Panel of Judges

The General Aviation Awards Committee is proud to introduce a few judges who have helped to choose our National Honorees in the past:

Jackie Spanitz, Chief Judge

Jackie Spanitz - Chief Judge

As General Manager for Aviation Supplies & Academics, Jackie oversees maintenance and development of the nearly1,000 titles in the ASA product line and integration of these products into new and existing curricula. These materials are used in all aspects of the aviation training environment, including 14 CFR Part 61, 107, 121, 135, 141, 142 and 147 curriculums, ranging from textbooks and flight computers to software products, and digital and mobile solutions.

She has worked with the training and testing associated with airman certification for more than 25 years and has participated in a number of FAA/Industry Aviation Rulemaking and Advisory Committees), including the Airman Certification Standards Working Group. Jackie holds a Bachelor of Science in aviation technology from Western Michigan University, a Masters in Aeronautics Science from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, and Instructor and Commercial Pilot certificates. She is the author of Guide to the Flight Review, the technical editor for ASA’s Test Prep and FAR/AIM series, and has written for numerous aviation publications.


David Dagenais, Judge

David Dagenais - Judge

David Dagenais is Program Manager for the Part 147 Aviation Maintenance Technician School at Florida State College at Jacksonville, in Jacksonville FL.  He helped establish the curriculum and has been with the school since its start in 2001.  He has been a DME (Designated Mechanic Examiner) since 2003.  Prior to coming to FSCJ, David managed a small airport in Northwest Louisiana for about five years.  He spent 4 years active duty in the U.S. Navy and retired from the U.S. Navy Reserve with experience maintaining A7 and P3 aircraft, with over 13 years in the Flight Engineer position on the P3.  

David has been an aircraft owner for over 30 years, and holds the following FAA certificates; Ground and Flight Instructor, with single-engine land, single-engine sea, multi-engine land, and instrument ratings, and A&P with IA.  He has served on the FAA Airman Certification Standards Working Group committee, and has given maintenance and safety presentations at Sun-N-Fun and IA Seminars.  He received a B.S. in Aviation Management from Southern Illinois University and a Master of Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. 


Jim Gardner, Judge

Jim Gardner - Judge

Jim is an accomplished commercial pilot and aviation manager. He is a retired U.S. Air Force Reserve Officer, a retired professional pilot, aviation operational manager, and an aviation insurance broker with The James A Gardner Company, Inc. in Marietta, GA. 

He has logged over 14,000 hours in a variety of military, commercial, and general aviation aircraft. His pilot certificate includes  Single and Multi-engine Airline Transport ratings as well as a Flight Engineer certificate. He serves in key positions on several national and regional aviation organizations including: 

  • Aviation Insurance Association (AIA) – President,  Education Committee, Safety Committee 
  • National Air Transportation Association (NATA) – Airports Committee, Safety 1st Committee 
  • Helicopter Association International (HAI) 
  • Finance & Leasing Committee – Past Vice Chairman 
  • Retired Eastern Airlines Pilots Association (REPA) – Board of Directors – Past President & Convention Chairman 
  • Eastern Air Lines Pilots Memorial Foundation -Board of Directors –Chairman 

He is an active pilot and owns a private aircraft for business transportation.


Doug Stewart, Judge

Doug Stewart - Judge

Doug, an eleven time Master CFI, a DPE and the 2004 National Instructor of the Year has provided more than 12,500 hours of dual instruction. He specializes in providing real world multi-day instrument training trips from border to border and coast to coast. Doug is also a well known presenter, giving SRO presentations to literally thousands of pilots across the country. 

A co-founder of SAFE, The Society of Aviation Flight Educators, and their executive director emeritus, he serves as the SAFE representative to the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee.


Justin Madden, Judge

Justin Madden - Judge

Justin is the Legislative Affairs director for the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA), where he advocates for AMFA’s membership and the aircraft mechanic craft as a whole.  

With over 25 years in the industry, including a successful enlistment and honorable discharge from the United States Marine Corps, Justin started his commercial aviation career with Trans World Airlines in the 1990’s, and continues to work in the industry as a practicing A&P at Southwest Airlines.    

Justin currently serves as a member on the TSA Aviation Security Advisory Committee.  He also currently serves as a FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee Working Group member on the following Working Groups: Airman Certification Standards, and Part 145.  


Michael Church, Judge

Michael Church - Judge

Michael is the 2005 National FAASTeam Rep of the Year and has twice been named the District Flight Instructor of the Year, representing the Long Beach FSDO in 1996 and 1998.

He is President and Chief Instructor at Sunrise Aviation Company and is an instructor at the USAF Test Pilot School.  Michael is a member of NAFI, EAA and IAC.  He serves as president of IAC Chapter 120, the Southern California Aerobatic Club, became an IAC Regional Judge in 1992 and an IAC National Judge in 2006.  He was Associate Editor of the Pacific Flyer until 2012.  Michael holds an Advanced Ground Instructor rating and Flight Instructor ratings for single and multi engine airplanes and gliders.  He is a Master Instructor and a Master Aerobatic Instructor. He attended Yale University.


