to fail him unless he performed a specific maneuver to her satisfaction during a flight test. Sen. Bill Frist, another active pilot from Tennessee, was there, as were officials from The Ninety-Nines, Civil Air Patrol, AOPA and many other aviation organizations. She has been a member of most for more than half a century.

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