2 min read

Much has been said lately about the relative safety of senior pilots. After the Reno Air Race crash, many people asked if the age of the pilot might have had anything to do with the tragedy. With 84 years, 65 since my first solo, behind me, I have some strong feelings about the subject. I am the Executive Vice President of the United Flying Octogenarians, an international group of pilots over 80 years of age. Getting to know many of the members has reinforced my opinion that most older pilots are safe pilots, maybe even safer than some younger pilots.

Bob Claypool

Bob Claypool says older pilots may be safer.

Everyone knows about Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, who at the age of 57, performed that miraculous water landing without a fatality. A recent Stanford University study found that the extent of aviation expertise and greater number of years of education result in higher flight simulator performance. I expect that this would also indicate higher performance during actual flying. The FAA concluded, in 2009, that maximum age of Airline Transport Pilots would be raised from 60 to 65. There was a time when 60, 70, or 80 was old, but for many people, that is not the case any more, and older general aviation pilots are recognized as an example for younger pilots.

Older flyers usually have a serious interest in being able to remain a pilot as he/she ages. By their nature, older pilots typically don’t take the kind of risks that younger pilots may take. They have made their mistakes in the past and learned from them. Being of retirement age allows older pilots to spend more time reading articles about how to become a safer and more proficient pilot. They take the time to learn about the latest improvements in cockpit instrumentation.

Good health is also paramount to an older pilot’s flying future. While a younger pilot might take these aspects of his/her life for granted, many an older pilot will get more serious about maintaining health by watching eating habits, avoiding weight gain, and exercising regularly. Both the famous pilot and author, Barry Schiff, and Dr. Jonathan Sackier, who writes the Fly Well articles, have written recently in AOPA Pilot, about the importance of maintaining a healthy weight as we age.

I will be 85 next February, and I have concluded that age alone is not a deterrent to safely flying my airplane. I hope to be at the controls of my Cessna 182Q for at least another five years. There are a number of UFO members over 90 who are still acting as PIC, and I plan to eventually join that group.

What do you think? Are older pilots safer pilots? 

Bob Claypool
Latest posts by Bob Claypool (see all)
93 replies
    • Barry Carroll
      Barry Carroll says:

      Got my licence in 1958 and still flying no longer on real aircraft but now on Flight Simulator 2004, keep me fully occupied flying the routes i used to fly in the same aircraft. I will be 75 on 4th may.
      Regards to all vintage pilots.

      We were taught the old motto ” there are old pilot and bold pilot however NO old and Bold Pilots.”

      It has been with me all the years of proper flying.

    • John
      John says:

      I agree with your conclusions as you’ve stated them in the last paragraph: “…age alone is not a deterrent to safely flying my airplane.” Unfortunately, age becomes a larger and larger risk factor for every pilot as we accumulate both years and experience. The number of 80 year old pilots is very small, the number of 90 year olds is tiny, and I don’t know of any 101+ year old pilots. We have to face our mortality, not deny it. We’re biological machines designed to wear out. Some (most!)of us wear out sooner. Some of us, because of genetics, luck, and maybe healthful living wear out later. We cannot deny that we will all wear out. The oldest pilots exist on a very slim pinnacle that towers above the mass population of all the others who take wing. The taller the pinnacle, the easier it is to fall off.

      • Bert Bonnell
        Bert Bonnell says:

        Agree that we wear out at some point in time – I suggest that as we age and pass our medical that CFI instruction should occur as part of flying after a certain age. Not sure what that age should be maybe 75 – it might reveal some deficiencies….

        For what it’s worth —

  1. Jay Raymond
    Jay Raymond says:

    Hello, I’m one of Britain’s youngest pilots. I happen do (respectively) disagree with this. The rational is this… New pilots, or younger pilots are relatively fresh out of flight school, and are taught to do things by the book, if anything, ‘fresh’ pilots are more likely to over-think a situation rather than to use short-cuts that my have been picked up during a long and relatively trouble-free history of flying for say a seasoned pilot, like yourself. Many airlines actually encourage the more junior aviator or first officer, to perform the more tricky approaches in bad weather for example. Another point is that a student pilot, still undergoing PPL training, or fresh out of it, will want to better himself, naturally as any pilot or person would.

    Great topic, and utmost respect, Jay

    • MJF
      MJF says:

      There’s something to be said about having sharp skills and a lot of practice fresh out of flight school. However, being fresh out of flight school means there are a lot of things the new pilot does NOT know. “Over-think” a situation? During a flight you don’t have TIME to over-think a situation because you need to make a decision immediately, and that is based on training…and experience.

