Jim Kirvida

Jim Kirvida

Like father, like son.

Jim Kirvida’s father, Mitch, was drawn to the skies as he spent his formative years in North Dakota. 

“He was mechanically inclined and a brilliant engineer,” said Jim. “He installed the passion of aviation (in me).”

The passion is still there to this day as Jim Kirvida last month received one of the highest awards the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) bestows — the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award. 

The award is named after Orville and Wilbur Wright, inventors of the first modern airplane. It honors those who have exhibited 50 years of professionalism, skill and aviation expertise. 

“It’s been a lifelong dream to fly,” Kirvida explained. “I never expected to receive this award. I was dumbfounded.

“To be associated with an award that has the Wright Brothers name, it’s very humbling.”  

Kirvida, a Dellwood resident and owner of Custom Fire Apparatus in Osceola, Wisconsin, was notified he won the award last month in a small ceremony at the New Richmond, Wisconsin airport, where he stores his planes. 

Yet that wasn’t the original plan. Award recipients are usually given the award in a ceremony in Washington, D.C. When COVID-19 nixed that plan, the next idea was the Oshkosh Air Show, held during the summer. COVID washed those plans as well, leaving Plan C. 

The eligibility guidelines to receive the Master Pilot Award include holding a U.S. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) or Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) pilot certificate; 50 or more years of civil and military flying experience; and being a U.S. citizen. 

The recipient also must have three letters of recommendation. Kirvida said one came from Mark Baker, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. 

“He’s definitely an inspiration,” Kirvida continued. “I’ve taken numerous trips with him. I’m honored to be in his presence.”

Kirvida joined the Navy in 1966 with the assignment of maintaining Naval aircraft. On those weekends, thanks to his dad, he took flying lessons.

“He inspired my love of flying,” Jim said. “I was bitten by the same bug. He was able to see his son do what he loved to do.” 

He earned his pilot certificate in 1972 and he was off. 

“I still love it,” he said, after all these years despite the yearly certifications and the increase of temporary flight restrictions which, he explained, were hardly around 15 or 20 years ago. “It makes you feel so young, jumping into an airplane.” 

“People fly into their 80’s,” he continued, noting that a 100-year-old did a solo flight recently. “If I still have my health, I don’t intend to stop.” 

One of the surprising things in all of this is Kirvida isn’t a commercial pilot, meaning he’s never been compensated all these years. His flights have been personal, or for sales/service calls for his business. 

While there has always been a part of him that wishes he were a commercial pilot, commercial pilots have told him that they wish they had his life. 

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