Master Pilots honored at Sun ’n Fun

On Friday, March 30, a distinguished group of aviators received the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award during a ceremony at the FAA Production Studios on the Sun ’n Fun campus at Lakeland-Linder Regional Airport (LAL).

The seven recipients, plus their friends and family, packed the room, as FAASTeam Program Manager Jim Minardy hosted the festivities and John Duncan, FAA Deputy Director of Flight Standards in Washington, D.C., handed the Master Pilot plaques to the pilots, along with lapel pins and lapel pins for their wives.

Richard Farmer, LeRoy Brown, James Ray, Walter Schamel, Rock Rockcastle, John Leidenheimer, and Martin Sobel.

“This is a very special morning,” Minardy said, noting that as FAA officials, “this is one of the greatest opportunities we have — to present a lifetime achievement award.”

The award is presented to pilots who have flown accident-free for 50 years. Since its inception in 2003, close to 3,000 pilots have received the award. Their names are included in a Roll of Honor at

Receiving the award were: LeRoy Brown, Richard Farmer, John Leidenheimer, James C. Ray, Rock Rockcastle, Walter S. Schamel, and Martin Sobel.

All the men spoke, but perhaps Schamel summed up their feelings the best: “It’s been a great 50 years — and I’m looking forward to the next 50.”


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