MILLERSVILLE, Md. (AP) — John Fendley doesn’t feel like he has worked a day in his life.
That’s because the 74-year-old Millersville man has spent the last half-century getting paid to do something he loves: fly
airplanes. He believes he is the oldest active test pilot in the world.
On Friday, however, the Alabama native will have to find another passion.
Fendley retired Thursday as director of Northrop Grumman’s flight test facility in Linthicum.
He still plans to fly in his free time but realizes it won’t be the same as his time at Northrop Grumman, where a private taxiway gives pilots easy access to nearby BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.
“Now I’m going to have to pay to fly,” he quipped.
Fendley is retiring to spend more time with his wife, two kids and four grandchildren. He also wants to concentrate on his other passions, like photography.
A member of the Stoney Creek Fishing and Hunting Club, Fendley also wants to brush up on his shooting. He may even spend more time scuba diving, a hobby he picked up recently.
But Fendley’s real passion will always be flying.
He has logged more than 8,000 hours since he joined the Navy in September 1958.
After going through Naval Education and Training Command, he joined the VF-41 squadron, at which he spent three years. Fendley then went to Navy Test Pilot School and eventually to Norfolk, Va., where he served for one year before leaving the Navy in October 1967.
Three days after he left the Navy, Fendley arrived in Linthicum for his first day of work at what was then Westinghouse on Aviation Boulevard.
Fendley has become a fixture around the facility in the past four decades.
Upon his arrival in 1967, he began flying and testing the radar systems on the Navy F-4 Phantom, a plane he flew in the Navy.
Fendley spent 19 years as a project pilot, testing radar, electro-optical systems and other technology, before becoming chief pilot. He held that job for about two years, then became manager of flight testing, the job he held until he was promoted to director in 2008.
“He’s not only a good boss, but a good friend,” said test flight engineer Jim Vecheck, who has worked at Northrop Grumman for 30 years and has worked with Fendley since 1999. “He’s a hero that nobody knows about. The guy is such a leader.”
Tom Delaney, who has worked at Northrop Grumman for 24 years, aid Fendley is an icon at the facility.
“He’s a great, really likeable guy,” Delaney said. “He’s efinitely going to be missed.”
Fendley has watched aviation technology change drastically since he took his first flight.
He still recalls flying to Florida 50 years ago for an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the aviation industry.
Fendley was operating a McDonnell F3H Demon aircraft with forward-looking radar. The radar broke down about every two hours.
Today, radar systems are much more complex and can go hundreds or thousands of hours between failures. Engines in modern planes also are much more powerful than in the aircraft Fendley flew decades ago.
Fendley is in good health and still flies several times a week, although a group of eight project pilots under his command handles most of the workload. He oversees 49 employees at Northrop Grumman, including pilots, engineers, mechanics and other staff.
When asked what he is going to miss about his job, Fendley’s answer is simple.
“The people,” he said. “I’m definitely going to miss the people. We have a great group of people working around here. When
you hire good, qualified people, they make your job so much easier. I’ve been really luck here.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)