      Let me throw a few cliches your way: “A good pilot is always learning”, “experience is a hard teacher. First comes the test, then the lesson”, “there is no substitute for experience” and finally “there are bold pilots and there are old pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots”.

      The fact that there are 60-, 70-, even 80-year old pilots flying out there means 1)They’re still medically able to fly, and 2)they’ve done something right to make it that far.

    • Bob Claypool
      Bob Claypool says:

      It is really interesting that I just got a feedback from a young RAF pilot friend who got his wings at RAF Cranwell the summer of 2010 and is now a Flight Lieutenant flying as co-pilot in the C-130J Hercules. His words were “I have been flying for ten years now and I still make mistakes – some of them basic.” So, I guess it is just up to the individual – how things are seen.

    • Jerry Wade
      Jerry Wade says:

      Oh how I would love to be around 30 years from now and see what you would think of your position on this topic. You have soooooo much to learn!

    • Charlie KL
      Charlie KL says:

      Hi there we are talkin about experience here. Fresh from school all you have is LICENCED to fly. At 300 hours one still need a guidance. Older pilot have seen what we are still to see yet.

    • RayneMan
      RayneMan says:

      Well, you must consider also insurance companies charge a great deal more for young fellows like yourself (fresh out of school) simply because of track records, statistics indicates new pilots just think they know more…respectively of course.

    • Jaime
      Jaime says:

      The best safety device in any aircraft is a well trained pilot at any age and is better if he has lots of hours,the time is the time :D

  2. Kyle Stueve
    Kyle Stueve says:

    This is very good topic, though I must respectfully disagree. As I read about tragic aviation accidents, most of them seem to be with older and many thousand hour pilots.

    I believe as you age and become more “experienced” you start to develop habits that have worked for you in the past. These may not be correct habits, but they have not proven to be hazardous. This is where complacency comes in. I am not saying young pilots don’t become complacent, but it seems to be obvious among older pilots. Even older guys on the radio seem to be disconnected as to the “proper” phraseology and say what works for them. This would also be seen in the cockpit as well. And when complacency meets an unanticipated situation or deviation from the norm, their “experience” did not teach them how to deal with the issue.

  3. Leo Angevine
    Leo Angevine says:

    I am 71 years age, I have over 20,000 hours in many categories of aircraft. I solo’d at age 16. As a youth, I had very keen senses and reaction times. As I gained experience, my abilities were directly affected by my age. Sometime in my early 50’s, I realized my reaction times were slowing slightly but the experience gained more than made up for that. So, my point? It isn’t all age, it is age, experience, health, and currency. A senior citizen, current in his/her aircraft will be completely competent.

    • Bob Claypool
      Bob Claypool says:

      Listen to Leo – During a flight to Wisconsin in our C-182 we had an engine failure 12 miles west of Rawlins, WY (found out later it was due to a clogged fuel line). I landed on Hwy 80 and turned off into the median strip. A mechanic found the flaw and fixed it. Then the Highway Patrol people stopped the traffic so I could take off and continue my trip. I was 79 at the time.

      • Jerry Wade
        Jerry Wade says:

        I was in a SIAI Marchetti SF260D with the most highly decorated F-14 Tom Cat pilot of the first golf war in the right seat, when the gear on our aircraft would not extend no matter what we tried. He was about 30 at the time and I thought he was going to panic on me. After reminding him we were still had wings and we were flying, over the airport and CFR was standing by and we had insurance to cover the damage he started to lighten up and relax a little. Here this young naval aviator was one of America’s best with the best training money could buy. Me, I am the kid that paid for every hour I got and lived and beathed airplanes soaking up all I could from the old timers at the airport. To settle him down, I made him start checking both our pulse while I flew around to burn off some fuel. Ready for this, his was in the 90s, mine was 48 to 50. We continued to orbit the airport and finally did crank the gear down and landed unevently. I don’t know, maybe he is the better trained and sharper pilot but to me, my old fashion training and experinence knowing we were going to be okay, saved that kid’s butt and his job. I truly believe had he been by himself, there would have been some damaged sheet metal that day.

