People in business aviation are so lucky. Not only do they get to manufacture, market, sell and fly amazing aircraft; they get to work with some of the best people on the planet.

The Wichita Aero Club gala is always a special evening for the Air Capital of the World. We come together to celebrate a member of our community who’s truly left a mark on the aviation industry. I was beaming with pride last Saturday evening as my dad, world-renowned aviation photographer Paul Bowen, received the honor. Since 1972, he has been producing the world’s most creative, memorable and enduring air-to-air images. His long list of accolades includes the San Diego Air & Space Museum International Hall of Fame, Flying magazine’s 51 Heroes of Aviation, Kansas Aviation Hall of Fame, and Canon’s Explorers of Light. He has been part of more than 1,000 magazine covers and ad campaigns.

Naturally, it’s wonderful to see your dad singled out for recognition. As he gave the narrative of his career using his images, he started off by saying, “When I go to a concert, my favorite part is when the artist tells stories so you leave knowing them and their music better. So that’s what I’m going to do tonight.”

The Wichita Aero Club presents its trophy annually to an individual, group or organization with ties to the local aviation community whose exemplary achievements and contributions in the field of aviation or aerospace deserve special recognition. Aviation photographer Paul Bowen accepted this year’s award. Past honorees include the late Velma Wallace, Jeff Turner and Spirit AeroSystems, John O’Leary and Airbus Americas Engineering, Russ Meyer, Al Higdon and Doc’s Friends Restoration Team. Photo credit: Visual Media Group
Each image that came up on the screen was a reminder of the amazing people Dad has worked with over the years. And specifically, how filled with heroes and mentors this industry is. Perhaps this comes from aviation’s unique 40,000-foot view. Or the element of risk and responsibility assumed from those pushing new boundaries. Or the deals made on a handshake and a person’s word.

Whatever the reason, I can’t imagine an industry more defined by its close, trusted relationships. And Dad’s friendships are a testament to that. One of the many stories he told was about a photo he took of Gene Cernan, last man on the moon; Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon; and Bob Hoover, one of the most accomplished pilots who ever lived. Several years ago, Dad found them all chatting in a bar after an intimate gathering they had attended celebrating Hoover’s 90th birthday. While the sight of these three American heroes gathered together is awe-inspiring, the truth behind the photo is that Armstrong and Cernan were standing on either side of their hero, Hoover. Dad was fortunate enough to capture that shot and to consider these men his friends.

Dad reminded us that heroes aren’t only those who’ve been to the moon and back. It’s the pilots who enable him to do his job. The men and women who power this industry from the factory floor to the boardroom. Dad gave a nod to Russ Meyer, Cessna Aircraft Company chairman emeritus and aviation crusader, as his “ultimate hero.” From the comments I heard throughout the night, I know many look up to Dad. I also know what Dad would say about that. Because he said it to the full ballroom at the gala.

“I’m just a kid with a camera pursuing his passion and taking photographs of other people pursuing their passions,” he said. “I have the best job in aviation.”

This column ran in the February 2nd issue of BlueSky Business Aviation News.

Gene Cernan Neil Armstrong Bob Hoover
Gene Cernan, last man on the moon;, Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon and Bob Hoover, one of the most accomplished pilots who ever lived. Photo credit: Paul Bowen

Gail Bowen
Throughout the evening Paul Bowen credited his wife, Gail Bowen, for his long, successful, still-going-strong career. Photo credit: Visual Media Group
Wichita Aero Clib gala
The eighth annual Wichita Aero Club gala was held on January 28. Pictured here, left to right: Phil Michel, former Cessna Aircraft vice president of marketing; Al Higdon, former Learjet PR executive, agency principal and 2014 Wichita Aero Club trophy winner; Paul Bowen, aviation photographer and this year’s Wichita Aero Club trophy winner; Jeff Pier, attorney and Wichita Aero Club chairman; Ashley Bowen Cook, Greteman Group vice president and Wichita Aero Club board of directors; and Dave Franson, Wichita Aero Club president. Photo credit: Visual Media Group