Many have received either the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award or the Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award for 50 years of trouble-free aviation—but very few have received both. Former Noreast Aviation Services owner, pilot, and mechanic John Steidinger said he was surprised by the dual honor, but he happily made room on his trophy shelf to display the two awards.
The longtime New Bedford Regional Airport FBO owner was recognized by the FAA because he “exhibited professionalism, skill, and aviation expertise for at least 50 years while piloting aircraft.” The agency doubled down and also noted Steidinger’s half century of maintenance safety.
Steidinger complimented Jex’s “outstanding presentation,” and he praised the FAA for recognizing all three aviators who live near the aviation-rich Spruce Creek community.
The “semi retired” pilot-mechanic told AOPA that he learned to fly in a Cessna 172. He started the New Bedford, Massachusetts, FBO in July 1975 and later established a Piper dealership because of his reputation for quality wrenching at a reasonable price.
He also managed an airline called Nor East Commuter Airlines and then progressed into flight training.
“We started the flight center around 1980 and ran it for 25 years. The trouble was that nobody wanted to be a flight instructor—they all wanted to be airline pilots!” he exclaimed. His business expanded to a fleet of nine training aircraft and six instructors during those aviation heydays. Toward the end of the flight center’s existence, he noticed that “many of the school’s students were the sons and daughters of my [original] customers.” As instructors were scooped up by regional airlines and major air carriers Steidinger said he felt like the fight center’s students weren’t getting a fair shake, so he exited the training business.
As a pilot, his favorite airplane to fly is a Piper Arrow, but Steidinger said he has the most time in a Rockwell Shrike Commander twin. He currently owns, flies, and maintains a 1975 Piper Cherokee 140. “My wife and I take it up about once a week.”
As a mechanic, his favorite airplane to work on is a Cessna Citation, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Steidinger is currently the director of maintenance for three different companies that have Part 135 operations and performs duties as director of maintenance, "so I still do a fair amount of work on them. In my opinion, they were built with mechanics in mind and they are fairly easy to work on.”
He “spent a lot of time delivering [aircraft] and picking them up.” He said when there’s a problem with an aircraft, owners “want a mechanic to fly an airplane and figure out what the hell it’s doing.” For those reasons, he noted, the safety awards were even more special.
“I’ve generated about 7,500 hours of flying time, but about 95 percent of that time I’ve been flying broken airplanes,” he joked.