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50 years of flight for Unity man

Jeff Himler
| Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Private pilot John Marsh, (left),on Unity Township, receives his Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, for 50 years of safe flying, from Wendy Grimm manager of the FAA Allegheny Flight Standards District Office, during a ceremony at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity, on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Private pilot John Marsh, (left),on Unity Township, receives his Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, for 50 years of safe flying, from Wendy Grimm manager of the FAA Allegheny Flight Standards District Office, during a ceremony at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity, on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016.
Private pilot John Marsh, (left),on Unity Township, receives his Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, for 50 years of safe flying, from Wendy Grimm manager of the FAA Allegheny Flight Standards District Office, during a ceremony at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity, on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Private pilot John Marsh, (left),on Unity Township, receives his Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, for 50 years of safe flying, from Wendy Grimm manager of the FAA Allegheny Flight Standards District Office, during a ceremony at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity, on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016.
Pilot John Marsh of Unity Township, addresses a room of friends and family, after receiving his Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award from the Federal Aviation Administration, for 50 years of safe flying, during a ceremony at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity, on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Pilot John Marsh of Unity Township, addresses a room of friends and family, after receiving his Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award from the Federal Aviation Administration, for 50 years of safe flying, during a ceremony at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity, on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016.

John Marsh of Unity has safely landed small planes after losing an engine and after unexpectedly encountering an ice storm at an altitude of 6,000 feet.

His wife, Pat, also a pilot and often his passenger, attested to the skills and attention Marsh brings when he flies their Van's Aircraft RV-9A two-seater out of the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity — on trips as far away as Glacier National Park in Montana. “He's a very cautious pilot and very meticulous with his flying,” she said. “I have so appreciated that over the years.”

Marsh's first solo flight was in a Cessna 172 in 1966, not far from his childhood home of Warren, Ohio. Since then, he's safely logged more than 800 hours of flight time for either business or pleasure. He celebrated that 50-year milestone Thursday, when he received the Federal Aviation Administration's Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award while surrounded by family and friends at the Unity airport. He joined nearly 4,000 pilots who have earned the award — named for aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur — by “practicing and promoting safe aircraft flight operations” for at least half a century.

“This is such a special honor,” said Marsh, 71. “I'm getting this for something I've enjoyed doing.”

“For someone to fly 50 years without an accident is an accomplishment in itself, and John has flown long distances,” said Latrobe native Bob Downs, who recommended Marsh for the award after training him more than a decade ago to fly using instrument readings when conditions limit visual references.

“You can fly in the clouds without being able to see the ground,” Marsh said, but added, “Flying is not very forgiving. You have to stay on top of it or it will bite you.”

As required by regulations, Marsh practices instrument-guided approaches for a landing every six months and must pass a biennial physical exam.

Marsh picked up his love of aviation from his mother, Marie. She piloted World War II military planes on non-combat flights as a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) and continued to fly until age 55, piloting customers for a company that designed steel-making equipment.

“I remember being able to stand up in the back seat of the Cessna she flew,” Marsh said of his childhood. “She was an excellent pilot. She would fly with me when I took my lessons,”

Now semi-retired from operating a machine shop, Marsh has found flying a small plane to be a convenient way to connect with clients in other regions.

“I can be down to Charlotte (N.C.) in the morning, have lunch and be back here in the afternoon,” he said. “You couldn't do that driving, and you couldn't do that flying commercial.”

Marsh's lifelong passion shows no sign of dimming.

“I enjoy every flight. I continue to fly as often as possible,” he said. He recently hopped in his plane to attend a Christmas party in Connellsville. “It's only 10 minutes by airplane,” he noted.

For the past few summers, he and his wife have made trips to a fly-in convention for aircraft enthusiasts in Oshkosh, Wis. Next year's flight plan might take them to Arizona or New Mexico.

Marsh said one of his most special flights occurred in April, when he escorted a veteran who had flown a P-51 Mustang fighter plane in World War II from Florida to visit the national World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. His wife provided the same service for the couple's friend and WASP veteran Florence “Shutsy” Reynolds of Connellsville.

“It's a privilege. It makes you feel good,” said Marsh, who does his part to inspire the next generation of pilots.

Former colleague Steve Semnisky of Latrobe thanked Marsh for providing four of his grandchildren rides in his airplane. Two years later, one of them, Ricky Fisher of Latrobe, now 15, “still talks about it all the time,” Semnisky said.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622 or jhimler@tribweb.com.

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