Pilot still soaring high at 83
edited: Saturday, June 17, 2006
By Marie Wadsworth
Not "rated" by the Author.
Posted: Saturday, June 17, 2006
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Published June 5 on the front page of the Hobbs News-Sun and published by Associated Press.
The cloudless blue skies beckon to Paul Elliott Jr. as he prepares for take off in a sail plane on a runway at Hobbs Industrial Air Park.
After a pickup truck pulls a long wire attached to the sail plane, the 83-year-old Hobbs man and Navy veteran is flying over Hobbs.
As he soars, he works the stick to maneuver the plane smoothly through the air, monitoring the air speed. The clicking of the audio signal on the console gives him an indication of where the updrafts are.
Elliott, a member of the Hobbs Soaring Society, recently celebrated a significant piloting achievement. He first earned his first pilot license six months prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor 65 years ago.
"I've enjoyed it and I've been lucky that I've had the health to enjoy it," he said about being one of the oldest pilots in the area. "I started as a cow pasture pilot and ended up there; nature is going ot dictate when I quit."
Charles Jones of Abingdon, Va., had a different explanation for his former flight instructor's longevity in the hobby.
"In this business you're either pretty good or you don't last very long," he said.
Elliott's love of flying started in his childhood. While growing up in Kingsville, Texas, in the 1920s and '30s, his father put him in every barnstorming plane that came through town; he had a chance to rid in World War I Jennys and Ford Trimotors.
Although he didn't have the mechanical ability to build model planes, Elliott said he always enjoyed flying even if it was only a paper airplane.
"I could see a lot farther in the air than what I could see on the ground," the retired physics teacher and farmer said. "Being a part of nature just seems right."
Before he went to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., one of his college courses was the Civilian Pilot Training program where he earned his civilian license on June 5, 1941.
"They were getting pilots ready for the war, but the young men in the program were not aware of that," he said. "I just wanted to learn how to fly so I jumped at the chance."
After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1944, he served aboard a destroyer in the South Pacific during World War II. Although he didn't do much flying in the Navy, his civilian license was water damaged when he was in the ocean off Okinawa after his ship was sunk by Japanes suicide planes.
After the war, Elliott earned his Navy wings of gold on Feb. 14, 1947, and was a fighter pilot. He became a soaring instructor and tow pilot in 1966 and competed in his first national soaring competitions in 1976. He quit competiting about eight years ago.
"He's very meticulous as an instructor," said James Cogburn, member of the Hobbs Soaring Society. "He's more through than most instructors. He tries to make sure they have enough hands-on experience to take up a plane and land it on their own."
Elliott and his wife, Abbi, can usually be found in the HIAP hangar or on the airstrip at least three days a week. In addition to soaring, he conducts biannual flight reviews and instructs glider pilots.
Every soaring pilot needs a crew and in Elliott's case it's his wife. She's responsible for getting anything he may need as he works on the plane. Since she has her pilot's license, she's also Elliott's official observer, recording any flights he makes for awards or badges.
In soaring, the plane is more affected by atmospheric conditions than heavier powered aircraft would be, Elliott explained. In this sport, pilots have to constantly compete against nature so that doesn't make it a very reliable mode of transportation.
Still, Elliott has flown eight hours during his farthest trip, more than 480 miles, to Colby, Kan. The highest altitude he's recorded is 30,000 feet.
Elliott doesn't consider soaring to be a daredevil sport, but hobbyists have to think ahead. They don't have an engine and they have to take updrafts and clouds into account.
While he enjoyes flying and the illusion of freedom when he's soaring up high, Elliott said he really doesn't have a good reason ofro pursuing his hobby.
"I don't have to know why," he said. "It's just good."