The Liberty Gazette
July 19, 2011
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: There’s so much going on in the aviation industry that sometimes choosing a topic to share here can be difficult, but I read a story recently about a priest who has earned a big award.
Mel Hemann and two of his three brothers are priests. All four of the Hemann men are pilots: Mel, John, Everett, and Matt. Last week Melvin received the prestigious Wright Brothers Master Pilot award for over 50 years of safe piloting. Mel is 82 and from a little Iowa town called Stacyville, where he and his brothers grew up on a farm – with a landing strip. Flying is second to his faith, but it’s a passionate second. This award also earns him recognition in the FAA’s Roll of Honor in Washington, D.C.
The story that appeared in Iowa’s Globe Gazette stated Melvin has logged nearly 17,000 hours of flight time, and an astounding 11,000 hours of flight instruction given. His family, friends, former students, and even the FAA pulled off quite a surprise to honor him for his 50-plus years of “professionalism, skill and aviation expertise.”
And here’s something I learned: there is an association just for flying priests! The association of flying farmers we wrote about a few weeks ago is no surprise, after all, crop dusters have been around since the early days of flight. One of the Hemann brothers, Matt, is a flying farmer. And there are associations of flying physicians and flying musicians. But flying priests? Yep, sure enough, it’s called the National Association of Priest Pilots (NAPP), and their 48th annual meeting was held last week in Mason City, Iowa. And that’s how and where they surprised Melvin with the award.
Mike: So for 48 years priest-pilots have been gathering to share their common loves of priesthood and flying. That means their organization began even before The Flying Nun, starring Sally Field. Of course, I had to check the Internet to see if there was a Flying Nun association, but nope, none. But I did find this quote from the Vatican, dated September 29, 1964: “It is with paternal satisfaction that the Holy Father views the efforts of the members of the National Association of Priest Pilots to encourage the use of air transportation to obtain ever more abundant spiritual fruits from their sacerdotal ministry and missionary apostolate.”
Their mission: “To promote the use of private aircraft as a practical, safe, and efficient tool of the apostolic work of a priest; To cooperate with other aviation and ecclesiastical groups wherever possible in order to promote aviation in the cause of the Church; To insist on the safe and proficient use of the airplane by its members; To encourage the use of private aircraft as worthy of the talents and dignity of priests; To further the use of aircraft in the missions.”
It totally makes sense. They’re mission pilots, they’re businessmen using business aircraft – for the business of Church.
Mel Hemann told the reporter from KIMT television in Mason City, Iowa that, "if Jesus was living today he'd use TV, he'd use radio, and the internet, and if he wanted to go somewhere he'd use a car or a plane, so it's trying to incorporate a thing that's not only a hobby but also it's something that can be very practical in doing what we're called to do."