Airport honors longtime flight instructor

After flying thousands of hours and training more than 300 pilots since 1972, Richard Cornelius has never had an accident.

Every time the longtime instructor at the Shelby County Airport has taken to the area’s skies over the past 37 years, he has landed safely and added to his extensive record of perfect service to the county.

“I just follow the rules and regulations,” Cornelius said with a laugh. “Every time I fly, I try to stay in front of the plane. Figuratively speaking, of course.”

More than 50 Shelby County elected officials, local and national aviation experts and pilots trained by Cornelius gathered at the airport’s terminal Oct. 28 as they paid homage to the instructor’s contributions to the industry.

“He has had a tremendous impact on the aviation community,” said Rick Kilgore, president of the Shelby County Aviation Association. “They don’t make people like him anymore.”

During the ceremony, the officials and pilots presented Cornelius with plaques, a stained-glass window and a miniature replica of his first plane. Members of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners also awarded Cornelius the county’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and unveiled a display they will permanently display at the airport.

“It’s a tremendous feat to achieve being a flight instructor,” said Karen Gebhart, executive vice president of communications for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. “Clearly, there are several hundred people who have learned to fly under your tutelage.

“That’s your legacy, Richard, and that’s important,” Gebhart added. “We have the highest regard for the work you’ve done, and hopefully we will see you flying with many more students in the future.”

Although his name will forever be displayed at the airport, Cornelius said he had no plans of retiring soon.

“I certainly have no plans to quit,” Cornelius said. “I don’t do primary flight training anymore, which means everyone I take up already knows how to fly. But I do instruct commercial pilots and people like that.

“I was speechless today,” Cornelius added. “There were a lot of people out there that I taught to fly, and that makes it very special.”