Four Utah pilots met at the Spanish Fork-Springville Airport on Tuesday. They are proud members of the elite international United Flying Octogenarians -- the UFOs.
“We are hosting today,” said Don Davies, 86. “To be a member of this club you have to be over age 80 and able to fly an airplane legally. You must have been a pilot in command after reaching age 80.”
Davies arrived in his Cessna 117RG, better known as a Cardinal. He typically flies four hours a month to stay proficient as a pilot. “I fly for business and for pleasure,” he said. “Because I am doing some developmental engineering on flight instruments I fly for business, but I fly because I love it, too.”
Russ Roberts, 86, parked his light sport Flight Design CT in the hangar where the pilots gathered for a brief meeting. He flew out of the Cedar City Regional Airport close to his home in New Harmony. “We have nine members in our group,” Roberts said. “We’ve decided to meet regularly at each others' airport location since some of us have never met each other. We all enjoy flying. “It’s in the blood -- it keeps you young. We have to stay physically fit to fly, so it gives me a reason to stay healthy and in good physical shape.” Roberts is a Korean War veteran who served as a Navy pilot. He remembers his first solo flight. “Your first solo is always one of your most memorable,” he said. “The Navy gave us precisely 10 hours of training then sent us up solo. Their intention was to eliminate some of us right away -- which it certainly did.”
Don Pantone, 86, lives in Pleasant View and flew in from the Ogden-Hinckley Airport. He was too old to go to flight school after he graduated from the University of Utah, so he was sent to aircraft maintenance school. “I grew up liking airplanes,” Pantone said. “I read everything I could about them and really wanted to be a pilot. "I first flew a plane in 1945 when I got three hours up in a plane as a high school graduation gift. After I got off active duty in 1957, I got my pilot license.” Pantone owns one-quarter of a Beechcraft Bonanza, and he and his three sons own a Piper Super Cruiser. They bought the Piper from Ralph Woodhouse, who was a pilot and business owner at the Spanish Fork-Springville airport. “I mostly fly the Piper," Pantone said. "It’s my psychiatrist. It’s expensive to fly a plane, but cheaper than paying a psychiatrist. "My favorite flight is over the west side of the valley above the Great Salt Lake, the Spiral Jetty and up to the meeting of the two railroads at the Golden Spike memorial.”
Ralph Cravens, 85, has passed his love of flying on to the next generation of his family. He flies out of the South Valley Regional Airport since he lives in Midvale, but his daughter and son-in-law fly out of airports all over the world. “My daughter flies a 757 for Delta," Cravens said. "She and my son-in-law are pilots for Delta, and their two children are at the Air Force Academy. I guess it’s in our blood." “I got my license in 1946 and since then I’ve flown all over," he added. "I think my most memorable flight was while I worked in South America as a mining engineer. I flew with the Chilean Flying Club, and I’ll always remember flying from Santiago, Chile, then over the Andes to Mendoza, Argentina, and finally to Iguazu Falls on the border of Argentina.”
Ed Helmick, owner of Diamond Flight Center at the Spanish Fork-Springville Airport, took the pilots to lunch after their meeting at the airport. “I think it’s absolutely amazing that they are still flying,” Helmick said. “I think it is great that they have an association of their peers. "I’d heard of the UFOs, but never met any of them. I think any pilot who is still flying and is over age 80 should definitely join them.”
For more information or to sign up as a UFO visit www.ufopilots.org.