“To Mama Bird, With Love” was the title of a tribute to Evelyn Bryan Johnson when more than 400 people got together in May to honor the 95-year-old aviatrix.
Johnson became “Mama Bird” early in her 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, who soloed in 1946, 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. 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 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.