Southwest is known for the exceptional ability to hire the best of the best Pilots, but we also have the best instructors. Pilots undergo an immense amount of training from a distinguished group of Instructors. Three of our Instructors, Captain Dale Lenhart, Jim Evans, and Clarence Corbin were recently awarded the FAA’s most prestigious award—The Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award. The award recognizes outstanding Pilots who have flown for at least 50 continuous years without incident. Less than 4,000 Pilots have received the award nationwide.
Dale, Jim, and Clarence have more than 56,000 flight hours combined with more than 159 years of flying under their belts. Jim started his career with Southwest in 1991, and his favorite part of working for Southwest is the People. Clarence retired in October of 1998. He said, “My wife let me retire for two years, but she said she had twice the husband and half the pay, so I started with Southwest in 2000.” Dale has been a Flight Instructor at Southwest since 2002. He said, “We have an amazing group of Instructors and Pilots; it seems like the Company has the uncanny ability of hiring quality People.” Together, Dale, Jim, and Clarence have trained about 19,800 Pilots.
All three instructors knew they wanted to fly from early on in life.
“When I was about five years old, I lived on a farm in Kansas and a little airplane landed in a wheat field next to the farm. My daddy took me over with my sister and asked the Pilot who flew the plane if he’d take us for a ride,” says Dale. “I was just so enthralled by it—I never forgot it.”
Clarence grew up around aviation; he used to ride his bicycle to Love Field to watch the airplanes in the ‘40s.
“When I was a young kid during the Second World War, I knew I wanted to fly then,” said Jim. Jim’s father worked for American Airlines in the '40s, so he had firsthand knowledge of the airline industry early on in life. “I was flying as a pass rider Passenger when I was six, and I really learned to love flying at the time, so it’s something I always wanted to do.
Even though Dale’s mother was against him learning how to fly because “these airplanes fall out of the sky” she eventually came to terms with his passion. Dale started his flight lessons in 1957, and still continues to fly his Cessna 172, 59 years later.
Jim started his flight training as a high school senior in 1963, and received his license in 1964. He flew for Eastern Airlines in 1966 until 1989. “I will keep flying until I physically can’t fly anymore. I fly every six to eight weeks.”
Clarence started working for Braniff in 1958, where he drew landing approaches while saving enough money to learn how to fly. One thing led to another, and Clarence landed his dream job as a Pilot.
“Flying safely for 50 years is about luck, training, and taking the job seriously. Sometimes I cut up, but when I am flying, it’s all business. I try to pass that to my students,” said Clarence.
For Jim, flying without incident for 50 years is a mix of skill and caution. “It’s a little bit of being a chicken, and not putting myself in a position where I could expose myself to undue danger. Knowing your limitations as a Pilot and knowing your aircrafts limitations and staying within those limitations help reduce risk.”
“I’ve been so fortunate to be able to do almost my whole life what I enjoy doing. If you enjoy your work, you never work a day in your life,” said Dale. “You don’t fly that many years without something scary happen, I feel very fortunate. I try to be careful.”
Dale, Clarence, and Jim all believe there are bold Pilots and old Pilots, but not old bold Pilots.