Aviator, author, award-winning pilot, San Juan's Drury joins elite corps

A recent recipient of the FAA
A recent recipient of the FAA's 'Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award', San Juan Island's Richard S. Drury provided 'color commentary' at the 3rd Annual Friday Harbor Airport Fly In/Open House, in July.
— image credit: Contributed photo

By Steve Wehrly/Journal Reporter

Forty years after earning a chestful of medals and decorations for bravery and service in Vietnam, Richard S. Drury was awarded a lifetime achievement award from the Federal Aviation Administration - the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award.

He joins more than two thousand distinguished flyers, including astronaut Neil Armstrong and golfer Arnold Palmer, who have been recognized for having logged more than 50 years of safe flight and for making "many outstanding contributions that further the cause of aviation safety," according to the FAA Certificate.

Born in 1943, Drury started flying sailplanes in 1958 at El Mirage, Calif, first soloing in 1959.  In the Vietnam War he was a A-1 Skyraider pilot, flying 220 combat ground support missions and winning the Silver Star and four Distinguished Service Crosses, among other decorations.

His book about his Vietnam experiences, "The Secret War," chronicles many of those 220 missions, including flights risking his life in support of downed pilots. The book, called the "best Vietnam War book" by one critic, went through two hardback printings, two mass-market softcover printings and was chosen as a Time-Life "Wings of War" collection book.

He's been a prolific writer on flying and aviation since childhood. Drury's longtime friend and writing mentor, author Richard Bach ("Jonathon Livingston Seagull"), thinks "The Secret War" should be the key to understanding Drury's life and aviation legacy. Asked by the Journal to comment on Drury, Bach responded, "My grand respect for Richard as a pilot and a writer" comes from "his  skill at stirring [the reader's] humanity with his own."

Bach, also an aviator before he became a writer, reflects on Drury's life and writing by saying, "When the living's so true and sharp as Drury's, his words become our experience, and then our memories."

Drury has written three other books, including "Flightlines," a compendium of columns he wrote for years for Airways magazine.  He's also been a model airplane builder since childhood, with more than two-thousand finished models in his collection "and many still to be built." And he has, according to fellow Master Pilot John Geyman, "an outstanding collection of World War I aviation photographs."

After retiring from the Air Force as a Major in 1970, he flew as a civilian contractor in Laos, then in 1973 signed on with Flying Tiger airfreight, later part of Fedex. Since retiring from commercial flying in 2003, he has continued to fly his own planes, including racing a Hawker Sea Fury and giving rides to friends and family in his aerobatic Great Lakes Biplane. Over the years, he has logged more than 21,000 hours as a pilot.

"He's a pilot's pilot," said San Juan Island Pilot's Association President Mike Taylor, "because he's accomplished so much."

His plans for the future?  "I'm restoring a 1948 Stinson, I've got four model planes on my assembly table - and I will keep flying," Drury said.


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