        • James Glover
          James Glover says:

          Checking your pulse in order to calm down a bit is an excellent idea… I had a blown engine on a C-172 wiht a student years ago and once I got her to concetrate on her breathing she relaxed and noticed I had gained about 3000′ while letting the airport know we would be landing dead stick but it was not an emergency…We had plenty of altitude and on this incredibly hot day in Freso my glider skills had us up to 10000 feet…

          We finally brought it donw to pattern altitude adn landed long wiht permission form the tower to taxi straight back to the FBO where I was the cheif pilot. I was 19 years of age…why was I so calm? I had been flying as a passenger with my father for 1000s of hours before I even had a liscense. He made sure when I decided to be a pilot I get the best of training including aerobatics and gliders. I was instrument rated wiht only 3 hours of real IMC but had flown 100’s of hours wiht my father in IMC and had learned from some of the best old timers in the business of flying…

          Yes age can be a problem if you are not healthy and current but that goes for a young pilots as well…

          Experience helps all ways… so if you don’t have it learn from the old timers that do and you will be a better pilot for it…

  4. Clint Hanley
    Clint Hanley says:

    I completely agree, older is better. I’ve only been flying 10 years, and I see the pilots with many more decades of experience are safer. The facts are that a pilot fresh out of school gets in more accidents, under 1,000 hrs, just like a new driver gets in more accidents. Statistics don’t lie. Insurance companies and airline companies both know this, and require a certain amount of hours. If an older person and a younger person had the same amount of hours, I would say the younger is going to be likely a better pilot. Usually older pilots have more hours, thus they are safer. Of course, there are always exceptions, but these are my thoughts.

  5. John Young
    John Young says:

    Us old fellas need not worry about the comments of the young. Ask them again in 30 or 40 years and they will have a somewhat different opinion. Good practice plus experience equals a good pilot.

  6. Gary Walentoski
    Gary Walentoski says:

    Older pilots are safe pilots. I’ve been flying for over 20 years. The experience gained over that time (both pleasant and downright frightening) more than makes up for any slowdown due to nature’s effects; at least in my case! Live a healthy lifestyle, stay proficient in your flying skills, keep learning and have fun.

  7. John Zimmerman
    John Zimmerman says:

    As usual, I think the answer is “it depends.” There’s no doubt that experience helps tremendously, but that does not necessarily mean the same thing as age. Maybe health is the better word–a healthy 85 year old is perfectly safe, but an unhealthy 70 year old may be too old to fly. If you take care of yourself and are serious about staying current, I do believe pilots can fly into their 80s. But there’s probably some point where everyone has to hang it up.

    • Bob Claypool
      Bob Claypool says:

      I just received notice of another addition to our United Flying Octogenarian group. He was born in December of 1909 and is still flying! Do the arithmetic.

  8. Stellan Nilsson
    Stellan Nilsson says:

    I think Kyle (October 17, 2011 at 4:35 pm) makes a very basic statistical mistake.

    What is the probability of a young student with 50-100 hours having a “tragic aviation accident” as he calls it? It is almost zero since the exposure to risk has (yet) been very near zero. As the flight time soars, the risk is also added. With 10.000 hours the exposure to risk is considerable. It would be a real statistical sensation if accidents were not involving pilots with more flying time than beginners!

  9. Wayne
    Wayne says:

    Not sure if just getting older makes a pilot safer. The accident reports show that there are unsafe pilots at all ages.

    I hope to fly for as long as I am healthy, follow safe practices and can climb up on the wing of my Cherokee.

  10. Gera
    Gera says:

    If you are a sick 60 year old you should quit flying, if you are not sick, do you want to fly until you kill yourself and others???….old machines and old men eventually fail.

    • Steve Dawson
      Steve Dawson says:


      Really !! Sick pilots ?? Read the Regulations.

      May I ask, from what background & experience

      you cary your opinion to this point from ?

      Thanks, Steve

  11. Tim
    Tim says:

    It all depends on the judgement calls that we make. Most of us older pilots, I’m 70, fly for the sheer enjoyment of flying so we can pick the day and weather conditions in which to fly. An instructor once told me that good judgement is more important than good flying skills. Obviously we need both.

  12. Frank Barron
    Frank Barron says:

    Will be 80 in Dec and cannot wait to join the Octogenarians. How do I join. Ps I dolled in 1951 over half the life of aviation.I have a Zodiac 601 and recently dropped my physical.Am now a Sport Pilot and expect several more years of cavu flying.

    • Bernie
      Bernie says:

      Flew in WWII still flying, light sport but stil flying. You kids of 75 and 80mknow we can still fly with the best of them. Need a GPS more often but at neat 90 some of us are still flying

    • Bob Claypool
      Bob Claypool says:

      Frank – one way to find out about the UFOs is to go to their website: http://www.unitedflyingoctogenarians.org
      You will find joining data there as well as other info – or, you could email me your contact information and I will send you some forms. What state do you live in?? We have Area Directors in most every state and they can be a big help too.

  13. Vanildo Maldi
    Vanildo Maldi says:

    Yes! Capt. Bob Claypool is right!
    Old pilots, beside experience, have in their health,
    their wealth and treat themselves with much more care than young pilots.

