Remembering Ray Johnson

On Tuesday, April 7, 2020, Raymond J. Johnson passed away at the age of 94. Throughout his lifetime, Johnson left his mark on aviation, literally around the world through his involvement with state aviation, the Civil Air Patrol, the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) and many other organizations.  

Ray Johnson at an aviation event at the Prescott, AZ airport in 2012. Photo by Kim Stevens.

Johnson, who spent a good deal of his career in Illinois, retired as the Manager of the Chicago Office of the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Division of Aeronautics, a career position he held for 34 years (1958–1992). Among his responsibilities was the State’s interest in volunteer aviation organizations and the enhancement of aviation education activities.  

Jim Bildilli, who worked with Johnson for 25 years at the Division and for several more after he retired, said Johnson was a Flight Safety Coordinator handling the 6 counties around Chicago and started the Ray Johnson Civil Air Patrol (CAP) flight encampment (which was eventually named after Johnson), at Coles County Memorial Airport (MTO).  

“He was the Illinois liaison to the CAP and attended nearly everything that the CAP did in Illinois and nationally,” said Bildilli. “Ray was a unique individual and totally dedicated to all things aviation.”

Following his retirement in Illinois, Johnson moved to Prescott, AZ in 1994, and continued an active role in both aviation and aviation education which included Chairman, of the National Aeronautic Association’s (NAA) Education Committee and NAA Delegate to the FAI.

Johnson was a recipient of numerous awards and honors, including NAA’s Frank G. Brewer Trophy, the Nile Gold Medal and the Paul Tissandier Diploma from the FAI.

In receiving the Brewer Trophy in 1994, Johnson was recognized “for nearly a half-century of leadership and innovation in aviation and aerospace education at all levels, kindergarten through university. His pioneering leadership has been demonstrated at the local community level, as well as state, regional, national and international levels. His work involved stimulating volunteers in Civil Air Patrol’s programs as well as educators at all grade levels and curricular areas. He is also recognized as an author and editor.

Johnson held a Commercial Pilots Certificate with Airplane, Glider, and Hot Air Balloon ratings and held a World Flight Record. His initial flight training was with the WWII Army Air Corps as a flight engineer in the B-29. He previously held a leadership role with several organizations including positions as President or Board member of the Chicago Association Forum, the Balloon Federation of America, the Soaring Society of America, and the National Coalition for Aviation and Space Education (NCASE).

Rol Murrow, NCASE President was saddened at the news that the Coalition’s longtime colleague, friend, confidant, and mentor had passed away. “He contributed so much to the world of aviation, especially to aviation education and the Civil Air Patrol, during his long career,” said Murrow.

Ray was born on September 23rd, 1925 in Duluth, MN and graduated from the University of Minnesota with degrees in Business Administration and Industrial Engineering.

“He will be sorely missed,” said Bildilli.