Earthrounder and author Ann Holtgren Pellegreno — who recreated Amelia Earhart’s last flight in 1967 — recently received the FAA Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award.
To be eligible for the award, nominees must be a U.S. citizen, hold a U.S. Civil Aviation Authority or FAA pilot certificate, document at least 50 years of flying experience, and have three letters of recommendation from other pilots certificated by the FAA.
Ann’s award presentation is a story in itself: It was originally scheduled for Dec. 5, 2018. But after President George H.W. Bush died, President Donald J. Trump declared Dec. 5 as a National Day of Mourning. The presentation was rescheduled for Jan. 18, 2018. But then the partial shutdown of the federal government was in effect.
As Ann says with tongue-in-cheek humor, “The award presentation was trumped twice!”
Finally, on Friday, March 8, 2019, the Master Pilot award was formally presented to her by Joseph Murphy, Safety Team Program Manager of the North Texas FSDO, at Hannah’s Restaurant in Denton, Texas. A group of friends attended the luncheon and celebrated the formal presentation of this prestigious award.
“It was indeed an honor to receive this Master Pilot Award from Mr. Murphy,” she said. “Mr. Murphy told me that the number of recipients of this award is approaching 5,000 — what a success story for aviation in this country. Here in this nation, aviation has endless pathways and the boundless energy and dedication of thousands to pursue them. I am proud to be a part of this sphere of aviation, and receiving this award with friends present to help me celebrate was one of the best days of my aviation life, which I hope will extend well into the future.”
In the Beginning
Ann’s aviation career began when her student pilot certificate was issued Oct. 10, 1960. She soloed N3692E, the local flying club’s Aeronca 7AC Champ, Nov. 20, 1960 at Young Field, just west of Ann Arbor, Michigan. She received her private certificate Sept. 19, 1961. Her first passenger was her mother, who didn’t even know her daughter had been taking flying lessons!
Ann earned her commercial certificate March 20, 1966, her instrument rating Oct. 12, 1966, and multi-engine rating Dec. 2, 1966. She stopped teaching English and became a flight instructor that same year. She still maintains a current flight instructor certificate 53 years later.
In 1967, Ann departed Oakland, California, on June 9 in a restored 1937 twin-engine Lockheed 10 Electra (N79237). It was the 30th anniversary of the Earhart-Noonan flight, and she and her crew followed the “Earhart Trail” eastbound around the world.
When owner and restorer Lee Koepke first asked Ann about making the flight in 1962, she had replied, “Sure, Lee.” At that time she had 120 hours and had flown from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Rockford, Illinois. By January 1967, Lee had restored the Lockheed and Ann had acquired the necessary ratings to fly it.
By the time the crew departed on the world flight, the Lockheed had been transformed into a world-girdling airplane. Ann had 15 hours of PIC in the Electra, with more time in Beech D-18s.
Her crew was comprised of Koepke, co-pilot Bill Payne, and navigator Bill Polhemus. They arrived over Howland Island at the same day of the month and time that Amelia Earhart’s flight would have in 1937, and returned to Oakland on July 7, 1967.
Ann garnered international acclaim for her successful World Flight.
She has explored many avenues in the world of aviation, including helping her husband, Don, with his many airplane projects.
The first was N1089Z, a single-place, plans-built Smith DSA-1 Miniplane, followed by Aeroncas, a Cessna 195, the only-known Rearwin 8090, and a monumental 10-year project, a 1947 Fairchild XNQ-1 (T-31). N5726 is the remaining one of two built.
The Pellegrenos flew their extraordinary Fairchild to local and national events for 25 years, including AirVenture and the Antique Airplane Association’s Annual Invitational Fly-ins at Blakesburg, Iowa.
The Pellegrenos lived on a farm where they maintained their own airstrip at Story City, Iowa, for 26 years. Ann served on the Iowa Aeronautics Commission from 1974 to 1975 and on the Iowa Department of Transportation Commission from 1974 to 1976 (the first woman so appointed to a state DOT commission in the nation).
She has written four books – World Flight, The Earhart Trail (which received the Nonfiction Book Award from the Aviation/Space Writers Association in 1972), and three volumes of Iowa aviation history: Iowa Takes to the Air. She is currently working on World Flight, The Earhart Trail 50th Anniversary Edition at her home on Fairview Airport near Rhome, Texas.