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Lansing Flight Instructor Wade Palmer earns Master Pilot Award from FAA

LANSING, Ill. (July 9, 2023) – “I will wager you a king’s ransom that you have never in your life met anyone who had more impact on aviation than Mr. Wade Palmer,” said Mike Bachman. The crowd gathered at Lynnie Ques Airport Bar & Grill on Saturday afternoon, July 8, responded with cheers and applause.

The occasion was an award ceremony. The recipient was Wade Palmer. The gathering included family, friends, fellow pilots, and former students and instructors.

Bachman himself was a student of Palmer’s. He, like many, went on to become a flight instructor, passing along a love of flying to new generation of pilots. That exponential impact is one of the reasons Bachman and others felt Wade Palmer was so deserving of the Federal Aviation Administration’s most prestigious award.

The Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award

The Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award is named after Orville and Wilbur Wright, America’s aviation pioneers who flew the world’s first motor-operated airplane in 1903. The award is administered by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the eligibility requirements are straightforward but daunting. Nominees must hold an FAA pilot certificate and have 50 years of experience in piloting or a combination of piloting and aircraft operations.

If those basic eligibility requirements are met, a sponsor can complete the nomination package on behalf of the eligible person. In Wade Palmer’s case, Bachman initiated the process, and another friend, Wes Sanders, helped complete the paperwork. In addition to the nomination form, applicants must provide a resume of piloting experience and three letters of recommendation from other FAA-certified pilots. Applicants submit the entire nomination package to the Federal Aviation Administration Safety Team (FAASTeam).

Sanders said Palmer’s application process began in 2021, and it languished in the system because of COVID-related staff shortages. When D’Wayne Collins stepped into the FAASTeam Program Manager role last December, he helped usher the project to completion.

Mike Bachman (left) and Wes Sanders nominated Wade Palmer to receive the Master Pilot Award from the FAA. (Photos: Melanie Jongsma)
FAASTeam Program Manager D’Wayne Collins reviewed Palmer’s documentation and processed it. He also worked with the family to put together a PowerPoint presentation of highlights from Palmer’s career to be shown at the presentation ceremony on July 8. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Wade Palmer: three decades in Lansing

Wade Palmer is now 88 years old and has spent more than two-thirds of his life flying. His work in Lansing began in 1978 when he established a business called Associated Air Activities as a Fixed Base Operator (FBO) in Lansing’s Ford Hangar. For 37 years, Palmer fixed airplanes, sold fuel to pilots, offered flight lessons, and encouraged his students to become teachers.

Those students entered a variety of aviation careers — airline pilots, captains, inspectors, journalists, military pilots — responsible for delivering perhaps thousands of people safely through the skies.

Palmer was never an employee of the Village of Lansing, but in 2019 Village officials recognized his era of service to the community. They established a small park on the airport campus, Palmer Square Airport Observation Park.

Wade Palmer
“Dedicated to Wade Palmer, a veteran of the General Aviation Industry,” reads the dedication plaque for Palmer Square Airport Observation Park. “In appreciation of his many years of service and accomplishments at the Lansing Municipal Airport on behalf of the Village of Lansing.” The park was dedicated on July 7, 2019. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Presenting Wade Palmer with the award

Luanne Wills-Merrell is Manager of the Greater Chicago Flight Standards District Office, and she officially presented the Master Pilot Award to Wade Palmer as the culmination of the July 8 ceremony.

Wills-Merrell presented two versions of the award to Palmer — the official paper copy signed by the FAA Administrator, and a commemorative plaque purchased by Palmer’s family.

Wade Palmer
Luanne Wills-Merrell (right) presented a signed paper copy of the Master Pilot Award certificate to Wade Palmer at a ceremony on July 8, 2023. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Wade Palmer
Families also have the option to purchase a plaque commemorating the award presentation, and Luanne Wills-Merrell presented that as well. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

As the most recent recipient of the Master Pilot Award, Wade Palmer joins over 7,000 names on the Master Pilot Honor Roll. The earliest dated award is listed with a September 1962 date.

Choosing how to celebrate

Wills-Merrell said that recipients of the award determine what sort of presentation ceremony they want. “I’ve been in people’s living rooms, where they just want the family present,” she said. “We even had one guy just come to our office to pick up the award. He told us we could mail it to him, but we said, ‘No, you have to at least come in and let us present it.'” Wills-Merrell was pleased that Palmer’s family and friends had put together such a large celebration of his achievement.

Dozens of well-wishers packed the dining area of Lynnie Ques airport-themed bar, swapping stories for an hour after the ceremony officially ended.

Wade Palmer
Wade Palmer (center) and his daughters Kim Campbell (left) and Lynn Crotty enjoyed gathering with friends and family on the campus where Wade spent more than three decades teaching people how to fly. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

“A scant 63 years past the day that Orville and Wilbur Wright had their historic flight,” Bachman had said in his speech, “Wade Palmer started teaching people how to fly.”

“We have a lot to thank Wade for,” Sanders had added. “For many people in this room, this was a huge factor in our lives. This airport. This relationship. The fact that we did so much, learned so much, and accomplished so much is due in no small part to Wade’s dedication.

“Thank you very much, Wade.”


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Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma grew up in Lansing, Illinois, and believes The Lansing Journal has an important role to play in building community through trustworthy information.


  1. Wade was a strong asset to the Lansng Arport for many years. He was an icon there. You culd not have met a nicer and knowledgable guy ! Congratulations Wade ! Well deserved ! You have been through a lot over the years ! 🙂

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