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NMSU Physical Science Lab pilot receives FAA Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award

New Mexico State University's unmanned aircraft systems program is often in the news, but how often do we hear of the people behind those unmanned aircraft?


Three men and two women pose for a photo.
J.D. Huss, left, presented Clifford Tyree with the Federal Aviation Administration's Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award in Albuquerque on June 15. Joining Tyree are his wife Ellen, son Allen Tyree and daughter-in-law Margaret Tyree. (Courtesy photo)
This is Clifford Tyree's Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, presented to him by the Federal Aviation Administration June 15 in Albuquerque.
This is Clifford Tyree's Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, presented to him by the Federal Aviation Administration June 15 in Albuquerque. (Courtesy photo)

Clifford Tyree, a part-time unmanned aircraft system mission commander and safety analyst for NMSU's Physical Science Laboratory, received the Federal Aviation Administration's Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award in Albuquerque June 15. Tyree has been in aviation since 1959 and worked his way from the ground up, from servicing airplanes to becoming a pilot, certified flight instructor, fixed-base operator owner, and then as an experienced aviator, Tyree stepped into the newest form of aviation, the unmanned aircraft world.

Tyree, who graduated from NMSU in 1965, says that his duties at NMSU are to help field and fly unmanned aircraft systems. He has more than 40 years of engineering experience in the fields of construction machinery manufacturing and environmental engineering. He was recognized with numerous awards while working for the Environmental Protection Agency in Ann Arbor, Mich. One of them was a Gold Medal presented by the EPA for Tyree's work in the exhaust emission field. Because of his technical background, he also reviews submission descriptions of those who want to fly unmanned aircraft systems at NMSU's UAS Flight Test Center, the only FAA-approved flight test center in the nation. As a UAS safety analyst, he works to make sure subsystem integration produces a reliable aircraft and system for flight. In his mission commander role, he ensures safety of flight procedures are standardized and followed for the proponent to achieve their goals of testing, training and demonstrating their product.

Tyree is one of a group of experienced aviators serving as mentors for a new generation of aviators with regard to flight safety.

"The NMSU UAS Flight Test Center is lucky to have extremely knowledgeable and experienced aviators who want to share their knowledge with the new aviator generation," said Dennis Zaklan, deputy director of the Flight Test Center. "As part time employees, Clifford and other experienced aviators perform analysis and mentor the younger engineers and aviators establishing the safety of flight perspective into this new realm of unmanned aircraft being tested and demonstrated along the side of manned aircraft at the Las Cruces, N.M., airport. It is so rewarding to observe this experience being passed on to the younger aviators, while letting them take the reigns as the full-time employees and managers."

"Flying is something I've always been interested in doing," Tyree said. "I never would've believed that God would have allowed me to fly all the different planes I've flown over the years."

One of the 40-plus different types of planes Tyree has flown include NMSU's King Air E-90, which he co-pilots a couple times per month, but his favorite is whichever plane he's in at the moment.

The FAA Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award recognizes pilots who have demonstrated professionalism, skill and aviation expertise by maintaining safe operations for 50 or more years.