Korean War the Distinguished Flying Cross
Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, Chief Test Pilot and Manager of Advanced Design
Iven C. Kincheloe Award of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots
FAA Associate Administrator for International Affairs and Policy
It pains me to write this as I thought he just might out-fly destiny, but Donald Riley Segner, who served as FAA Associate Administrator for International Affairs and Policy during Lynn Helms’ turn as FAA Administrator during the Reagan years, died on May 10 at his home in Laguna Beach, California. He was 93.
Don brought with him to his FAA position a deep sensibility for aviation born not of the boardroom, but of his talent and experience as a military aviator and civilian test pilot. He entered military service in 1943 –- I’ll do the math for you — at the age of 18 and became a Marine pilot. He served in the Korean War, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism and extraordinary achievement. He continued his service as a military test pilot, the first to fly and convert a tilt wing rotor aircraft that evolved into the V-22 Osprey.
He reentered private life with Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, serving as Chief Test Pilot and Manager of Advanced Design, where he flew seven first flights. He was the lead test pilot for the AH-56 Cheyenne helicopter and achieved two world record speeds in this helicopter, the last 272 mph. He received the Iven C. Kincheloe Award of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots for his accomplishments in testing the Cheyenne. Don eventually flew a total of 176 different aircraft types.
Those experiences must have taught him to manage the unexpected and to trust his instincts. Tapped by President Reagan for his FAA position, Don was the right man in the right place at the right time to lead, among many other significant matters, the US international response to the Soviet shooting down of KAL Flight 007 in 1983, and then the trilateral effort with the USSR and Japan to prevent a similar event from ever happening again.
Don’s over-tired team toward the end of three weeks
in Tokyo for the trilateral negotiations
Don thinking through his next negotiating move.
In each of these efforts, Don blazed a new route and they stood out as examples of successful global US diplomacy and aviation technical leadership, which enhanced our country’s credibility and established relationships upon which future aviation safety initiatives stood. Don succeeded because of his astute ability to solve a problem and, perhaps, not in spite of but because of his directness and lack of training in the art of diplomacy.
Don’s joie de vivre peeking through during a
break in Tokyo during trilateral negotiations.
Don could be intimidating and was, shall we say, more direct than some at the State Department appreciated, but he was fearless and extraordinarily effective. He had a gift for sizing someone up and conveyed his impatience for those who came up short of expectations or who entered his office lobbying for a cause that cut across his perception of FAA’s mission. He was also an endlessly loyal supporter of those who met his measure. I can say without hesitation that working with him has been the highlight of my professional career.
Don moved back to his home with the Pacific Ocean view in Laguna Beach following his FAA tenure. He engaged with his community on issues related to John Wayne Airport and again entered the private sector, consulting on aviation projects from manufacturing standards to noise compliance and served on the boards of directors of corporations, including for many years the Air Methods Corporation.
Don with lovely Alice.
He lost his beautiful Alice, the one and only love of his life in 2014, endured physical infirmities that caught up with him as he aged, and carried on, deeply appreciative of the beauty of his Southern California surroundings, the joys of good food and good conversation, interested in people and the world, invested in aviation safety. He was a passionate advocate for in-flight training to teach a pilot how to deal with the unexpected, independent of computer assistance. Even this month, he was avidly interested in developments surrounding the 737 Max and frustrated that he could not do more to help.
Don was a fighter until the very end. He was and is an inspiration for genuine leadership, dealing with loss and staying engaged with life. There won’t be another like him, and we will miss our friend greatly.
His beloved three children, Angela Stevens, Margo Cowan and Winston Segner, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren, survive Don.
Former FAA Assistant Chief Counsel for International Law and Policy
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