Do What You Love and Love What You Do

Feb. 15, 2018
Susan Dusenbury, president of the Vintage Aircraft Association, describes her career in aviation

Susan Dusenbury’s career in aviation started early in South Carolina. She received her private pilot’s certificate during her senior year in high school. And while in college she earned her commercial, multi-engine, instrument, and flight instructor certificates.

Dusenbury graduated with a degree in accounting and business administration from Francis Marion University, and went on receive her Airframe and Powerplant Mechanics Certificate.

To pay for her training and education she worked as a mechanics helper at H.A. Springer Aircraft Repair and in the cafeteria and library at school. While at Winthrop College (now Winthrop University) she earned her FAA Flight Instructors Rating. Ray Clark, owner and operator of Aero Flight in Florence, SC, told her if she wanted a job after graduation to come back, and she did.


She wanted to fly. And that was accomplished; first with Aero Flight, then as a free-lance flight instructor and then as a part-time co-pilot flying Twin Beeches and a DC-3 for Fiber Control out of Gastonia, NC. Dusenbury also had a weekend job flight instructing for Red McCord’s FBO also in Gastonia. At one point Susan instructed out of Charlotte Douglas Municipal Airport (now Charlotte/Douglas International Airport) for Cannon Aviation. It was at that time that Dusenbury used a portion of her flight instructor earnings and took aerobatic instruction from Dwight Cross Jr. in his Citabria at Bradford Field near Charlotte. Susan recalled that she could only afford 30 minutes of aerobatic training one day per week.

During her time at Winthrop College, Dusenbury also earned both a multi-engine and instrument rating. It was then that she transferred to Francis Marion College (now University) and Florence-Darlington TEC. After graduation from Francis Marion she instructed in the Airframe and Powerplant program at Florence-Darlington TEC working under her former instructors Homer Roberts and Homer Pointe.

During her time in Florence, Dusenbury owned and flew both a Luscombe 8A and later an experimental one-of-its-kind Rogers-Gibson Acrocraft. She also bought an Aeronca 7AC Champ project which she restored to flying condition.

The next step was flying a Navajo Chiefton for a small commuter airline named Air Carolina that operated a shuttle service from Florence to Charlotte Douglas Airport, and later an upstart commuter airline by the name of Air Virginia also flying Navajo Chieftons. Eventually she transitioned to the twin engine turboprop Swearingen Metroliner, and about five years later took a job with the State of Virginia flying a Beechcraft King Air 200. Her duties included flying then Governor Chuck Robb. Susan applied for a pilot position with Airborne Express (now ABXAir) located in Wilmington, OH, and was hired initially to fly the Nihon YS-11 and later the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 series aircraft. Dusenbury retired from ABXAir after nearly 25 years of flying night freight.


And then there was the maintenance side. Dusenbury loved building aircraft, and started with experimental aircraft and then moved to antiques. She won an award at Oshkosh for her efforts on a Culver Cadet. Aircraft she has owned or restored include an Aeronca 7AC Champ, a Luscombe 8A, an Island Sport, and a Culver Cadet. She currently owns and flies a 1953 Cessna 180 and a 1937 Taylor J-2 Cub, and is restoring a 1935 Stinson SR-6 Reliant. She was inducted into the Vintage Aircraft Association Hall of Fame in 2013.

Susan decided to get her Inspection Authorization, and later received a phone call from FAA Headquarters telling her she was the first licensed female in the United States to do so. The FAA published an article in its monthly magazine on the milestone.

She worked with the Experimental Aircraft Association as a volunteer director for 20 years and currently she is president of the Vintage Aircraft Association (VAA).

Association President

Dusenbury has been president of the VAA since February of 2017. Before her presidency she and fellow VAA board member Ron Alexander (now deceased) were composing a five-year plan for VAA. At this time, Dusenbury is working to finish the plan while implementing some of its components. She along with the VAA board and other VAA volunteers are busy updating policy documents, expanding the programs in VAA’s Vintage Village and working on landscaping plans to enhance the areas surrounding the VAA gounds at Oshkosh. In 2017 VAA completed a much-needed structural restoration as well as an addition to VAA’s flagship building, the Red Barn, which resulted in a re-dedication ceremony at EAA AirVenture in 2017.

To encourage future pilots and mechanics, forums at VAA have been developed after consulting with EAA’s head of KidVenture, Dan Mitka. One forum teaches children how to use small basic hand tools. VAA also has programs involving older students where the students have the opportunity to meet and greet pilots as they arrive at AirVenture in their airplanes. VAA also holds a Youth Day every year where young pilots are the featured attraction in VAA’s Vintage in Review at Interview Circle.

Dusenbury lives on an 80-acre farm in Walnut Cove, NC, that includes her aircraft, work shop, and a 2,700–foot runway.

“All pilots (and mechanics) have one thing in common,” Dusenbury says. “They have a passion for flying and can not imagine doing anything else for a living or as a hobby.”

About the Author

Barb Zuehlke | Past Senior Editor | AMT