ELMIRA, N.Y. (WENY) -- John "Corky" Gill served several years in military and aviation field. Today, he was honored with the FAA's Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award. Highly regarded as their most prestigious award. The award recognizes the lifetime accomplishments of senior mechanics.

People flooded the Harris Hill Youth Camp reception hall to help honor Corky and celebrate him and his achievements. Many of those people were members of the Harris Hill Soaring community where Corky has spent a lot of his time. He mentioned he recorded having over 8,300 flights in the glider.

An attendee at the event even referred to Corky as "the grandfather of Harris Hill."

In addition to honoring Corky with the award, a surprise was organized on his behalf.

"I was very happy to see that and, not just one Thunderbird, but a few, several of them there," said Corky, the award recipient. "That made me real happy because the Thunderbirds was a big three and a half years of my career in the Air Force and I'll never forget that."

As part of the ceremony, FAA representatives also attended and held a presentation that honored the history of the award and Corky's years in the field. While Corky knew about the award and ceremony ahead of time, he was not told that a Thunderbird representative would show up to present said award to him.


"Corky was a crew chief in 1962, I was in 1990," said Michael "Mo" Beale, the Chairman of the Thunderbird Alumni Association. "So to be able to give him a token of our esteem on the team, I gave him a little round metal object we call a Thunderbird coin. It's just a little oversized coin here. To be able to put it in his hand and actually meet him is special."

Beale surprised Corky at the ceremony when he presented the Charles Taylor Award on behalf of the Thunderbirds. He said it was extra special since they have been in communication for a long time but, this was their first time meeting in person.