Poquoson pilot to be honored by FAA for 50 years of accident-free flying

Sept. 21, 2009


Sep. 21--Luther Knaub survived more than 16,000 hours in the air as an Air Force flight engineer, a career that included many harrowing bombing runs over Korea and Vietnam.

But it's the Poquoson resident's second life -- as a recreational pilot -- that has gotten him noticed by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The 79-year-old Knaub will be honored with the FAA Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award at a ceremony tonight at the Langley Aero Club at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton.

The award was created in 2003 by consolidating several regional FAA awards into a single national award that recognizes qualified pilots who have 50 consecutive years of flying experience without an accident, said George Ream, an FAA Safety Team Manager in Richmond.

Knaub will be the 12th Virginia resident to be recognized with the award and the third in the Hampton Roads area. Joseph Mathias, of Windsor, received the award in 2006 and William Laine Jr., of Smithfield, was honored in 2008, Ream said.

"I'm thrilled and honored to receive the award," Knaub said. "It's prestigious -- not everyone gets to enjoy flying for as long as I have."

In 1956, Knaub was stationed at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware as a flight engineer when he began taking private flying lessons to increase his skills, he said. Two years later he earned his license.

While those 50 years were accident-free, the years that included his Air Force service weren't without danger.

Many of those 16,000 hours included bombing runs over Korea and Vietnam during those conflicts, ferrying troops and supplies to the Belgium Congo during the uprising there in the early 1960s and providing air support during the Cuban Missile Crisis, according to a resume Knaub provided.

His record includes 29 bombing missions over Korea in 1953 that earned him the Air Force Air Medal and Korean Service Medal with two battle stars.

"We brought the plane (a B-29) back with a few flak holes in it, but no accidents," Knaub said. "When you saw all that flak at night, the sky lit up like the Fourth of July. When those things burst ... you could feel the shock wave rock the airplane."

Despite that excitement, it is flying Cessna-type planes that Knaub said has brought him the most pleasure and excitement. He even took his wife, Alice, up for a spin on their first date -- a trip that left her sick and telling Knaub: "Don't call me, I'll call you."

Knaub says his favorite destinations these days are the Outer Banks and Tangier Island. Even though he doesn't currently own a plane, Knaub still manages to get into the air a couple of times a month using the aero club's planes.

"Words cannot describe the joy and thrill that I have experienced every time the wheels left the runway," Knaub said.