  14. Chris Potts
    Chris Potts says:

    These exchanges are very intersting.

    I’m a 700 hour Cessna 182K pilot in Hong Kong and Philippines.I have just taken up flying again with one of my ex instructors who is now 78 and has lost his medical.Having him in the right seat no longer in the capacity of instructor but passing the occasional sage comment which comes of many years of mature experience is sharpening up my flying skills.


  15. Chief Pilot
    Chief Pilot says:

    I am 67 and just finished going to recurrent training at Flight Safety. Took an FAA test and check ride successfully. All night flying, low ceilings, engine failures, A/P failures, electrical failures, gear failures, hydraulic failures and many other emergencies. I completed the training and received a Pro Pilot award. I received a type rating in a Citation 560 Encore and also did a single pilot exemption which only about 5% of jet pilots have. All of this after 60. Am I too old? I don’t think so.

    • Bob Claypool
      Bob Claypool says:

      Chief Pilot – you sure don’t look “too old” to me and you should be very proud of your accomplishments in the aviation world.


  16. Charles Songer
    Charles Songer says:

    Lots of good comments on this subject and good advice. let me suggest a book that addresses, statistically, the relation between experience and risk, regardless of the age of the pilot. Called “The Killing Zone”(How any why pilots die) by Paul Craig. It is a sobering read, and I think will benefit all, especially those that are short on hours, but fresh on training. For myself, Im 57 and a recently certificated low time private pilot. I put a note on the dash of my plane, right beside the N-number that says”Wisdom is gained by experience, not just age” just to remind me that I am an old ,but not yet wise pilot. Or as my examiner told me when I passed my checkride “be careful and try not to do anything stupid. This is your license to learn”

  17. John F. Banas
    John F. Banas says:

    Finally, someone who isn’t afraid to speak the truth! I’ve been beaten up a lot for my age, and let me tell you, any company who seeks to rid itself of older workers is a company that takes way too many risks with it’s products/reputation.

    Older AND wiser.

  18. KL
    KL says:

    I would tend to agree that older pilots are safer. The problem with general aviation in America is numbers. Numbers of GA pilots is down from 800,000 in 1980 to 200,000 in 2010.

    Young poeple are healthy, but they dont have the money to afford it. By the time you get to a point in life when you can afford to fly, you can no longer pass the strict medical requirements.

    Today, the FAA has us beat. And they have the AOPA beat too. The AOPA is losing the war on aviation to the FAA right now until the political winds change. They are going to get us all on the ground.

    What I dont get, from a long range visionary perspective, is how Washington can expect America to stay on top of the global aerospace industry when they are driving pilots of the air with ridiculous medical requirements. We will loose that edge if we keep up what we are doing.

    • Dick Collins
      Dick Collins says:

      Dear KL: I don’t think the number of pilots is down quite as drastically as you say. But it is down substantially, and is still dropping.We do need to reverse that trend and a kinder and gentler FAA would sure help.

  19. Barry Carroll
    Barry Carroll says:

    It is very true we started flying in the 50’s with out all the modern marvels that we have today, so much easier to navigate with out haveing to draw a straigt line on the map with every 10 miles marked off. if you gotr lost you look for a railway line and fly along it until you see a station take the name fly further and see tha name of the next station note that climb to ma suitable height and look up the stations on the map and hey presto you know where you are. I was a crop sprayer for a number of years and really learnt how to fly an aircraft which in those days was a piper supercub with the tank behind the seat and the fuel tank in front of you. thats really flying. slowly you learn and start charter work with good twin engine aircraft to continue building up hours.Finally to the grand old lady of flying the DC3.

  20. Barry Carroll
    Barry Carroll says:

    Ladies and gentlemen I would love to be able to fly, but now have Parkinson’s, so I battle away on MS2004 with all the facilities.
    Miss the comeradie we all used to have.

  21. Gera
    Gera says:

    Most old people don’t know when to quit until they get in trouble then they say ” I should have quit a long time ago”..

  22. bill webber
    bill webber says:

    Iam a UFO just like Bob Claypool. mY reaction is that Bob Claypool is a very handsome old man. Next Monday I will be 88. Still flying my cherokee 6 with many angel flights. I have made my mistakes earlier. I have 78 hours this year. It is sure fun. Bill Webber


    • paul cullman
      paul cullman says:

      Hi! Bill, just a note I am starting my 70th. year of aviating and do not intend to quit for quite a while !

