Eighty years of aviation in Lehighton was celebrated Saturday night.
A highlight of that celebration was a salute to Byron Arner, the former longtime manager of the Jacob Arner Memorial Airport who has been a pilot for six decades. Arner was the recipient of several awards and given heaps of praise in recognition of his lengthy record of safe flying.
Among those awards was the prestigious FAA Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award. It was presented by representatives of the FAA, who noted that Arner had flown a cumulative 52,000 hours.
Arner also had a career with the former Eastern Airlines. His son, Jake Arner of Nesquehoning who, too, had flown for Eastern, said that with the airline, his father "flew over one million passengers safely in his career. He flew over two million miles" with Eastern.
The program was held at the Lehighton American Legion Post. About 85 people attended.
Byron and several other speakers offered a history of aviation in Lehighton, which began in 1928 when an airport off South Ninth Street in Lehighton was constructed. It was named in honor of Captain Martin Jensen, then 27, of California, who opened an airplane factory in the town, manufacturing the Jensen Sport Trainer.
The factory became a victim of the Great Depression, but aviation in the community eventually flourished.
"At one time Lehighton had more aviators per capita than any other community in the world," Jake Arner said.
Byron noted that many pilots who soloed in small aircraft at the local airport went on to become employed by major airlines. At least two dozen of them were in attendance for Saturday's program.
Bill VanArtsdalen, pilot and program manager of the FAA Safety Team, presented Byron Arner with the special Master Pilot Award. VanArtsdalen also handed him a "Blue Ribbon Package," which contained information about Arner from throughout his 60-year aviation career.
He said Arner's 60th anniversary as a pilot was on July 25.
Another award presented to the Carbon aviator was from the Pa. Bureau of Forestry. John Miller, chief of Forest Fire Protection Division of the Bureau, gave him a plaque and said Arner was "one of the most dependable vendors in the commonwealth to supply the aircraft and the pilots" for fighting forest fires.
He said in Harrisburg, a standard that is utilized "is Byron's manner of operation."
Arner, who still gives flying lessons at the Jacob Arner Memorial Airport (Carbon County Airport) in Mahoning Township, introduced his daughter, Jacqueline McKelvay of Ocean City, Md., and his son Jake of Nesquehoning.
Jake had been a pilot for five different major airlines.
He said "the greatest thing in my life" was when he and his father flew a flight together for Eastern. Byron was the captain and Jake was a flight engineer. "It was by coincidence," said Jake, noting that the flight took them to Bermuda.
VanArtsdalen gave a rundown of Byron's flying career. He began in general aviation, then went into the military, became a commercial pilot, and returned to general aviation.
He enlisted in the Navy during the Korean War.
"Dad wanted to be a fighter pilot," said Jake. "He was told he had to have a college education, so he went to Penn State University to get college to join the Navy."
In the Navy, he graduated in the top 10 percent of the class, which qualified him to become a Marine Corps fighter pilot. The war ended before Arner had the chance to fly any missions. However, he was put on stand-by status during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Attending the program was Stan Richardson of East Brunswick, N.J., who attended the Navy flight school with Arner and also was on stand-by for the missile crisis.
Byron told about the influence his father, the late Jacob Arner, had on his life and his career. He said his father had worked for Jensen at the airplane factory as a mechanic, then progressed to a pilot, soloing in 1930. By 1933, the late Jacob Arner had earned a transport license.
In 1941, Jacob Arner was hired by Wiley Post in Allentown for a training pilot.
"My father trained a lot of boys who went overseas" for World War II," Byron noted. During the war years, Jacob was dispatched to Trenton to test planes.
Byron said he would hang out at the Lehighton Airport where he would wash planes and gas them as a child, eventually getting into piloting.
Jacob Arner died March 3, 1976, 12 years after the Mahoning Township Airport was constructed.
On June 26, 1977, the Mahoning airport was rededicated in memory of Jacob Arner during a program that attracted more than 1,000 people.
Jensen was unable to attend that dedication because he was in Hawaii celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Dole Pineapple Race. The race was held in 1927 from California to Hawaii a total of 2,400 miles and marked the first flight over that part of the Pacific. It was sponsored by Dole Pineapple, with Jensen taking second place. Ten lives were lost in that race.
Jensen died in 1992 at the age of 91.
Major General Marvin Jay Barry said, who graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy and had flown for Delta, said he got his aviation start in Lehighton.
He remarked, "This evening has been about aviation in general, but more important it's about Byron and his achievements."
Displays had scores of photos, news clipping, pamphlets, and scrapbooks outlining the 80 years of aviation in Lehighton.