As he crawled out of the cockpit of the 1963 Mooney plane, 100-year-old Harry Moyer flashed a thumbs-up to the assembled crowd, a huge grin lighting up his face.
He had plenty of reason to celebrate: Moyer had just potentially broken a world record — on his birthday, no less.
Moyer, a World War II pilot, took off and landed from the ACI Jet hangar of the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport on Friday, potentially becoming the oldest licensed individual to complete a solo flight in the world.
“Thanks to all you wonderful people for showing up and participating in this day of my life,” Moyer told the roughly 80 people who gathered around his plane after his flight to sing “Happy Birthday.” “I can’t believe I’m up here.”
Moyer has been flying since 1942, when he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet while studying engineering at the University of Akron in Ohio.
During World War II, Moyer flew in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, as well as in China as one of the famed American Volunteer Group, aka the “Flying Tigers,” which defended China from Japan during the war.
Even after returning to the States in 1944, Moyer couldn’t give up the flight bug. He served as a flight instructor in New Mexico until the end of the war.
Then in 1976, Moyer purchased his 1963 Mooney — and he would continue to fly it regularly for the next four decades.
“Up there is a different environment,” he told The Tribune on Friday. “You’ve got the whole world behind you.”
As other veteran pilots have aged and become unable to continue flying, much less solo, Moyer has continued to fly his plane from the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport several times a week for all these years, according to son-in-law Pete Pepper.
“For Harry, this is no big deal since flying has been a part of his life ages,” Pepper wrote in an email to The Tribune ahead of the event.
What might be a big deal is the record Moyer could soon hold. At 100, he hoping for a place in the record books as the oldest licensed pilot to conduct a solo flight in the world.
That title is being confirmed by the Guinness World Records.
Non-stop video taken during Moyer’s flight will be used in an application to the record-keeping agency, said Pepper, who organized Friday’s flight. He expects confirmation of the title back soon.
No matter the record, Moyer is already a winner in his family’s eyes.
“Grandpa is a war hero, a fighter pilot, a Flying Tiger” grandson Kurtis Moyer said during a brief celebration following his grandfather’s flight. “He just flew a plane on his 100th birthday. He’s a living legend.”
Besides dozens of beaming family members, Friday’s celebration was also well-attended by a unique crowd: Chinese media outlets.
Because of Moyer’s time with the Flying Tigers, who are regarded as heroes in China, representatives from several Chinese media outlets were in attendance to watch him take to the skies on Friday. He was also presented with a floral arrangement from the Chinese Consulate General in Los Angeles.
As Moyer prepared to return to the ground about 15 minutes into his flight, the flight tower had another message for him:
“28, romeo, runway, 2-niner. Clear to land,” traffic control said. “Happy Birthday Captain Moyer, we appreciate your service.”
(c) 2020 The Tribune
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.