Harrison County

'Master pilot' has been flying for half a century


Most pilots will tell you there's no reason to leave a perfectly good airplane. When Bud Phillips jumped out of one, it was for recreation, and he broke his leg when he landed.

Fortunately, most of his other experiences aboard airplanes have been in the pilot's seat, with much safer outcomes.

So safe, in fact, the Federal Aviation Administration will honor the 74-year-old Phillips on Saturday with the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award.

The Pass Christian man, who has logged more than 15,000 hours of flight, will be recognized in a private ceremony attended by a few dozen friends and family members at The Oaks Golf Club's Clubhouse.

The FAA's most prestigious award to pilots, named for America's first pilots, recognizes people who have exhibited professionalism, skill and aviation expertise for at least 50 years.

Phillips will become one of only 18 Mississippians to earn that distinction, according to the FAA website.

He grew up wishing he could soar like his dad, a private pilot of a small airplane.

When Phillips was about 12, his dad stopped at an airport in Illinois where another pilot was offering rides in a Piper Cub for a small charge.

"That's how the spark got started," he said.

Years later, a 19-year-old Phillips was pumping gas at an airport to earn money for private lessons. His father convinced him that if he wanted to make aviation a career, he should get formal training.

So he enrolled in the aviation program that was available at the time at the University of Illinois. It was in college he finally made that first solo flight. However, that aviation degree was just out of his reach.

"I ran out of money and had to go to work," he said.

He moved to Kentucky and took a job as a commercial pilot after getting his license. He worked for a company there for several years, starting a career as a commercial pilot that would take him around globe.

"I've been all over the world and seen lots of things, gone lots of places," he said.

He owned a plane for a while, but didn't get to fly it for fun. He was always too busy flying for others.

After a few decades in the air, he decided to stay grounded for a while and retire to Gulfport to be near family. His retirement lasted about 12 hours.

He took a job offer to fly a corporate jet for a company in Tennessee, where he worked until retiring for good a year ago.

He lives in Pass Christian with his wife, Diane, a former flight attendant.

None of his three children followed in his footsteps, choosing law, law enforcement and insurance instead.

He's excited to receive his certificate and lapel pin for himself -- and one for his wife for her support throughout the years.

"It's quite an honor," he said. "I think of it as an appropriate culmination of my career. It's a nice way to wind it up."