By Doug McPherson
For instance, a good chunk of that life hasn’t even been lived on earth, but mostly in the air. More than 25,000 accident-free hours in helicopters to be more specific.
Silva began flying in 1970 and never landed for long. And when he was up there, he was usually doing something extraordinary. So extraordinary, in fact, that the flight group called the Living Legends of Aviation voted him into its Vertical Flight Hall Fame this January. It puts Silva in rarified air. Among the organization’s honorees: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise, Sir Richard Branson and John Travolta.
Ford and Travolta attended the ceremony. “I got to talk with them at a mixer before the event,” Silva says. “It was overwhelming and quite an honor. I was looking around at all these celebrities and here I am just a pilot.”
But Silva is not just any pilot. And he did belong there. Landing in that hall of fame was just one of many honors Silva has earned over his 48-year career. The more you learn about him, the more you see why he belongs in the company of legends.
Take the time back in 1988 when he was a working as a helicopter pilot with KCNC-TV in Denver. Police were in a car chase, pursuing a prison escapee who had taken an elderly man hostage. Silva knew the cops didn’t know where the suspect was so he dipped down and flew just a few feet over him. It slowed the car and the cops found their man, shot and killed him and the hostage walked away without a scratch.
Dozens of awards followed, including a personal letter from then President, Ronald Reagan. (Incidentally, Feb. 9 will be the 30th anniversary of that chase.)
But long before that, Silva’s valiant efforts in Vietnam earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross, given for his heroic flying to save soldiers during a surprise attack in March 1971, along with 28 other medals including the Bronze Star. His work at KCNC earned him 10 Emmys and several other broadcasting honors including an Edward R. Murrow award for television news.
In 1988, he was inducted into the Colorado Aviation Historical Societies' Hall of Fame and 10 years later, the National Broadcast Pilots Association gave him its pilot of the year award.
Roger Ogden, former general manager at KCNC, isn’t surprised by all of Silva’s accolades.
“I have the highest regard for him,” Ogden says. “He had military background, law enforcement experience, and a love for the news game. That was a perfect skillset that doesn’t come along very often. I never had to worry about having Mike there when I needed him. He understood breaking news and was always ready to go.”
Silva was also ready to go in 2006 when he left military retirement to volunteer for active duty in Iraq. He served a year flying medivac helicopters and earned the prestigious Sikorsky Aircraft Rescue Award for numerous successful evacuations.
Silva says it was in the fourth grade that his love affair with flying began. “I put together model airplanes and read books on aviation. I just loved the whole concept of flying.”
He says after high school he wanted to take a break from school and go straight to flying so he volunteered to fly helicopters for the U.S. Army in Vietnam. He returned home in 1971 and worked as a police officer and eventually enrolled at MSU Denver to study law enforcement and aviation management.
“MSU Denver had the best programs for what I wanted to do and I loved my time there,” he says. “I really liked the atmosphere of personal responsibility, to do the work, get the grades and persevere. Those are important values for life.”
Silva is now semi-retired, flying helicopters occasionally for a company out of Centennial Airport.
He says as he looks back over his career, he feels gratitude. “The first line in my acceptance speech [for the hall of fame ceremony] was ‘God has truly been good to me.”
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