When John Jameson began flying planes more than 50 years ago, he never thought it would turn into a career.
“It was just something I decided I wanted to do,” the 73-year-old Gainesville man said, noting he learned to fly in 1963. “Something that, once I started, I really loved it.”
His tenure and love of his work was apparent, and the Federal Aviation Administration noticed. The government agency honored him last weekend with an award commemorating his decades of hard work. Jameson received the Wright Brothers Master Pilot award for flying 50 years or more.
“John is just a phenomenal pilot,” said family friend David Stovall, who has known Jameson more than 20 years, but became a good friend when Jameson taught him to fly.
Stovall and Jameson’s wife, Pam, nominated Jameson for the award. The yearlong process involved soliciting letters of recommendation from people he has flown. Then the FAA reviewed Jameson ’s file from his first day with a pilot’s license to present. The FAA even tracked down the airplane he learned to fly in — it’s in California now.
“He’s been flying over 50 years and that is the first criteria (for the award),” said Stovall, noting his friend has logged more than 30,000 hours of flight time, which equates to more than 3 1/2 years of time in the air. “Furthermore, you have to have 50 years of flying without any infractions.”
Jameson said he was honored upon receiving the award. Pam quickly pointed out Jameson is the 130th pilot in Georgia to receive the award. She said others may have flown smaller planes for 50 years, however, Jameson has flown larger corporate planes for that time.
“He’s had an amazing life,” said Pam, who moved with her husband from their home in Kentucky to Gainesville in 1974. “I’m proud of him.”
Stovall said seeing his friend receive the award was an amazing experience.
But Jameson described his career choice as amazing.
“It’s a nice company I work for,” he said. “It’s just a joy to go flying every day.”
Jameson is the chief pilot for Fieldale Farms and has worked for the company 40 years. But he has been flying a total of 53 years.
Throughout his career, he’s flown to every state and many countries, including Mexico, Canada and England. To those places, he has flown a Falcon 2000, which has a 4,000-mile range.
“You can’t imagine anybody not wanting to fly a nice airplane like this,” Jameson said.
During some of those trips, he’s flown everyone from millworkers and salesmen to customers and even a few celebrities, including Ted Turner.
Jameson was hired by Fieldale Farms in 1977 by Joe Hatfield and Tom Arrendale. Since then, the company has been passed down to their children, and now he works for them.
Fieldale Farms President Tom Hensley said Jameson delivered the company’s first airplane in the 1970s.
“We hired him right then and there and he’s been the best ever since,” Hensley said.
Jameson has been the only company pilot who has flown all five airplanes its owned.
During his tenure, Jameson has trained several co-pilots, some of whom have careers as commercial pilots.
His love of flying also has been passed down the family line. His son, John Jr., has flown with him for the same company the past 12 years.
“We fly everywhere they want to go,” Jameson said. “We have a flight schedule and we know months in advance where we’re going. We just get the airplane out, file our flight plans and take them wherever they want to go and bring them home safely.”
“He’s just a fine gentleman, soft spoken,” he said. “He’s a very safe pilot.”
Hensley has flown with John many, many times.
“He’s never failed to make a flight,” he said. “He’s never sick. He’s never absent and he very rarely takes vacations. He’s always there in the left seat flying the airplane.”
Jameson flies three to four days a week and many weekends and holidays. Sometimes he’ll luck out and get three weeks off in a row, other times he will only get a few days off between trips.
But the job suits him.
“I think everybody when they start out wants to fly commercial,” Jameson said.
Commercial pilots must retire at age 62.
“As it is, I’m 73 and I would have had to retire at 62, so I wouldn’t have been flying now.”
Jameson attributes his long career on taking care of himself.
“I run every day,” he said. “I don’t smoke, and I very seldom drink a beer.”
In 50-plus years of flying, Jameson said a lot has changed.
“When I first started, you just had one little radio,” he said. “One to talk on, one to navigate on. And now everything is GPS and computers. We’ve got four computers in here that run everything in here.”
But Before each flight Jameson checks the plane thoroughly. He checks everything from its tires, to windshield.
“It’s just kind of a safety walk around to make sure nothing is broken,” he said.
Hensley said to have an employee like John take care with each plane and passenger as well as stay with the company 40 years shows loyalty and dedication.