CAP Pays Tribute to 'Mama Bird,' Legendary Aviator and Longtime Member

Col. Evelyn Bryan Johnson, who was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2007 and had been presented with CAP's 50-Year Member Award and a life membership in May 2005, died Thursday in Elizabethtown. She was 102.


MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. — An honor guard of Civil Air Patrol cadets will salute CAP’s, and the entire aviation community’s, “Mama Bird” when she is laid to rest Wednesday morning in Jefferson City, Tenn.

The scheduled cadet presence is part of CAP’s tribute to Col. Evelyn Bryan Johnson, one of its most storied members. She joined the all-volunteer organization’s ranks Dec. 28, 1949.

Johnson, who was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2007 and had been presented with CAP’s 50-Year Member Award and a life membership in May 2005, died Thursday in Elizabethtown. She was 102.

Her “Mama Bird” nickname referred to the immense number of pilots Johnson had trained in her career – some 5,000, she estimated – as both a member of the Morristown Composite Squadron of CAP’s Tennessee Wing and as owner of a flight school in Morristown.

“All CAP members join me in saluting ‘Mama Bird,’” said Maj. Gen. Chuck Carr, CAP national commander. “Her life and legacy were a shining example of our organization’s dedication to service and to sharing the experience of aviation with youth in particular and with the public in general.”

During her decades as a Morristown squadron member, Johnson participated in numerous search and rescue missions and taught hundreds of cadets to fly.

When inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame she had logged more than 50,000 flight hours – more than any female pilot ever – and trained more pilots and administered more Federal Aviation Administration exams than any other pilot in history. In 1979 the FAA named her as flight instructor of the year.

In all, her flight logs showed 57,635.4 hours, or some 6½ years aloft, totaling 5.5 million miles in the air – and not a single crash.

“With her passing we have lost one of the brightest lights and leading torch bearers of aviation,” said Col. Alvin J. Bedgood, commander of CAP’s Southeast Region. “‘Mama Bird’ is noted for having trained more pilots than any single flight instructor in the history of American aviation (if not the world). Her enthusiasm for aviation is aptly captured in the phrase ‘love at first flight.’”

In addition to owning a flight school in Morristown, she served as manager of the city’s Moore Murrell Municipal Airport. The 20th woman in the U.S. to earn a helicopter pilot’s license, she was a certified helicopter flight instructor and a member of the “Whirly Girls” organization.

The Ninety-Nines organization of women pilots, which she joined in 1947, chose her as one of the 100 most influential women in America.

“Evelyn has been a featured speaker at our University of Tennessee Aerospace Workshop for the last 16 years and indicated this very week that she was looking forward to returning to speak this July,” said Lt. Col. Dave Garner, Southeast Region director of aerospace education.

The funeral service is scheduled for 7 p.m. today at First Baptist Church, 504 W. Main St., Morristown. Friends will be received from 4 p.m.-5:30 p.m. and 6 pm.-7 p.m. before the service. Burial is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at Jefferson Memorial Gardens, 812 E. Broadway Blvd. (U.S. 11E), Jefferson City.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to First Baptist Church Legacy of Promise, 504 W. Main Street, Morristown, Tenn., 37814.

Civil Air Patrol, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, is a nonprofit organization with more than 61,000 members nationwide. CAP, in its Air Force auxiliary role, performs 90 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and was credited by the AFRCC with saving 54 lives in fiscal year 2011. Its volunteers also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. The members play a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to nearly 27,000 young people currently participating in CAP cadet programs. CAP has been performing missions for America for 70 years. It is a major partner of Wreaths Across America, an initiative to remember, honor and teach about the sacrifices of U.S. military veterans. Visit www.gocivilairpatrol.com or www.capvolunteernow.com for more information on CAP.

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