  23. Robert Jacobson
    Robert Jacobson says:

    Many thanks for this thoughtful and inspiring article. I have just turned 65 and do hope to be able to fly for at least two more decades. I tend to agree to the arguments put forward: you learn from your mistakes and from the many experiences, especially weatherwise. And you certainly become more risk averse when getting older. Robert, the Hague, Netherlands. (2800 hrs; PPL; flying PA32)

    • Bob Claypool
      Bob Claypool says:

      To Robert Jacobson – odd coincidence that there is a reply from NEDERLAND. Son, Curtis, left home over 25 years ago for a short 6 week tour of Europe, met a Dutch girl in Ireland, looked her up in Groningen, later sent wedding invitations – so we made many trips there watching the grandkids grow up. Just where do you live?? Last year’s visit there we went to the flying club at the Groningen airport. Thanks for the kind words. Bob

  24. Chris Potts
    Chris Potts says:

    I’m 61 and took up flying again in 2005 after a 35 year break since I flew Chipmunks from RAF Woodvale.I operate a C182K and C172M from Clark Omni in Philippines and also fly regularly with HKAC in Hong Kong.Recently,I have taken up flying again with my ex-instructor, aged 78, who lost his medical 2 years ago, in the right seat .After 700 + logged hours I’m still learning and find the sage advice of my mentor,quietly ,yet authoritatively ,imparted,adds to the knowledge bank, rewardingly, for both.142 years and still growing!Chris

  25. Ralph Cowden
    Ralph Cowden says:

    Well Bob , this is an intriguing subject and you already have a collage of ideas,’experience etc. Most my flying buddies are dead and I am just 77. One of my Buddies just crashed his Yak in Half Moon Bay due to a collapsed wheel assembly failure.he still flys at 77 and plans to continue. The ones who are not with us were crop-dusting, airshows, weather etc. Most have had health issues. Pilots should be able to Fly as long a they are able to meet the standards. Bob Hoover flew aerobatics well into his 80,s Steve Fosset did not make it..
    Thanks for the Memories!!

  26. Paul Nyberg
    Paul Nyberg says:

    In 1951 I checked into the airport at Van Nuys CA to learn to fly. I was 19 at the time, working full time riveting Super Connies together at Lockheed Plant B1 in Burbank. Learning to fly seemed like a natural. My first two lessons with a 26 year old teacher in a single engine Piper, did not go well. Taking off was a piece of cake. Landing was something else. Scared me to death.

    Now I am 79 and think had I taken lessons from Bob Claypool who landed safely two times on a freeway, I might have a license. But at the time decided to leave the piloting to the Bobs of the world even though I didn’t know any back then.

    Paul Nyberg, Los Altos CA

  27. Godfrey
    Godfrey says:

    I’m a relatively young low time pilot and a great fan of old timers like Dick Collins. I read his writings and collect his dvds. There is no substitute for experience and experience comes with age. I have great respect for all the old timers out there, old and bald but not bold and still flying.

  28. Nick S
    Nick S says:

    I have about 650 hrs. My primary instructor, mentor, mechanic, etc etc is 85 or thereabouts, and I still sit in awe as he effortlessy demonstates from the right seat some maneuver I can’t get the knack of from the left!

  29. Dan
    Dan says:


    Will be 85 next Feb also and am putting about 100+ hours a year in the air and enjoying every minute. Most favorite flying is long cross-countrys.

    Next goal is to be still doing it at 90.

  30. Howard Billman
    Howard Billman says:

    I am a 74 year old pilot who has been flying the similator and undergoing tests at the Stanford Aviation Test Program for the last five years… As I understand it…. this program with we older pilots has shown our abilities have degenerated…but still make us…good pilots and experience is difficult to measure. It is pure hell flying their simulator because so much is demanded… I always wonder if anyone…young or older can ace that test….

  31. Dick Bicknell
    Dick Bicknell says:

    My experiance: the older pilot is generally safer than the older driver, as driving frequently requires faster responses. The older pilot’s “ace in the hole” is generally his past experiance to draw upon. Thorough preflight planing and judgement becomes the most important factors.
    The older pilot, in most cases, has established comfortable minimums for ceiling, visability, turbulance & convective activity, and has ready a conservative plan B, and often carries double the amount of legal fuel reserve if his destination is IFR.
    When the reflexes of a 20 year old are
    required, as with a maximum, gusting
    X Wind component, the older, experianced pilot, chooses landing at another airport.
    My top priorities are safety, plus both physical & mental comfort. They have, so far, served me well and avoided
    the oppertunity of authoring articles on ” I learned about Flying from that.”
    My two favorite aircraft are the Ercoupe and Skylane 182 which have visited 48 States, most Canadian Provinces, Mexico, The Caymans, Bahamas, The Virgins & Antqua in the past 69 years.
    Dick Bicknell N399N

  32. Stephen Phoenix
    Stephen Phoenix says:

    Older, retired pilots will be safer by virtue of not having to “be somewhere” on a schedule. That would save a lot of younger folks too, but it’s not in the order of nature.

