By Howard Deevers
That sounds like the start of a story with a really bad ending, but actually it is a good story!
We all know that the minimum age to solo is 16, and you can get your private pilot’s license on your 17th birthday. (Glider pilots can be 16). However, the FAA has no upper limit for piloting as long as you have a medical (or can fly on basic med) and a current flight review. There IS an upper limit on Airline pilots and Air Traffic controllers; airline pilots must retire on their 65th birthday, and Air Traffic Controllers retire at age 56. If an airline pilot has a flight scheduled on his 65th birthday, he can fly that, but it will be his last flight. Nothing prevents them from flying their personal airplanes after age 65, and many do. Just think of the knowledge and experience that those pilots have.
You may not have heard of it, but there is an organization called “The United Flying Octogenarians”
(Abbreviated: UFO's) with about 1800 members from the U S, Canada, and other countries. The only requirement for membership is that you had to act as PIC in an aircraft at least once on your 80th birthday or later. Aircraft can be anything that flies: plane, helicopter, balloon, blimp, glider, or more. Many members remain active pilots well into their nineties. The UFO's are mostly a social organization. Members gather for lunch or other activities several times a year. Story swapping and experiences are high on the list of things to talk about. With the age of the members, there is no shortage of stories and experiences.
Recently, a UFO member, age 84 and still an active flight instructor, signed off an 82 year UFO member and friend for his Glider Rating checkride. He passed. This was in Tennessee. They did not say the age of the examiner, but he must have been impressed by the ages of the people at that checkride.
After passing my CFI checkride in Pittsburgh, one of my earliest students was a 75 year old WWII veteran. He had wanted to be a pilot in WWII, but at that time they needed navigators more than pilots. Now retired and with time and resources, this was “unfinished business” with this veteran. We flew every week that the weather would let us, and he passed his Private Pilot checkride. He was a little slow learning some of the required skills, but the best navigator that I have ever flown with.
We have all heard that “age is only a number.” Sure it is, but those years seem to go by faster every year! For some people, age 60 is “old.” For others age 80 is “old.” Wouldn't it be nice to make that age number three digits?
What about those Three Old Men and an Airplane? They live in Iowa. Have been friends for over 40 years, and all are over age 80. They partnered and bought a Cessna 172 thirty years ago, and they spend every weekend they can maintaining that plane. It gets washed and waxed 4 times a year. It is cleaned inside and out. The oil is changed every 30 hours. They take turns flying to events to keep current. They have added new radios, and now the ADS-B out to the plane. They go to FAA sponsored safety seminars and proudly wear their “WINGS” pins. They are not “old pilots, or bold pilots,” just good pilots and set an example for everyone that knows them. I find “old guys, and gals,” just like these all over the country. Sometimes it will be Two Old Men, and other times it will be Four Old Men. They share their love of aviation and the expense and labor to maintain an airplane.
Let us set examples for our friends, also. Your ARIZONA PILOTS ASSOCIATION and the FAASTeam present safety seminars somewhere in the State every month. These are free and count toward earning a phase of the WINGS. Look for one near you, and don't forget to “bring your wingman!”