New Lenox pilot earns prestigious FAA award

Another Will County pilot received the prestigious Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award from the Federal Aviation Administration this week.

Simon “Bud” Vancina, 81, of New Lenox learned how to fly through private lessons out of the Aurora Municipal Airport in 1967 and received his pilot’s license the following year.

“I’ve always been fascinated with aircraft and flying,” Vancina said.

For Vancina, flying has been a beloved hobby and he has made countless trips all over the area and the country. His most cherished moment is flying to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, where the famed Wright brothers first flew their airplane.

Vancina also is a member of the United Flying Octogenarians, a group of about 1,500 pilots who still meet their current FAA license requirements after reaching the age of 80.

Vancina also served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1955 to 1959. He eventually began a career as a landscape and septic contractor and has passed down his business to one of his sons.

Vancina also is a skydiver and has made numerous jumps with family. He is a father of five, has 18 grandchildren and five, soon to be six, great-grandchildren and has been married for 56 years.

The Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award is named after Wilbur and Orville Wright, the first U.S. pilots, to recognize individuals who have exhibited professionalism, skill, and aviation expertise for at least 50 years while piloting aircraft as “Master Pilots.”

To be eligible, recipients must hold a U.S. Civil Aviation Authority or Federal Aviation Administration pilot certificate, have 50 years of civil and military flying experience, and be a U.S. citizen.

Recipients of the award receive a distinctive certificate and lapel pin, and they can request a stickpin, similar in design, for their spouse.

The name, city and state of the winner also will be published to an “Honor Roll.”

The Honor Roll contains about 5,000 names of pilots from across the country who have received the award, according to the FAA.

“I thought it was a really big deal,” Vancina said. “Because I’ve been flying a long time but I don’t have as many hours as a commercial pilot would have.”

Another Will County native, Gene Gear of Manhattan, earned his own Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award in September.

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz is a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet. Originally from Romeoville, Ill., he joined The Herald-News in 2017 and mostly covers Will County government, politics, education and more. He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree from Northwestern University.