  33. Larry
    Larry says:

    As a pilot, you are as safe as you make yourself to be. If you keep your health and reactions, in part by working-out,you may be able to safely fly a plane at any age.You are not automatically safer because you are older, or because you are younger. It depends on your skill and your attitude. In most professions, there is no substitute for experience.

    Great article-well wruitten

    • John Wood (02-25-27)
      John Wood (02-25-27) says:

      Bob – As you see I am very close to the same age as you, and I want to join up. I have been aware of the existence of the UFO’s for some time, but have put off joining, partly because I had to sell my Mooney a couple of years ago to pay some bills. I am a retired airline pilot, with the usual experience pattern when you started in the mid-fifties. I also flew dusters and sprayers in the fifties, parts of five seasons; mostly Stearmans amd Su[er Cubs I have about 8000 hours in single-engine airplanes besides the usual airliners. I am still able, still good at it, enjoy IFR, always hand-flew approaches even in the 747. John Wood.

      • Bob Claypool
        Bob Claypool says:

        John – we will be looking for your membership application. When I was in Primary Training at the Corpus Christi NAS outlying field named Cabaniss, we students were always amazed at antics of the dusters flying Stearmans. My Stearman solo date was Feb. 11, 1946. — Bob

  34. Richard Collins
    Richard Collins says:

    When an 82-year old pilot flying a 47-year old airplane crashes and four people perish, including two OK State baskeball coaches, it raises a lot of questions. Certainly if a non-pilot asked me if it would be wise to fly with a pilot that old, I would say no, it wouldn’t be wise under any circumstances..

    • Barney Barnwell
      Barney Barnwell says:

      Old folks, like old airplanes, have a different set of maintenance issues than new machinery. As Clint Eastwood said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” As we age, I’m 62, we need to be cognizant of increasing limitations. My personal IFR minimums are higher than the published minimums. Why? Because I’m trying to appropriately weigh risk vs reward.
      I heard some hangar-talk the other day where the comment was made that “flying is inherently dangerous.” Visions of silk scarves, leather helmets and goggles came to mind! This mind-set is what will make your flying a lot more exciting (and dangerous) than the pilot anticipated. Sometimes, a needless crash is the result.

  35. Hunter Heath
    Hunter Heath says:

    As usual, an interesting question brings forth interesting discussion on this site. I am 69, and after a long break, resumed flying under Light Sport rule about 6 years ago in my Aeronca Chief. Clearly, I do not have the physical capabilities I had at 30, but my awareness that I can indeed kill myself in that machine keeps me humble and careful. I have on a few occasions had the airplane out of the hangar, thought over the conditions or the little backache or headache nagging me, and pushed it back in. Several commenters got it right: experience and judgment make up for lots of losses with age. HOWEVER: There are elderly pilots who fly far beyond their “sell by” dates, and need a nudge to quit. If I am flying at 84, I will carry no more than one passenger, and only if that person is a licensed pilot qualified to take the controls. That might protect my estate and preserve a nice old airplane for the next custodian.
    BTW, the OSU crash sounds like a stall/spin event after power loss; we’ll never know if age played a part. Lots of young pilots have augered in under similar circumstances.

  36. Gary Kevorkian
    Gary Kevorkian says:

    It is always a joy to read articles by Richard Collins and any pilot who shares their experience to promote safe and enjoyable flying.
    I just turned 50 this year and decided to fly again after 20 years plus being absent from flying.
    I did it safely and purposefully after going over sporty”s DVDs and iPad flying educational tools from Sporty”s. I have been reading Richard’s books and immersing myself in new tools but old concepts.
    after my visit to FAA med examiner who flys at 87 years old I felt motivated that I am not old at 50. I plan to fly into my mid sixties. One day at a time. One flight at a time. Thanks Richard for all your efforts to all of us who look up to you.

  37. Mike F
    Mike F says:

    My CFI was 82 when he retired. He could fly with the best up to that moment in time. Even after I became comfortable (enough) with my own ability as he sat back and became little more than a passenger, I was in awe of his skills any time he took the controls.

