Morrilton’s John Tylenda receives two coveted aviation awards

By Mary Eggart

On Saturday, June 1, John Tylenda received the surprise of a lifetime at the Morrilton Municipal Airport. While surrounded by family, friends and colleagues, Tylenda was awarded the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award and the Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award. Receiving one award would be quite an achievement by itself, but receiving both awards is a substantial honor in the aviation community. Tylenda’s peers came to Morrilton in 15 to 20 different airplanes to celebrate him and his accomplishments. 

“Both awards mean so much to me because they celebrate my long aviation career, and I was nominated for these FAA awards by my peers,” he said.

John Tylenda accepted awards from Heather Metzler, an Aviation Safety Inspector and Certified Flight Instructor with the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award is a Federal Aviation Administration distinction named in honor of American aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright. It is given to a pilot who has had 50 or more years of civil and military piloting experience or 50 or more years of combined experience in both piloting and aircraft operations. The Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award is also an FAA distinction and is named in honor of  the first aviation mechanic in powered flight. Taylor served as the Wright Brothers’ mechanic and is credited with designing and building the engine for their first successful aircraft.

Tylenda, 69, of Bigelow has possessed a voracious passion for aircraft and aviation since childhood. He fondly remembers his grandfather, a pilot, taking him to airfields just to watch planes take off and land—this is where his fascination with flight was born. Tylenda began flying in 1973 during his senior year of high school in New Jersey. After graduation, he attended Parks College in St. Louis, where he would receive a bachelor of science in aeronautics, specializing in mechanical and aeronautical engineering. Tylenda said that he “has been chasing airplanes all over the world since.”

John Tylenda and his wife, Leslie, in front of his plane. Photos by Kimberly Berkemeyer.

As he was completing his degree, the Vietnam War was winding down, and Tylenda soon became aware that finding a job in aviation would be next to impossible. Luckily, one of his instructors was able to pull some strings. Upon graduating from college in 1976, his aviation career began in Saudi Arabia as a field service engineer at Beechcraft. The company contracted with the U.S. military to supply maintenance for military aircraft. The planes were sold to the U.S. Army and Air Force. 

Tylenda continued his career as a field service engineer with Beechcraft, and he moved to Germany in 1977. He became the site supervisor in Heidelberg for eight aircraft and 10 technicians until 1980. His next job was working for Learjet, which took him to Stuttgart, Germany. In total, Tylenda lived in Germany for 12 years. He also modified U.S. Army aircraft and U.S.-based aircraft and flew all over Europe and Central America. Through all of his positions as a mechanic, he maintained both pilot and mechanic certificates, which enabled him to fly the planes he worked on.

It was while working in Germany that Tylenda encountered one of the most memorable flight experiences of his career. It was the summer after the Berlin Wall had fallen, so the German government was permitting German civilian pilots to fly to Eastern Europe. Tylenda had just assisted friends who were German pilots in getting their German-registered Cessna 170 recertified. He and one of his friends were then allowed to fly the plane to Poland. The friend was born in Poland during World War II and had never been able to see that area. Tylenda said that it was a very moving experience to see Poland through his friend’s eyes after so much tumultuous history had transpired.

He returned to the U.S. in the mid-1990s, working for Midcoast Aviation of Little Rock as an aircraft maintenance technician, where he would work on Falcon, Sabreliner and Hawker series aircraft. At this point, Tylenda started to notice that the strenuous nature of maintaining planes was starting to wear on his physical health, so he decided it was time to make a career shift to the piloting side of aviation. In the late ‘90s, he became a flight instructor working in both Dallas and Little Rock for FlightSafety International. Tylenda’s passion for aviation and his knowledge about aircraft would make him the ideal teacher. “I realized I was good at teaching, so I got my flight instructor’s license and did that for the last 19 years of my working life,” he said. He even received the Best of the Best Award for flight instructors in 2007.

Currently, Tylenda and his wife, Leslie, enjoy maintaining and flying their own planes, a 1946 Luscombe and a Van’s RV-6, which are stored at the Morrilton Municipal Airport. The latter was built by the couple from a series of kits. The building process began in their two-car garage and ended 10 years later at the airport.

Many have heard the expression “Choose a job that you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” For John Tylenda, that statement holds true and embodies a lifetime of perfect landings, from nose to tail.