Sun City Pilot Honored with Prestigious Wright Brothers Award

Steven Seaman enlisted for the United States Air Force straight out of high school, before he had ever even taken a plane ride. It was 1965, and Seaman remembers boarding the plane that would take him to bootcamp.

“I thought to myself, ‘This is pretty neat, these airplane things,’” he said. “I remember the sound of the gears and the flaps coming up.”

After nearly 50 years and 6,000 flight hours in the sky, Sun City resident and pilot Steven Seaman received the prestigious Wright Brothers Award. For flying high, he’s humbled by the honor. (Photo by Chris LaPelusa/Sun Day)

After nearly 50 years and 6,000 flight hours in the sky, Sun City resident and pilot Steven Seaman received the prestigious Wright Brothers Award. For flying high, he’s humbled by the honor. (Photo by Chris LaPelusa/Sun Day)

This April, more than a half century after that first airplane ride, Seaman stood in front of a crowd of colleagues of both military and civilian pilot as he was awarded the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, the most prestigious award issued to pilots by the FAA. Seaman was recognized for over 50 years as an active pilot and his contribution to aviation, with over 40 years as a Certified Flight Instructor and many years as a pilot in the Civil Air Patrol.

Seaman’s long career has taken on various forms: he started out as an aircraft mechanic, then flew in the military — 18 months in Vietnam flying an F-4 Phantom, then serving in the Gulf War and Bosnian Conflict and European Support Missions.

“In Bosnia, we were shot at quite a bit, small arms fire, in Sarjevo and Tuzla and those hot spots there,” he said. “During the Gulf War, there was the threat of missiles, but we never had anything dangerous.”

Seaman was honorably retired from the USAF in 1997.

Of his 6,000 total flight hours, most of his experience as a pilot comes from being a flight instructor for 42 years. Even though he is retired now, he still enjoys taking friends up for some lessons from time to time.

“I enjoyed teaching aerobatics,” he says. “It was stunt flying, like they do at air shows. I only did basic things — I’m no airshow pilot. But it’s not like normal flying.”

Seaman explains that basic maneuvers are loops, spins, and rolls, which are the building blocks to more complex maneuvers. Even if a student pilot wasn’t planning on becoming a stunt pilot, the maneuvers were helpful to learn from a safety standpoint.

“As long as you know how to recover, it’s no different than anything else. It’s just scary-looking!”

But stunt flying isn’t for everyone.

“I’ve had situations where the student wasn’t exactly following what I was telling him to do, or you’d get into a position at the top of a loop, and they’d freeze. So there you are, hanging upside down and hanging by your seatbelt. You can’t pull of to the side of the road and straighten things out, like a driving instructor. You gotta do it right away. I’d have to take over the airplane then, and get us back to normal flight,” he said. “But that’s normal. It just so different than your normal straight and level flying.”

Seaman accepting the prestigious Wright Brother’s Award, which is featured in the photo below. (Photo provided)

Seaman accepting the prestigious Wright Brother’s Award, which is featured in the photo below. (Photo provided)

(Sun Day photo)

(Sun Day photo)

In his experience, Seaman has seen students take up to three hours of instruction and decide it wasn’t for them. Others complete all their training, get their private pilot’s license, then never fly again. The book studying is rigorous and flying can be cost prohibitive, too.

“I’ve found that flying is one of those things that you either like or you don’t like,” he said. “I enjoy all of it.”

On April 20, Seaman accepted the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award surrounded by friends and family. His wife of 44 years, Edie, received an award too (“For putting up with me,” says Seaman). Many colleagues from past and present were in attendance. “My military friends started telling stories about when we were flying military aircraft,” he said with a smile. “My civilian friends were all, ‘Steve, why didn’t you tell us that story?’ I feel like I’m in two different worlds—the civilian world and the military world.”

He and Edie have lived in Sun City for the past six years, and love that their home is large enough to accommodate visits from their eight grandchildren. These days, Seaman still has a two-seat, single-engine plane in Genoa, IL that he flies whenever he wants.

“I was a teenager when I started flying,” he said. “This award puts me on a roll of honor with some much better pilots than me. But I’m proud to be a part of the community they were in.”

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