Santa Paula aviator Judy Phelps was officially lauded as the National Certified Flight Instructor (NCFI) of the Year, an honor she received in front of an entourage of family and friends inclduing her husband (left) Clay Phelps.

Judy Phelps honored as National Flight Instructor of the Year

August 05, 2011
Santa Paula News

It was Oshkosh by gosh where Santa Paula aviator Judy Phelps was officially lauded as the National Certified Flight Instructor (NCFI) of the Year, an honor she received in front of an entourage of family and friends. 

Accompanied by her husband and CP Aviation partner Clay Phelps, father Mike Marble, sister-in-law Nancy and Gail Tracy, and friends Scott and Leni Malherbe, Judy McCarthy and Robin Sullivan, Judy said “It was so neat to have so many people traveling with me... every time I was introduced it was as Judy Phelps and her entourage. It was neat” to have not only husband and father by her side, but also friends. They all stayed almost a week, and most flew commercially although they are also licensed pilots.

Oshkosh, Wisconsin is the site of the world’s largest air show, known as the “the world’s greatest aviation celebration,” a title Judy said is well deserved. “It’s pretty spectacular, it’s huge and people do come from all over the world” for the air show, award ceremonies and fireworks show that Judy said she has never seen the likes of.

Her fondest memory of the trip leans strongly toward those who were with her and what they saw: “Having my dad,” a resident of Fort Bragg, “with me was pretty special... and one thing that was really neat was the last night they had a nighttime air show, really an awesome experience.” Judy and Clay had an all expense paid trip to Oshkosh for the award ceremony.

At the time her selection was announced, Judy said the award was especially appreciated, as “The first time I ever took the controls it never crossed my mind” aviation would become her passion. And her career: “Never in my wildest dreams had I ever thought I would become a flight instructor... it didn’t start out that way, it was just something I was going to do. It really just happened - me being me, doing things I like. The real love of aviation,” she noted, “came from being at the airport, CP Aviation, the people I’ve met - aviators and students.”

And that includes Rich Stowell, an acclaimed Emergency Maneuver Training instructor who presented Judy with the award on July 27. Stowell, said Judy, was a stand-in of sorts for an official whose travel allowance had been cut and was unable to make the ceremony. “Rich gave me my award... he was the NCFI 2006 winner and it was pretty neat to have him give it to me.”

In fact, Judy said she is the third Santa Paula Airport aviator to rank the prestigious award: “Sammy Mason won it in 1974... and yes, it is unusual to have so many win it from such a small airport.” 

Judy admits following the recognition and DVD screening of her career, “I was nervous that I had to give a whole 90 second acceptance speech!” The following day she and national winners in other aviation categories met FAA Administrator Randy Babbit at a forum where they were introduced and again recognized.

Although a pilot for less than 20 years, Judy has racked up a lifetime’s worth of awards, recognitions and accomplishments. A three-time Master and a member of IAC as well as SAFE (Society of Aviation and Flight Educators), Judy recently renewed her Master CFI-Aerobatic accreditation. And now as the official National Certified Flight Instructor, “I have,” said Judy, “a really, really cool plaque.”

Judy also specializes in aerobatic and Emergency Maneuver Training, and she also serves as a FAASTeam representative in the FAA’s Van Nuys FSDO area. She was the first woman to earn the aerobatic accreditation, and is in rare company: of the approximately 93,000 CFIs in the nation, fewer than 700 have achieved the higher distinction. 

The last 15 national Flight Instructors of the Year were Master CFIs, while Judy is one of only 51 California teachers of flight to earn this prestigious “Master” title, and one of only 24 nationwide to earn aerobatic accreditation. She first earned this national professional accreditation in 2006, has held it continuously since then, and is one of only 81 worldwide to earn the credential three times.

Judy’s late father-in-law, the legendary aviator Bob Phelps, taught her how to fly and Judy got her private pilot license in 1999. Judy also serves as the president of the Board of Directors of the Aviation Museum of Santa Paula.

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