During the early 1960s, Bill Morris was driving at least 40,000 miles a year to contract jobs around the country.
In his travels, he was once hit by a drunken driver, and another time he crashed with a car that ran a stoplight.
“Each car was hit by somebody. … I decided I better learn how to fly, or they were going to kill me,” Morris said. “That’s the reason I started flying.”
He hasn’t stopped.
Since earning his pilot’s license in 1963, Morris has logged nearly 6,000 flight hours.
Over the years, he’s owned more than 30 airplanes, using them all primarily for business.
He holds single, multi-engine and instrument ratings.
Morris, 81, flies a Cessna 310R that he bought earlier this year.
Next month, he will be awarded the Federal Aviation Administration’s Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award for 50 years of accident-free flying.
He will receive the award during the Twin Cessna Flyer convention on June 28 in Wichita.
The group represents owners of piston-powered twin-engine Cessnas and has about 1,200 members.
Morris grew up in Garber, Okla. After high school, he earned an associate degree from what was then Oklahoma A&M in air conditioning and refrigeration.
After graduation, he came to Wichita to work for the Coleman Co. in its air-conditioning design and research laboratory before going to work for a mechanical contractor.
In 1963, he joined Central Air Conditioning, where he was part owner.
And in 1973 he left to begin his own company, Mid-Continent Mechanical.
During that time, Morris received a contract to remodel 40 post offices in small towns across the country. He also did a variety of shopping centers and other projects from coast to coast.
His airplane was instrumental in getting work done.
“What I could do in a day’s time would take me days if I hadn’t flown my own airplane,” Morris said.
In 1989, he closed Mid-Continent Mechanical to buy, sell and develop real estate projects.
His latest project is Air Capital RV Park at 609 E. 47th St. South, which he opened last year.
Morris is married and has two children, including a son who also is a pilot.
Q. Your first flight was memorable when you chartered an airplane to fly to a job but the pilot had been up all night and was exhausted. What happened?
A. He said, “I’m exhausted. You’re going to fly home.” I started to get in the right seat, but he said, “No, you get in the left seat.” I cranked the thing up and took off, and he went to sleep. … (When I got close) I woke him up and said, “Fellow, you need to land this airplane.” … I flew it all the way home without a map, just by the seat of my pants. … He said, “You’re a natural born pilot. You need to learn how to fly.”
Q. What do you like best about flying?
A. The best thing is getting from Point A to Point B the quickest that I can afford to. All pilots would love to have a Learjet, but I can’t afford a Learjet. But that’s what I enjoy the most about flying – being able to get from Point A to Point B in a hurry, smoothly and calmly. You’re not beat up on the highway.
Q. You’ve owned a lot of airplanes over the years. What do you like best about airplane ownership?
A. I’m very mechanical, so I can fix airplanes. I enjoy rebuilding or refurbishing airplanes that I have previously bought. That’s kind of an art itself.
Q. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in your 50 years of flying?
A. The radio equipment. The airplanes are all basically the same, but navigation and communication is what’s really come from its infancy. Originally, we had two or three crystals in a radio.
Q. The number of pilots in the U.S. is dwindling. Why and what can be done?
A. Primarily it’s the cost of flying. There’s not probably one thing that you could say would help. You’ve got to have young people that’s really interested in learning how to fly and have the desire to do that, then have a system set up where they can afford it. With the price of fuel these days bumping between $6 and $7 a gallon, it’s very difficult for young people to find a company or individual flight instructor that they can afford to work with. (The sport pilot license) is helping. I’m sure a lot of people can learn how to fly in a sport airplane and eventually work himself or herself up into a larger airplane. And hopefully they can use the airplane in their business.