Former Air Force Pilot Lands Plane in All 50 States

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Tim Darrah, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron aircraft servicer, marshals a civilian Cessna 172, during a General Aviation Fly-in event at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, July 28, 2017. The event gave the local aviation community an opportunity to land aircraft at Shaw and learn about the 20th Fighter Wing mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Maldonado)
Tim Darrah, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron aircraft servicer, marshals a civilian Cessna 172, during a General Aviation Fly-in event at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, July 28, 2017. The event gave the local aviation community an opportunity to land aircraft at Shaw and learn about the 20th Fighter Wing mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Maldonado)

Ronald Davis has landed an airplane thousands of times over the past eight decades.

He first flew as a U.S. Air Force second lieutenant, then as a business owner who wanted a way to more easily meet his customers.

But his recent flight in Hawaii was special. It represented the culmination of a 63-year journey to land a plane in all 50 states.

"I knew for myself that it was an accomplishment, something that not very many people have done," said Davis, 85, who lives in Lake Township. "Not that it's anything that difficult but logistically not very many people have done."

Davis, a 1951 Marlboro High School graduate, began flying in the Air Force in 1956 a year after graduating from Ohio University, where he earned his business degree and served as a member of the college's Reserve Officers' Training Corps.

His first logged flight was on March 7, 1956, in a T-34 in Bainbridge, Georgia, where he was based. He went on to pilot jets in Mississippi and fighter planes in Arizona.

Davis' service in the Air Force was cut short with the death of his father in 1957. His mother needed him home to run the family business, Buckeye Packaging in Marlboro Township.

Flying also took a backseat to family life. Davis, and wife, Mary, welcomed three children, Laurie, Deborah and John.

"I didn't fly for 10 to 15 years after the service," Davis recalled. "I didn't have time or money for that."

Around 1975, Davis was driving home from a sales meeting when he heard a radio advertisement about a flight school at the Akron-Canton Airport. He reasoned he could use an airplane to travel and meet business clients, which were scattered across 10 states, as well as see his oldest daughter, Laurie, who was attending Ohio Northern University.

Back in the Pilot's Seat

He bought a Cessna 172 and made his first out-of-state trip with it to see his sister in Clarion, Pennsylvania, in February 1976.

"It was wonderful. It was perhaps better (than flying in the service) because you didn't have Uncle Sam looking over your shoulder all the time," he said.

Davis would travel to seven other different states in 1976, according to his handwritten pilot log books. He added another six states in 1977 and 10 more between 1978 and 1980, the log books show.

In 1995, Davis and his son, John, who had taken over the family business in 1990, flew to a business conference in Las Vegas.

"I figured I've got almost all the eastern states, so why not putz around and make it a vacation," he said.

In the span of five days, Davis visited 11 states -- from North Dakota to California to New Mexico.

But in 2001, Davis largely was grounded when he suffered a medical issue. He had to give up his pilot's license, meaning he could only fly if he hired an instructor to go with him.

"I never expected to go to Hawaii," he said.

It was his daughter Laurie and son-in-law Bob Brlas who planned the trip to Hawaii for the 23 family members. They say it was a coincidence that Hawaii was one of the few states Davis hadn't landed in yet.

Davis retrieved his log books to see how many states he already had visited. He combed through the more than 2,000 entries and found 48 states.

Besides Hawaii, Delaware was missing.

"I know I've been there, but I couldn't find it in the books," Davis said. "I looked twice."

Twelve days before the family was leaving for Hawaii, Davis hired an instructor and flew a Cessna 172 to Delaware.

"I wanted to end it in Hawaii," he said.

Hello, Hawaii

Davis arrived at the Kalaeloa Airport on Hawaii's Oahu island shortly before 9 a.m. on July 4. Wearing a "This is what an awesome pilot looks like" T-shirt (a gift), he climbed into the pilot's seat of a white Cessna 172 with flight instructor Mark Oliveira to his right and his son-in-law and a friend behind him.

During the nearly two-hour flight, Davis touched the plane down twice at the airport before flying along Oahu's West Coast, past Kaena Point and over central Oahu.

He bumped fists with Oliveira when they landed.

"Being in Hawaii for the last one on the Fourth of July, it's a memory I will keep forever," Davis told a Hawaii television station that documented the flight.

Laurie and Bob Brlas said the family was proud to see him accomplish his goal. They celebrated with cake that evening.

"He's a very determined person and it certainly rubs off on all three of us kids," Laurie said, noting how her father swam with the sharks the day before his flight and has parachuted from a plane, snow skied and hang-glided while in his 80s. "He's just been an amazing person."

Her husband added, "He's a role model for all of us."

This article is written by Kelli Weir from The Repository, Canton, Ohio and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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