Mike Collins, Judge

Mike Collins - Judge

Mike Collins has been a professional aviation journalist for more than 30 years, and has worked in various editorial and management roles at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association since 1994. Today he serves as technical editor of AOPA Pilot and Flight Training. He has been covering ADS-B since the Capstone demonstration in Alaska, and serves as AOPA’s ADS-B subject matter expert. Collins holds a private pilot certificate with an instrument rating, as well as a Part 107 certificate.


Mary Schu, Judge

Mary Schu - Judge

Mary is the 2015 National Flight Instructor of the Year. With 45 years in general aviation, she has over 21,000 hrs. including 14,000 hrs. training pilots. She has been a corporate piston, turbo prop and jet pilot. She has represented the FAA as a DPE for 18 years. She is qualified to give exams in 13 light twin airplanes.

She wrote programs for a Part 141 flight school, 135 Charter Operation, a 145 maintenance repair station and international flight school program (SEVIS).  She also wrote and presented Flight Instructor Refresher Clinics. Her educational efforts extend to productions with John and Martha of King Schools to write and present training videos. Mary has served on the FAA Airman Certification Standards working group committee, assisting with flight training certification standards and editing FAA handbooks.

As FAASTeam member of forty years, Mary has spent hundreds of hours presenting interesting and humorous stories of her real world experience. For six years she has been an active pilot and supporter of Warbirds: the B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator, and B-25 Mitchell touring the U.S. and crewing airshows. Her new goal is to become a DPE for Warbird bombers.


Mariellen Couppee, Judge

Mariellen Couppee - Judge

Mariellen Couppee is the Senior Customer Marketing Manager for Honeywell / BendixKing. She is a MEII and owns/operates multiple aircraft. Mariellen has created and presented aviation safety presentations for more than 20 years. Her professional experience includes MRO, inspection, maintenance, Aircraft Maintenance Checks, green completions, avionics/return to service flights, AeroIT, satcom, CI/Lean for flight operations, and rapid prototyping for general aviation, business and airline operations worldwide. She loves “everything airborne” from rockets to drones and all the powerplants in between. 

She has been a FAASTeam member, a regional award recipient, AOPA Airport Support Network rep, and assisted in multiple GPS approaches into her local airport, each with unique approach fix names. Ms. Couppee has participated in the FAA ARAC working groups for Airman Certification the past seven years.


John Niehaus, Judge

John Niehaus - Judge

John Niehaus is the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) Director of Program Development. He directs programs such as the Professional Development Program and Master CFI Accreditation. John is a 2009 graduate of Western Michigan University with a Bachelor of Science Double Major in Aviation Flight Science and Aviation Administration He holds an ATP MEL/Commercial SEL, CL-65/LR-45 PIC Typed, CFI-CFII ASEL. John has conducted flight instruction in a multitude of aircraft, reaching 1,000 hours of dual instruction by the time he was 27 years old. Today, along with his NAFI duties, he is a part 135 Captain flying LearJet 45 and 75 models for a local charter company in Grand Rapids, MI, and has 3,300 hours and counting.


Dan Christman, Judge

Dan Christman - Judge

Dan Christman is the 2018 Certificated Flight Instructor of the Year. He received a Private Pilot certificate at age 17. Since then, he’s earned: ATP MEL, COM SEL and SEA, instrument helicopter and glider, CFI SEL/MEL, instrument airplane, helicopter, instrument helicopter and glider, AGI and IGI, Flight Engineer turbojet, and Remote Pilot small UAS. Dan is a Lieutenant Colonel in the USAF – Deputy Commander of the Persistent Attack and Reconnaissance Operations Center at Creech AFB, and a military instructor/evaluator pilot. His military flight experience includes the Northrop T-38A/C Talon jet trainer, Rockwell B-1B Lancer bomber, and General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper remotely-piloted aircraft. Dan has been an active flight instructor for over 19 years with over 5,000 hours of dual instruction. He created the first aerobatic/upset recovery training program in his region for Decathlon and Yak-52 aircraft. He is an experienced Technically Advanced Aircraft instructor specializing in Avidyne, Garmin, Aspen and Honeywell glass cockpits. He has created video content for a Helicopter Online Ground School Instrument Rating course and is a contributing instructor for a weekly helicopter safety and education course.


Bob Hepp, Judge

Bob Hepp - Judge

Bob Hepp is the founder, owner, and chief flight instructor of Aviation Adventures. Hepp and his team started conducting a safety stand-down, also known as CFI University, in 2004 to help improve the quality of the school’s flight training.  Aviation Adventures is headquartered at Manassas Regional Airport (HEF) in Manassas, Virginia. Starting from humble beginnings in 1989, it has grown into a successful Part 141 flight school with satellite locations at the Leesburg Executive (JYO), Warrenton-Fauquier (HWY), and Stafford Regional (RMN) airports.


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