In the four-seat cabin of a Piper Tripacer airplane, Lee Svoboda, a native of Clutier, began his first solo flight in September of 1963. More than 50 years later with more than 22,500 hours of flight time logged in places ranging from Alaska to England to Singapore, he is still actively flying.
That longevity coupled with multiple ratings that include expertise in both single and multiengine sea and land aircraft as well as a helicopter rating, place him among an elite group of pilots.
Svoboda was recently recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration when he was awarded the prestigious Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award. An honor awarded to pilots "who have demonstrated professionalism, skill and aviation expertise by maintaining safe operations for 50 or more years."
Svoboda graduated from Traer Public High School in May of 1957. The following November he joined the U.S. Air Force. Following his honorable discharge in 1961, he acquired his pilot's license, became a flight instructor and flew for Universal Airlines. Svoboda's big break came in 1971 when he began work for a then-little-known outfit called Duncan Aviation. That led to a 30-year stint working for the U. S. Department of the Interior.
Svoboda ultimately served as Chief Pilot, Director of Operations for the Office of Aircraft Services for the Department of the Interior in Anchorage, Alaska. Within days of retiring from that position, Svoboda was asked by the Department to return to flying on a contract basis. He immediately began work fulfilling that contract through Montana-based Leading Edge Aviation Services, for whom he still flies today.
James Thurston, a family friend and former boss, recalls when he first met Svoboda in Alaska on an AW-650 Argosy airplane. "In 1971, the Alaska aviation environment that greeted Lee was radically different from anything he had previously experienced," he continued, "Lee mastered these unfamiliar operations seamlessly, demonstrating his ability for rapid adaption."
Svoboda currently resides in Boise with his wife Janice. He is among 2,800 pilots across the Nation to receive this prestigious award and happily continues to fly error-free.