  38. bill wright
    bill wright says:

    did not read all the posts, but the ones i read i feel missed what i feel is the main point. i agree there are 90y/o pilots better than 50y/o pilots. i also agree that most 90y/o pilots have more cognitive defects than 50y/o pilots. many cognitive defects prevent affects a person’s judgement, memory, skill, reflexes, etc. who is to tell the pilot/driver when he can’t perform anymore, when that pilot/driver is unable to descide for himself. i remember a 90y/o pilot ‘landed’ at local airport[moderate damage-ground looped a c-180] with his wife. many hours, owned the plane for years, but had no idea where he was or what had happened. i had to make arrangements for his kids to come and pick him up to take him home, and handle the repair of the plane. he had no intention of giving up flying, his family was unwilling to declare him mentally incompetent, and he could still be flying today. it would be nice if we could all recognize when we are losing it, and i hope i do, but realize that some lose it without realizing it and family, doctors, faa, etc can’t stop them. how many are flying without medicals[honest], biannuals, annuals, insurance? i faced this problem with my dad and realize it could happen to me despite my best intentions.

  39. Kayak Jack
    Kayak Jack says:

    I’m 74, just got my private license a couple of months ago. My plane, the Ruptured Duck – a C-172, is almost 50. We both get inspected for fatigue and corrosion annually. As long as we can be properly maintained, we can keep our airworthy status. I still go on week long canoe excursions, camping out in a tent and cooking on a camp stove along the way.
    One day, one or both of us will hang it up and do something like treasure hunting with metal detectors.
    When I get old, I plan to take up caning chairs and canoe seats. Until then, I’ll putter around the skies, learning from other olde fartes and young kids. Knowledge can come from anywhere.
    When I die, maybe they’ll tan my hide and make it into a seat cover in a pretty gal’s airplane, and I can go along in between the two things I love most.

  40. JJ Sifontes
    JJ Sifontes says:

    I am 58, been flying for 34 years,the past 22 in Law Enforcement,both fixed wing and rotorcraft.Definitely,no doubt in my mind,the older you get ,the safer.I have younger co-workers,and depending on age scale, 20’s 30’s 40’s 50’s the safer,wiser they are, and still we do the same kind of work with sometimes different safety considerations.Thanks to SOP,things rarely get out of hand,but you can sense the younger Pilot’s “I know I can do it no matter what attitude”

  41. John Marshall
    John Marshall says:

    I am 76, have flown over 30,000 accident-free hours in everything from a C150 to a 747. I still have a medical, work for the FAA as an Air Carrier Operations Inspector, and as such stay current and qualified in a Part 121 jet transport airplane. Take all the recurrent training and proficiency checks just like the kids do. In my spare time I fly a warbird, which is not much younger than I am. 70 is the new 50.

  42. norm kinney
    norm kinney says:

    I received my tickt in 1949, at 17 years.So am now 80.
    I fly a Cessna 182,my personal bird powered by P-Ponk, and a 3 blade prop. I keep up with a 210.
    I have had four unplnned landings. One in a tobaco
    field, one in a wheat field, back on a runnway,and one in the mud. Never hurt any of the planes except the mud one, cought the prop. I learned to fly In Idaho,so back country was in the mix, In reading the other stuff and knowing first hand guys like me we are safe. One of my best friends and a flyer stoped at 90, and he stated I know it is time. He went with me, and flew from right, and still landed like a bird.

  43. Enid Grosser
    Enid Grosser says:

    Our Federal Govt. is operating so far outside of its design parameters that this type of discussion is now futile. IMHO the place to start is reducing income tax which would force massive reductions in power and programs, bringing the govt. more in line with the founders structure. Only then can a discussion vis-a-vis federal and state govts. become worthwhile.

  44. Robert R. Richardson
    Robert R. Richardson says:

    I am convinced that there is no universal age that one should quit flying. I was a gunner on a B24 in WWII, could not afford to fly until 1960 got my private 11/19/60 license # 1487440, been flying ever since, owned over 100 aircraft and at age 86 I feel that I am safer today than at any time in the past. Blessed with perfect health medicals are no problem. Fly my archer at least once a week and enjoy it. Tell me I am too old to fly and I will tell you are as full of it as a constipated elephant.

  45. Theo
    Theo says:

    I got my PPL in 1957, the CPL/CFI in 1958 & later the ATP. I’m still flying a corporate BE90 with Blackhawk/Raisbeck toys or instructing in a large variety of Beech/Cessna/Piper models and even a LSA. Now 74, I agree with all the wise remarks made previously on keeping mentally/physically fit, current and up-to-date.
    Instructing has always required me to sharpen knowledge & skills.
    Area of operations? Mostly Southern Africa with some past contract work in Africa North-of-the-equator.
    Then there’s Quality Assurance and Safety Officer duties too.
    Above all have fun, whilst remaining safe.

