At just 8 years old, Roy Kessell’s drive for flying took off after his father, a World War II veteran, took him to see the Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy flight demonstration squadron.
From that point, it was Kessell’s mission to become a pilot, and he did just that.
After a lifelong career of flying and teaching, the retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel was inducted into the Nebraska Aviation Hall of Fame on Jan. 23. He’s the third member inducted from the 55th Wing.
“I’m very honored by it,” Kessell said. “I’m humbled by this, too, because, like I said, there’s people in there that have done a lot of stuff.”
Created in 1991, the Nebraska Aviation Hall of Fame honors aviators of all types, including pilots and navigators, designers and manufacturers and airport managers. Those chosen must be nominated and native-born Nebraskans or have completed the bulk of their aviation work while living in the state.
Kessell earned a degree in civil engineering from the United States Air Force Academy before attending flight school at Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas. There, he climbed to becoming a supersonic T-38 Talon instructor and check pilot.
He was later stationed at Offutt Air Force Base where he flew RC-135’s and served as a weatherman.
After 22 years of service, Kessell retired from the military in 1993, but couldn’t shake his love of flying.
He began teaching students to fly at the Offutt Aero Club and at the Plattsmouth Municipal Airport, where he later served as the airport manager. He co-founded the flight school, Flight! Nebraska Group.
He’s earned several awards, including the Eastern Nebraska Community Action Partnership’s Lt. Col. Charles A. Lane Innovative Partnership Award for flying underprivileged kids around in attempts to get them interested in aviation.
The longest he’s flown in one stretch was 24 hours out of Athens, Greece, over Saudi Arabia.
His favorite part of flying, Kessell said, is getting to travel. He also loves seeing the world from above at night, especially once he’s able to use autopilot and just watch.
“I just observe — watching the instruments and that everything’s going good — but watching the world go by,” Kessell said.
Kessell is now president of the Heartland/LeMay chapter of the U.S. Air Force Academy Association of Graduates, a nonprofit U.S. Air Force Academy alumni association that funds school programs. The chapter is one of 21 worldwide that meets the criteria to be a distinguished chapter.
He landed a job flying doctors around in a Cessna 421 a few times each month. He also occasionally takes his own Fouga Magister to air shows.
“My wife tells me sometimes I’m too focused on one thing,” Kessell said. “I said, ‘I do.’ It’s almost kind of a relief sometimes when you’re going flying.”