A Greenwood native with more than 50 years of experience as a military and civilian pilot has received the Federal Aviation Administration’s highest honor.

Steve Stowe, of Greenwood High School’s Class of 1965, was given the FAA’s Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award on Dec. 17. Named after the inventors of the airplane and America’s first pilots, the award honors those who have shown professionalism, skill and expertise for at least 50 years as a master pilot.

Stowe’s love affair with aviation began when he was young.

“We used to go to Myrtle Beach a lot when I was a kid,” he said. “They used to have F-100s based out there. ... They’d come right over the pier with their afterburners running, and I just thought, ‘Well, that’s tremendous.’”

Later, when he was still a student at Northside Junior High School at the time, he had a chance to see the U.S. Air Force demonstration squadron the Thunderbirds flying above McEntire Air Force Base outside of Columbia. The power and speed of these jet planes was spellbinding for Stowe, and he knew he wanted in on the thrill.

In 1965, U.S. Rep. William Jennings Bryan Dorn gave Stowe a congressional appointment to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where Stowe would fly his first solo flight in October 1968. He went on to be a fighter pilot and a graduate of the USAF Test Pilot School.

After retiring from the Air Force, Stowe moved away from Greenwood and became a commercial pilot for Delta Air Lines, before beginning his career as a test pilot, first for Boeing and now for Mitsubishi. Stowe lives in Portland, Oregon with his family now.

His time as a commercial captain was fun, but Stowe said it became too repetitive.

“That’s one of the things I missed most working for the airlines,” he said, “I just didn’t feel like I was really using all my training.”

As a test pilot, however, his training is put to good use. Test pilots are responsible for helping plane manufacturers tweak and finalize plane designs. He’s among the first to test new planes being developed by the Mitsubishi Aircraft Company, and he ensures that the planes do what the designers set out for them to do.

He’s currently working to test the Mitsubishi SpaceJet, a regional aircraft designed to be smaller than Mitsubishi’s previous regional jet model. Over his career, Stowe has logged more than 15,000 hours of flight time, has flown 156 different types of aircraft and holds Airline Transport Pilot licenses from the USA and Japan.

Contact staff writer Damian Dominguez at 864-634-7548 or follow on Twitter @IJDDOMINGUEZ.