Life can get in the way of achieving our dreams. After a certain point, or age, many of us figure it's too late to grasp that brass ring. But after speaking to a few octogenarian pilots at a FAA Safety Team (FAAST) training seminar I attended this past weekend, I'd say age doesn't have to be a stumbling block.
While the large majority of the pilot attendees were over 55, many were over 65. Five were 80+, and most of them were still flying.
For those who may not know, there is an international group of older experienced pilots called the United Flying Octegenarians. Founded in 1982 by a group of 31 aviators over the age of 80, this international non-profit group now boasts a membership of over 1,400 men and women from all over the world, including the U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada, Argentina, Australia, France, and the United Kingdom.
From all accounts, many of the older pilots attending the seminar had flying in their blood from an early age.
Jack Kilpatrick, owner of the Redding Jet Center, has been flying since he was nineteen or twenty, when he flew for the Air Force.
Flying is one thing he's indulged in, says Kilpatrick, and at 86 he still flies at least 2-3 times a week. Among the “fun” planes he owns are an Aeorostar twin engine, two Russian L29 jets and a 1917 replica of Eddie Rickenbacker’s Spad plane.
Kilpatrick loves to do acrobatics in his former military training plane. One of the benefits of being older and having hardened arteries, he said, is he can pull more g's than most people. He's still awake in front while everyone in back has faded away!
Audrey Schutte is another octogenarian who's made a life of flying. After getting her pilot's license in 1956, her husband told her to get a job to support her expensive habit. So she became a flight school flight instructor for a number of years. Later, Schutte worked with the NationalTransportation Safety Board as an accident investigator for eight years, then transferred to the FAA as an inspector. When she and her husband retired and moved to Redding, she took a job at Hillside Aviation “in my retirement! Twenty-three years later, I'm still trying to retire,” she said.
For some, it's taken some time to finally catch the dream.
Dick Wilkinson came late to flying but has loved it ever since. Now almost 84, he got his pilot's license in 2008 – twelve days before his 77th birthday! It began when a friend taught him how to do landings during a flight together. He ended up doing his first unassisted landing after 3 hours of instruction!
Another seminar participant said he got his pilot's license at age 60. After he had bypass surgery, he decided it was time to live his dream. Now, 12 years later, he says to anyone thinking of flying: “Give it a try. It might change your life!”
Jack Rochette has had his pilot's license for 50 years. Much of that time, he's flown ultralights on his ranch. But recently he found the plane of his dreams - a 1946 Cessna 170. Rochette says now it's time to learn to be a better pilot to fly this plane. He passed a recent physical for his license with flying colors, the only pilot of a group that day that did.
Goes to show that at 72, or any age, it's never too late to do what you love.