Bill Coleman returns to the sky at age 99
|Published: 09-29-2023 8:28 AM
Bill Coleman served during World War II in the Army Air Force, and on Thursday, at the age of 99, he returned to the air, this time as a passenger of Silver Ranch Airpark’s 1971 Cessna Skyhawk.
Coleman and airpark owner Harvey Sawyer are long-time friends, and the flight took Coleman and his daughter, Meg Coleman, on a loop through Jaffrey and Rindge, including views of Cathedral of the Pines, Jaffrey Center and the top of Mount Monadnock.
“We even saw my house,” said Coleman, who lives in Jaffrey. “It looks a lot bigger from the air than when you’re down there.”
Coleman’s previous piloting experience was during his service in the Army Air Force from 1942 to 1947. He said his experience was stateside, as he was training to be deployed to Europe when the war there ended, and was in the midst of being deployed to the Pacific Theater when the atom bombs were dropped and the Japanese surrendered. But it wasn’t without its anxious moments, he said. A training flight in New Jersey went awry, and he was forced to land his plane in the middle of a forest with no engine.
Thursday’s ride, he said, was quite a bit smoother than the planes he flew in the 1940s, which were “bigger, faster and made more noise.”
“I haven’t been in any light planes in a long time,” Coleman said. “This was very nice – it sounds as smooth as silk.”
Coleman said although he hasn’t renewed his pilot’s license since leaving the reserves in 1947, he still has the original copy of his paper license – qualifying him to pilot a single engine, and up to 3,000 horsepower.
“You can see how much use I get out of it,” he joked.
Sawyer offered Coleman a ride after visiting with him shortly before his 99th birthday. He took him up in his Cessna Skyhawk, the most-popular model of airplanes for civilian pilots, and this particular plane has a long history at the airpark.
“My wife Lee and I, we bought that plane brand new. We went out to the factory in Wichita, Kan., and picked it up the very day it came off the line in 1971. It’s now 52 years old. It’s got 10,000 miles on it. It’s flown many, many people for their first rides, and we’ve trained a lot of people to fly in it,” Sawyer said.
As for Coleman, Sawyer noted they already have an appointment for next year, after Coleman turns 100. Or, he said, any time in between.
Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244, or email@example.com. She’s on X @AshleySaariMLT.