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AOPA collaborator, air boss John Walsh dies

John Walsh, well-known air boss, AOPA events collaborator, U.S. Marine Corps veteran, and retired air traffic controller, died November 16. He was 64 years old.

  • John and Nan Walsh served as air boss at AOPA’s St. Simons Island Airport Fly-In in Georgia in 2014. Photo by AOPA staff.
  • Photo courtesy of Nan Walsh.
  • Photo courtesy of Nan Walsh.
  • Photo courtesy of Nan Walsh.
  • John and Nan Walsh. Photo courtesy of Nan Walsh.
  • Photo courtesy of Nan Walsh.

Walsh's aviation career began while serving in the Marine Corps from 1977 to 1981. During that time, he attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, earned his air traffic control certification, and served as a tactical air controller until his retirement almost 5 years later with the rank of sergeant.

After retiring, Walsh went to work for the FAA and attended air traffic school in Oklahoma City, where he met his wife and air boss partner, Nan Walsh, who was also working to become an air traffic controller. Walsh went on to work for the FAA for 25 years before retiring from Tampa Tower.

Following a successful career as an FAA front line manager and controller, Walsh spent most of the last decade working airshows throughout the United States, becoming heavily involved in aviation event consultation, planning, and air traffic control with his wife, Nan. Through the years, he helped coordinate shows with difficult regulatory and FAA-related administrative challenges. Most notably, Walsh used his background and experience to develop ramp management procedures for special events, including the Masters golf tournament and two Super Bowls.

"John Walsh was a dedicated SUN 'n FUN volunteer working in Airside Ground Safety and Air Operations for over 20 years, doing what he loved to do... sharing his love of aviation," Laura Harrelson Vaughn said in a social media tribute posted in a Facebook group created to honor and memorialize Sun 'n Fun Aerospace Expo volunteers. Walsh also served as an FAA controller at the annual Lakeland, Florida, event. "He touched us all with his grace and willingness to carry on, making friends along the way... He was a friend and supporter of [Aerospace Center for Excellence] and SUN 'n FUN, our staff, volunteers and the students who have come here and want to love aviation too. We will miss him, his contributions, his can-do spirit and his willingness to pass the love along! Please keep Nan and their family in your prayers... Thank you, John... for everything!"

Walsh and Nan also served as "air boss" for several AOPA Fly-Ins between 2014 and 2022. Most impressive was their involvement in AOPA's 2016 fly-in at Bremerton, Washington, where more than 700 aircraft were all safely and cheerfully guided in by the husband-and-wife team—the highest number of fly-in aircraft of any AOPA event.

"We got to know John and his wife Nan as they worked air traffic at our fly-in events and they quickly became part of the AOPA family," Dave Roy, vice president of the AOPA Pilot Information Center, said. "John's expertise and experience established the highest level of safety and professionalism at our events. We will miss John for his friendship and leadership."

Niki Britton

eMedia Content Producer
eMedia Content Producer Niki Britton joined AOPA in 2021. She is a private pilot who enjoys flying her 1969 Cessna 182 and taking aerial photographs.
Topics: People

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