On Friday night, Herman Ludwigsen became one of just over 6,000 individuals to receive the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, an honor bestowed on experienced pilots by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The award is given to a pilot with at least 50 years of flight time, according to FAA information.
Only 83 of those honored pilots hail from Alaska — and of those, only three are from Ketchikan: Ludwigsen, Ken Eichner and Mark Murdock.
Ludwigsen was surprised with the award during a small, private event on Friday evening at the Tongass Historical Museum.
Due to COVID-19, the guest list was capped at 30 attendees. In attendance on Friday evening were staff members of the museum and a group of Ludwigsen's close friends and family, all wearing masks for the occasion.
The ceremony kicked off when Lana Boler, principal inspection manager for the FAA, described the dedication that Ludwigsen displayed to receive the award, which his grandson, Max, nominated him for earlier this year.
Boler first clarified that the recipient of the Master Pilot Award must have charted at least 50 years of flight time.
"To the pilots in the room, this should have a resounding effect," Boler said about the requirement.
Boler noted that only 20 of the 50 years may be completed as military service. The 50 total years do not have to be completed consecutively.
Boler also provided a description of Ludwigsen's career as a pilot, which began over 60 years ago.
"His history is a reflection of the time and dedication to aviation industry here in Ketchikan, and the significant role he played in building Ketchikan to what it is today, connecting our community to the outlying areas, building Southeast (Alaska)" Boler said.
Ludwigsen first received his flight certificate in February of 1948. He took his first solo flight a month later, which earned him his single engine sea rating. In April of that same year, he received his private pilot's license.
"He went on for the next five years or so, spending time flying, hunting and fishing, building his time," Boler said.
In 1955, Ludwigsen completed his written commercial pilot's exam. In 1956, he flew for Wein Airlines. Later, he worked with Bethel Charter Pilots, where he completed 5,500 flight hours.
Ludwigsen also flew as a Shell Oil charter pilot on the North Slope, gathering around 300 hours of flight time. He also worked for Northern Consolidated for a few years, where he logged over 2,000 hours in the air.
In 1977, he served as Weber Air's chief pilot, collecting again over 2,000 hours before moving on to Tyee Airlines and Southeast Stevedoring Corp.
"According to FAA records, he's logged 32,405 hours," Boler said. "All of it in Alaska. Quite the accomplishment."
After describing his career, Boler welcomed Ludwigsen and his grandson to the center of the room, where his grandson presented Ludwigsen with the award, a framed certificate that Ludwigsen proudly turned to the audience.
Ludwigsen's wife, Anita, was then awarded a matching honor: the spouse's award. The honor recognizes the sacrifice that the recipient's spouse makes to support them during long and sometimes dangerous flights.
After Max Ludwigsen presented his grandmother with the spouse's pin, Herman Ludwigsen addressed the assembled audience.
"I've had a good experience flying," Ludwigsen said. "I've put a lot of time in the air. Lots of time. Some people don't believe it."
Ludwigsen commented fondly on moments from his career, such as seeing his grandson take on a career as a pilot, finding a total of nine downed aircrafts and working with a variety of his closest friends throughout his decades-long career.
Max Ludwigsen told the Daily News after the ceremony on Friday that his grandfather knew something special was brewing on Friday, but had no idea that he would be receiving an award.
Ludwigsen filled out an application for the award earlier this year, without telling his grandfather.
"I tried to set this up as fast as possible, and asked all of his closest friends to come out, and it's a good time," he said of the event.