Man pleads guilty to flying without license

Published 10:07 pm Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A Suffolk man pleaded guilty Tuesday to piloting an aircraft without a proper pilot’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Robert R. Gray Jr., 55, was flying a 1972 Piper Aircraft in July when he crashed it while attempting to land at the Umphlett Airstrip in Suffolk. Gray, who has a prosthetic leg and other, unspecified medical issues, speculated the lack of feeling on his right side caused his prosthetic leg to become stuck on the aircraft’s brake, causing it to spin out of control, according to court documents.

Authorities had interviewed Gray at least twice prior to the crash after being tipped off that he was flying without a license, according to court documents.

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In October 2016, the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General received a report that Gray had been flying a plane without an airman’s certificate, the court documents stated. Gray denied having done so, stating he had only been in the plane while it was being flown by a certified pilot.

Gray suggested the “people making such reports were jealous of him,” the court documents state.

In June 2017, the Federal Aviation Administration received a complaint about Gray. They interviewed him, and Gray acknowledged owning a Piper airplane and said he was in the process of selling it. He also admitted to flying the plane but said he thought it was legal if he had a licensed pilot who held a certified flight instructor certificate with him. Agents informed him that was against the law.

“Gray told the agents he was sorry for his actions and that he would never operate an aircraft again,” the court documents state.

The crash happened on July 22. As the plane came in for a landing, it pulled to the right and went off the runway, hit a bump, did a 180-degree turn and struck several small trees.

When officers arrived, Gray, who was uninjured, initially denied being the pilot and said the pilot was missing. It wasn’t until officers began to search for the missing pilot that Gray admitted the truth, according to the court documents.

During a later interview with the FAA, Gray “stated that he had no business flying the plane that day as he can barely drive a car.”

Gray had recently sold the plane for $31,000.

Gray faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison when sentenced on March 23.