Martens receives Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award

Martens receives Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award
Dennis D. "Denny" Martens of Vermillion has received the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award. The award was presented to Martens during the SD Aviation Hall of Fame meeting at Clyde Ice Field/Black Hills Airport in Spearfish on Sept. 7. The award was signed by the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and presented by Steve Hoogerhyde and Dan Allison of the FAA, Rapid City.

The Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award recognizes pilots who have contributed to building and maintaining the safest aviation system in the world, through practicing and promoting safe flight for 50 consecutive years or more.

Martens started working for Hubbard Aviation in Sioux Falls and taking flying lessons right after high school graduation in May 1957. He soloed in a Cessna 120 and completed his private and commercial certificates.


In 1959 he moved to Vermillion to work for Duane Cross and earned his flight instructor, instrument, multi-engine and instrument flight instructor certificates. He became manager of the Vermillion Airport in 1961 and ran an FBO there providing flight instruction, air taxi, and aircraft rental.

Martens provided pilot services to The University of South Dakota starting in 1967, flying a Cherokee 6. He became a full-time employee of USD when they purchased a Piper Aztec, which he flew for 6,000 hours. In 1976 USD bought a later-model Aztec, which Martens flew for 5,000 hours.

Martens earned his ATP in 1985. In 1986 USD purchased a Piper Navajo, which he flew until retirement in 2002, accumulating another 7,000 hours. Since retirement he has done aviation consulting work and flown part time for USD when needed.

He has been active in promoting general aviation, still gives flight instruction regularly and conducts ground school safety courses. Overall, Martens has accumulated about 27,000 hours, with 18,000 hours multi-engine and 9,000 single-engine – flying coast to coast, border to border, and to Alaska – and has given several thousand hours of dual instruction to students. He still owns the first aircraft he purchased in 1961, a 1956 Cessna 172. He completed a home-built project, a Midget Mustang. He flies both aircraft often.

Brenda Martens was presented a Wright Brothers Master Pilot Spouse's Award by the South Dakota Pilots Association, and a special lapel pin by the FAA.

In accepting the award, Martens reminisced about flying daily and living a dream. When he was a young, barefoot lad on a farm near Bridgewater, he looked up at an airplane and dreamed of flying, and later worked as a line boy after high school, earned a pilot's license, and lived his dream. He closed with an emotional thank you to Brenda for her support of his flying over the past 50 years, which involved his being away from home many nights.

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