Longtime CFI inspires airport community

October 29, 2009

Left to right: AOPA Executive Vice President of Communications Karen Gebhart; Richard Cornelius; Bo Cornelius, Richard's wife; NASCAR driver Bobby Allison; Jim O'Daniel. O'Daniel was Cornelius' flight instructor. Left to right: AOPA Executive Vice President of Communications Karen Gebhart; Richard Cornelius; Bo Cornelius, Richard’s wife; NASCAR driver Bobby Allison; Jim O'Daniel. O’Daniel was Cornelius’ flight instructor.

For 37 years, Richard Cornelius has been turning dreams into reality.

Cornelius, a CFI, CFII, and MEI, has guided hundreds of flight students through training and helped keep Shelby County Airport in Alabaster, Ala., abuzz with activity. The Shelby County Aviation Association (SCAA) and the airport recognized Cornelius for his contributions to flight training and safety at a ceremony Oct. 28. At the invitation of local pilot John Barnes, AOPA Executive Vice President of Communications Karen Gebhart presented Cornelius with a certificate of recognition and an AOPA challenge coin for his service to Shelby County and the general aviation community.

Gebhart explained that Cornelius’ instructing unlocked the possibilities of aviation for many students. His dedication to flight instruction has helped Shelby County Airport and general aviation thrive by growing the pilot population, she added. Hundreds of students have learned from Cornelius, and some have become CFIs themselves.

The ceremony included a visit from a student of Cornelius, former NASCAR racer Bobby Allison. While Allison was racing, he was able to race in Birmingham, Ala., on a Friday night and fly up to Richmond, Va., to race again Saturday night. It wouldn’t have been possible without GA, he said. Allison presented Cornelius with a model J-3 Cub replica, bearing the N number of Cornelius’ first aircraft, on behalf of SCAA and all the pilots he has mentored over the years.

Cornelius earned his certificate in 1969 and has been based at Shelby County Airport since 1972. He has about 13,000 total hours of flight time, with more than 9,000 logged as dual given. He has recommended nearly 300 students for checkrides.

His continued service at the airport has been a key component of building a strong airport community that includes active pilots, the SCAA, airport manager Terry Franklin, AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Rick Kilgore, and others. Cornelius is a charter member of the SCAA, and he now serves on the association’s board of directors.

“If he didn’t instruct you, he mentored you,” said Kilgore.

To the surprise of many attendees, Cornelius’ own mentor showed up at the ceremony to honor him. Cornelius was one of the first students his primary flight instructor, Jim O’Daniel, ever recommended for a practical test.

The Shelby County Commission and the FAA also recognized Cornelius at the ceremony, and other city and county officials attended the event. Recognition for Cornelius has spread beyond the airport community. The county commission has passed a resolution in his honor, and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley has issued a proclamation recognizing his commitment to flight training and flight safety.

“It’s refreshing to see such an active and engaged aviation community,” Gebhart noted after touring the new terminal building and the airport grounds. “This airport was in rough shape not too many years ago. Through the dedication and commitment of these people, it was quickly turned around and is now considered a gem in the area. This is an airport that truly exemplifies how General Aviation Serves America.”