  46. Dr. Kenneth Nolde
    Dr. Kenneth Nolde says:

    At 74+ I am not sure that I am old enough to comment, but here goes. My wife (non-pilot) and I bought a CTLS as a retirement present in 2008 and we have not looked back. From Pensacola we have flown to San Diego 4 times, made a number of 1000 mile plus flights in the past 4 years. In fact I am flying with my son-in-law, who now is starting his Sport Pilot training. Point is that I am healthy, I have been flying for almost 60 years and I get the same kick today as the first day at old Zahn’s A/P on Long Island, NY in 1951, WWII Stinson L-5. What I have in common with many older flyers is I am healthy and work at staying fit. I read most of the trade pubs, I fly pilot pro slights regularly, and I am very/very careful. Bottom Line is I still have the Passion!!!

    Enjoy and plan on flying 4ever.

  47. Dick Gozinya
    Dick Gozinya says:

    As an airline pilot I have had the pleasure and honor of flying with a number of our over age 60 guys. For the most part I enjoy it however, the other night while flying with one of our 63 year old Captains he did fly over most of the North Atlantic with the left turn signal on ! How embarrassing.

  48. Jake Williams
    Jake Williams says:

    I’m 86. Soloed in 1942 @ 16. Naval Aviator, escort carrier based, during the Korea thing instructed and switched to transports, 30 years with airline up thru B-747, corporate after 60 on King Airs and Lear 25. My ride now is a Debonair I gave myself when I flunked birhdays in 1986. My wife convinced me to put a dual yoke in the Deb so someone could bring the corpse back to earth when I go. If you don’t quit, you wont lose it. Amen

  49. Bob Button
    Bob Button says:

    I’m creepin’ up on age 84, also belong to the United Flying Octogenarians, fly my own Beech Sierra (also an antique, technically). And I agree that most negative statistics involving light aircraft are more the result of poor planning or poor decision making. The advantage of being an older pilot is experience, which usually means many years of good decision making.

  50. Mike Rutkas
    Mike Rutkas says:

    Private Pilots should follow the same rules as commercial airlines with mandatory retirement. I hate to think of the problems that would ensue when a private pilot has a heart attack or stroke while flying. How nice that an octogenarian doesn’t think he is too old to fly. He is too old to make the decision for himself!

  51. Cydney
    Cydney says:

    I think the real problem as with everything is do you know when it is time to hang it up? Can you make an honest decision about yourself? If your family is concerned, you need to hang it up. My Dad has flown for over 50 years. He has gotten an accommodation from the FAA for 50 years of safe flying with no accidents. However, my husband won’t fly with him anymore because of an incident that happened when Dad failed to respond to an oncoming jet because “he had the right of way” and the airport group being concerned about his landings. My father thought nothing was wrong. He always took people up for rides and my brothers and I did not think we would be able to live with ourselves if he killed someone in addition to himself. He’s had a number of medical issues which involve his lungs and ability to breath. But he thought he could still fly. The only way we could ground him was to stop the insurance on the plane and blame it on the insurance company. He is now 92 and still wants to fly and I breathe a sigh of relief that he is not. If you are healthy, I applaud your ability to continue flying. But I ask you to make sure your family agrees with you.

  52. Bob Button
    Bob Button says:

    Just last month hung up my spurs… Flying wasn’t a problem… Pre-flight tired me so much I’d rather take a nap than fly…

  53. Jim Van Vranken
    Jim Van Vranken says:

    Great article. I am a 78 year old not so bold pilot. Still relatively capable and can fly a good airplane. I have been taking lessons and my instructor had to be reminded that I had not flown a small airplane since 1967. I enjoyed a long and rewarding flying career, 25000 plus hours, six type ratings, domestic and international flying, Check Airmen and Simulator instructor for a major aircraft manufacturer. A Cessna , no problem I thought. I could fly the airplane from day one but the Class “B”controlled airspace is everywhere and the avionics and communication devices have more buttons and knobs than the space shuttle. Maybe I’m too old but I must admit I enjoy every moment, once a pilot always a pilot.
    Thank You

  54. James Borst
    James Borst says:

    It is interesting that the maximum age for Airline Transport Pilots was raised to 65. I found this article while looking for the best age for people to learn how to fly. My daughter wants flying lessons and it looks like flying can be a lifetime activity. We may consider talking to an instructor about what age they recommend starting flying.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] The pilots that come to land on this airport for the first time, need great assistance from the control tower of the airport. It is not common that first time pilots land here, often there are older pilots that are teaching the younger ones. […]

  2. […] he explains why he decided to give up flying at age 74–on his own terms. In the debate about aging pilots, Collins’s unique perspective is a valuable contribution. The complete book is available from […]

  3. […] Older pilots are safe pilots73 comments […]

  4. […] Older pilots are safe pilots62 comments […]

Comments are closed.