Tennessee aviation legend turns 100

October 29, 2009

Evelyn Bryan JohnsonWednesday, Nov. 4, will get off to a special start for Evelyn Bryan Johnson, the legendary Tennessee flight instructor and designated pilot examiner who is better known to her many students over the years as “Mama Bird.” Shortly before 8:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, she’s scheduled to be recognized by Willard Scott, the weather reporter for NBC’s Today Show. The occasion? Her 100th birthday.

“You only have one 100th birthday,” laughed Johnson, who said her 57,635.4 flight hours still qualify her as the highest-time female pilot and the highest-time living pilot in the Guinness World Records. “I’d be getting more [flight time] if I didn’t have glaucoma and could get a medical,” she said.

“I used to say that on my birthday Willard Scott would tell me happy birthday, but I wouldn’t hear him because I’d be up flying,” Johnson said. “I never thought I’d have a medical problem such as eyesight that would keep me from doing that flying.”

Although she’s no longer logging time aloft, Johnson—of Morristown, Tenn.—continues to serve as manager of Moore-Murrell Airport. “I’ve enjoyed that for 56 years, and still do every day,” she said. “I enjoy everything about aviation and flying.”

The city of Morristown is building a new terminal building at the airport, which will be named for Johnson. “I was hoping it would be done in time for my birthday,” Johnson said. “One of the city council fellows was hoping I could put the key in the door on my birthday, and let all the people in.” But construction of the new facility is proceeding slowly, she noted.

Evelyn Bryan JohnsonAs a designated pilot examiner Johnson administered some 9,000 flight tests, and she served on the Tennessee Aeronautics Commission for decades. She built her flight time giving instruction and, later, conducting checkrides. She was featured in the September 1999 AOPA Flight Training and the November 1999 AOPA Pilot.

“I haven’t known many people who were 100, myself. It’s fun to think about it. How have I gotten so many things done in as short a time as 100 years?” she laughed. “Now it’s about here.”

The Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame plans to commemorate Johnson’s birthday on Nov. 14, before the eighth annual Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame Gala and Induction Ceremony at the Tennessee Museum of Aviation in Sevierville. This year the organization will enshrine Jennifer C. Baker, Jim D. Ethridge, the late E. Ward King, and retired Air Force Lt. Col. William H. Pickron. More information on the event is available on the Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame’s Web site. Johnson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005.