Longtime pilot honored at North Central State Airport

Longtime pilot honored at North Central State Airport

Smithfield resident Eugene Bielecki was honored by the Rhode Island Airport Corporation on July 19, with a ceremony at North Central State Airport. Bielecki, who first flew solo in 1946, has acquired some 30,000 flight hours in his career between flying and instructing. (Valley Breeze & Observer photo by Meghan Kavanaugh)

SMITHFIELD - After nearly seven decades of flight, a Smithfield pilot has been immortalized at North Central State Airport.

Eugene Bielecki, founder of the Rhode Island Pilots Association who has been flying planes since 1946, was honored in a July 19 ceremony with a plaque in his name that now hangs on the wall of one of the hangars.

The Rhode Island Airport Corporation event, held at the airport where Bielecki became part-owner, vice president and chief flight instructor in 1959, was attended by many pilots who earned their wings thanks to Bielecki's instruction over the years.

Bielecki said he has taught more than 1,000 people how to fly in his lifetime, and has granted licenses to most pilots in Rhode Island.

Calming the nerves of these aeronautical newcomers is one of his specialties, he said.

"I learned quite a bit about how to make them at ease," Bielecki said, noting that he always has coffee and donuts or muffins ready at the start of the pilot's exam, and keeps a slip of paper with the word "relax" on the dashboard.

"Believe it or not, it works," he said.

Tricks like these were learned over the course of his 68-year-long career, which is still going as he continues work as a flight instructor and Federal Aviation Administration-designated pilot examiner.

It's a job he had dreamt of ever since he was a little boy, who at the age of 7, saw a two-winger biplane with engine problems land in a field.

The whole neighborhood came running to check out the plane, he said, and someone lifted him up to see the cockpit.

"From that day, I was fascinated with these flying machines," he said.

Ten years later, while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Bielecki learned to fly at an airport in Georgia. The war ended, and two years later, he earned his commercial pilots licence in 1948 with the G.I. Bill. His flight instructor certificate came the next year.

Over the course of his 30,000-hour career - which adds up to almost three-and-a-half years of his life spent airborne - Bielecki has earned numerous awards, including the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award in 2005 for 50 years of accident-free flying. He was inducted to the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame in 2009.

But it was this latest accolade that made him emotional, he said, for being recognized with such fanfare.

"I was kind of surprised that they went that far," Bielecki said. "It brought tears to me and many in the audience."