Joe Daily is 78 years old, but you’d never guess it by meeting him.
He’s had a right remarkable life:
- He was in the National Guard in the early 1960s and was called to what he termed “race duty” 3 times during the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham. “We did everything we could to try to calm down those Birmingham police officers,” Joe said.
- He was also on Guard duty when then-Gov. George C. Wallace famously “stood in the schoolhouse door” during the integration of the University of Alabama.
- Shortly after going through flight training and becoming a pilot, Joe was also at another watershed moment in the Civil Rights movement. He was at the famous Selma to Montgomery march. He flew the film a UPI news crew shot to Atlanta, where it was put on another plane for New York and the network news. “I was back in Pensacola in time to see the footage on the news that night,” he said.
- He flew as a commercial pilot for Eastern Airlines for 24 years and 9 months.
- After his airline career ended, he flew for Medjet, a medical company specializing in transporting critically ill and injured patients to high tech medical care. “I flew on 6 of the 7 continents and I never lost a patient,” he said.
- Joe was part of a crew that flew a Boeing jet from Seattle, Washington, to Saudi Arabia in a mere 16 hours, averaging a speed of Mach 8 and setting a speed record in the process. “Our record lasted 90 days and it was broken,” he said.
- In addition to his military and flying careers, he was a hay farmer for decades and a volunteer firefighter for 35 years. He once owned a John Deere dealership.
- He sings in the Snead State Community Choir.
When the director of Snead’s Aviation College retired, Snead president Dr. Robert Exley tapped Joe as the new director.
“He speaks FAA,” Dr. Exley said. “He has been a real asset to the college.”
In all, Joe has been flying for 58 of his 78 years and he continues to fly.
“When I was 4 years old, I knew I wanted to fly,” he said. “There were 3 things I wanted to do – fly jets, pilot a river tugboat and operate a train locomotive. All 3 involved operating big machinery. I got certified in all 3.”
His flying career speaks for itself. Friends and relatives in the other fields helped him get certified and he spent a little time on river boats and locomotives too, as a lark, not as a job.
While Joe spends a lot of time on Sand Mountain today with his ties to Snead College, he’s an Oneonta native and continues to live there. In fact, he lived there throughout his flying career. With Eastern, he commuted to Atlanta and would work 3 days on and 4 days off.
His roots in Oneota run deep. His forebears left Maryville, Tennessee, in the spring of 1817 on a homemade raft, landed in Guntersville and walked to Oneonta.
“It was my triple great grandfather John Bynum and his best friend Solomon Murphree,” Joe said. “They brought a gun, a dog and a slave named Tom, the only slave I’ve found any record of in my ancestry.”
He said the men built a corn crib, lived in it and made a crop. The friends then walked back to Marysville and brought their families back in ox-drawn wagons.
“They left the dog and the gun with Tom and they were all still there when they got back,” Joe said.
He became fascinated with Tom several years ago and eventually found the slave’s final resting place near Oneonta. It took him 20 years of sleuthing and snooping around old cemeteries.
Joe said farming was “his hobby” but he put up as much as 50,000 square bales of hay some years.
“My wife Cherry helped me,” he said.
He got out of the hay business 8 or 9 years ago.
“I got too old,” he said.
His father Elmer worked in the hay business with him.
“I remember the first round baler we got in 1994,” Joe said. “I parked it by the road by a round bale. I stuck a gourd in the bale and put Elmer’s hat on it. We stuck a pair of boots and a couple of gloves in it. We put a sign on the baler that said, ‘Has anyone seen Elmer?’ People were stopping and making pictures of it.”
Elmer and Joe were both in the Murphree’s Valley Volunteer Fire Department for decades.
Joe was in the National Guard from 1959-65. He thought joining the Guard would be his ticket to going to flight school. But he learned after going through officers candidate school that he would be assigned to command a rifle company rather than being sent to flight school.
He resigned as soon as he could and went to flight school on his own.
One of his first jobs was flying for Rust Engineering out of Birmingham. He enjoyed that job immensely. It wasn’t long after that when he started flying for Eastern.
The famous Eastern Airline pilots strike effectively ended his career.
It was a bitter time for Joe. He was assigned to seeing after the Eastern pilots who lived in Alabama. A couple of them took their own lives.
“I helped the rest get other jobs, then I got a job myself,” he said.
That’s when he started flying for Medjet.
He found it to be incredibly rewarding work.
He first got involved with the Snead Aviation College based at the Albertville Airport a few years ago as a student.
“I was building an aircraft,” he said. “And I wanted to know more about rivets. They let me in.”
In the eyes of both Joe and Dr. Exley, the Aviation College is just scratching the surface of its potential. For the first several years, the school only taught airframe, which is just part of the training an aircraft mechanic needs. The powerplant program was added awhile back, making it a full “A&P” program.
The program dwindled to just 4 students when it was airframe only.
Now, it’s up to 25. Joe is recruiting and he wants to see enrollment increase to 50.
“I’m getting calls from aviation companies telling me, ‘Send me everyone you can’ and the pay starts at $67,000 a year,” Joe said.
Dr. Exley said Snead can't thank the legislative delegation enough for keeping the program going and for adding the powerplant program. He said they also owe a debt of gratitude to the City of Albertville for allowing them to be at the Albertville Regional Airport.