Mama Bird Career Still Soaring

TAPTV interview with Evelyn Johnson, Feb 2011


For Tennessee Wesleyan College graduate Evelyn Bryan Johnson, a hobby to battle boredom has become a lifelong career taking her to new heights that no woman or living person has been before. Johnson, a 1929 graduate of TWC, holds a Guinness Book of World Records title for having the most flying hours of any woman or living person. Since her first flying lesson in 1944, she has logged 57,635.4 hours of flying time, equivalent to just over 6.5 years in the air.

Johnson, who turned 102 in November 2011, still manages the Moore-Murell Airport in Morristown, Tenn., a job she has had for 58 years. Poor vision grounded the lifelong pilot in 2006 but Johnson still remains active in the aviation community.

“I went to my first flying lesson to have a hobby,” said Johnson. “I ended up making a career out of it.”

Johnson took her first flying lesson in 1944. World War II was raging across Europe and her husband had volunteered in the Army Aircorp. Johnson was running their dry cleaning business in Jefferson City, Tenn. but felt she needed to do more to keep busy. After seeing an advertisement in a Knoxville newspaper for flying lessons, she decided to give it a try.

“I often tell people it was love at first flight,” said Johnson.

In 1945, she earned her private pilot license and later earned a commercial license. Two years later she earned her instructor’s license and in July 1947, she had her first solo flight with a student.

Since getting her pilot’s license, Johnson’s career in aviation took off. Johnson has taught more than 5,000 people how to fly and administered flight exams for more than 9,000 pilots as a Federal Aviation Administration Examiner.

Johnson, who is affectionately referred to by many as “Mama Bird,” said she earned the title after a student gave her a Mother’s Day card. The script on the card referred to her as a mama bird that teaches her baby birds how to fly. The nickname stayed with her from that point on.

In her sixty-year career in aviation, Johnson has flown aircraft from the single-engine Piper J3 Cub she first soloed in to several types of personal and commercial aircraft. In 1993, Johnson was given an Elder Statesman Award by the National Aeronautic Association.

Along with world records from Guinness, she has been inducted into the Tennessee Hall of Fame, as well as the Women in Aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame, the National Aviation Hall of Fame, the National Flight Instructor Hall of Fame and the Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame. A wing of the Moore-Murrell Airport where Johnson works was recently named after her.

“I’ve love every minute of my career,” said Johnson.

Source: Tennessee Wesleyan College Alumni Magazine ‘Arches’, Vol:13, No. 2, Spring 2012

Note: While this issue is not currently available online, previous issues are available for viewing at http://www.twcnet.edu/

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