Lauren Wallace has achieved an honor that only eight Delawareans can claim.
During a June 18 ceremony, Wallace received the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award from the Federal Aviation Administration for more than 50 years of safe flying.
The retired commercial pilot has been an active member of Civil Air Patrol Coastal Base 2 Memorial Composite Squadron for nearly 20 of those years. The squadron is based at Delaware Coastal Airport in Georgetown.
The award was presented by FAA representative Eric Sieracki at Sussex County Emergency Operations Center in Georgetown, where the squadron meets. “This is the most prestigious award given by the FAA,” he said.
The award is based on strict criteria that not only include at least 50 years of safe, documented flying, but also take into consideration training and support of aviation.
Wallace joins other award winners on the FAA National Roll of Honor on the agency's website.
Wallace, who lives in Georgetown with his wife, Carol, has more than 5,000 hours as a commercial pilot and Civil Air Patrol flying. “The term Master Pilot throws me,” he said. “I've always considered myself a student pilot with education throughout my career.”
Delaware Wing Commander Col. Robert Mooney said he has been fortunate to have known Wallace since 2003. “He's always there asking how he can help and how he can assist others. That's Lauren Wallace,” he said.
He said the award is appropriate for someone who has lived and breathed aviation his entire life. Wallace works with cadets and senior air patrol members, and administers maintenance of the patrol's aircraft.
Solo dates back to 1966
At 27, Wallace soloed in a Piper Cherokee 140 in April 1966, and he has never stopped flying.
Living in Milwaukee, Ore., a suburb of Portland, for 40 years, he worked for Commercial Credit Co. He started in the farm equipment division before becoming an airplane financing specialist.
Part of his job required him to fly to his customers along the West Coast. When the office moved to Van Nuys, Calif., he commuted by airplane, coming home on weekends.
At the time, the Van Nuys airport was the busiest general aviation airport in the county. “Sometimes the smog was so thick you could barely see, but somehow I survived all that. It was good experience,” he said.
Commercial Credit later moved its headquarters to Baltimore, and Wallace moved his family east. In 1986 the company was sold off in parts and all employees were laid off. Over the next 10 years, he worked for Chase Manhattan Bank and United Jersey Bank, now Summit Bank. In New Jersey, he purchased a Piper Warrior, which he flew until he retired in 1996.
Over his career, Wallace and his family have moved more than 20 times. He and Carol have known each other since they were 5 years old and have been married for 59 years. They have three children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Getting involved with CAP
Wallace came upon Civil Air Patrol almost by accident. On his way to a vacation home in Ocean City, Md., he stopped at Dover Air Force Base to see if the base had an aero club. It's there he learned about the Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary wing of the U.S. Air Force. He joined the local squadron and immediately became one of the most active members. For two years, he drove back and forth from Ocean City – totaling nearly 4,000 miles per year on his car – before he and his wife decided to move to Georgetown, which he hopes is their last move.
As a member of the squadron, he has flown more than 130 orientation flights for cadets to introduce them to flying.
Wallace, 81, no longer is a pilot, but that doesn't mean he doesn't get up in the air. “Now, I'm in the right seat as an observer,” he said.
What is the Civil Air Patrol?
Civil Air Patrol dates to 1938, but it came into the national spotlight during World War II.
Volunteer pilots patrolled the coast, including the Cape Region, to deter, report and prevent German submarine operations.
Nationwide, CAP performs services for the federal government as the civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, and for state and local communities as a nonprofit organization. There are 550 planes in the CAP fleet.
Cadets, ages 12 to 18, learn about aviation careers, fly with experienced pilots, get training in leadership and team building, go hiking and camping, and earn ranks and awards.
Today, CAP pilots fly missions for homeland security, search and rescue, and disaster relief, as well as counter-drug operations at the request of law enforcement.