|Jim Warren earned his private pilot certificate at age 87, and he’s planning to go sky diving when he turns 90. Photo by Mariano Rosales
“Just do it” is one of advertising history’s most-famous and easily recognizable slogans. Nike may have made it famous, but Jim Warren made it his mantra.
Warren, 87, of Vacaville, California, earned his private pilot certificate on September 20, 2010, becoming what he believes is the oldest person to ever get his ticket.
Carla Colwell, program analyst with the FAA’s airman certification office, said the agency doesn’t have records on who is the oldest person to get their private pilot certificate. However, the oldest active airman is 96, she said, and the average age of a recreational pilot is 50.8.
Warren, EAA 562894, said he now has 230 hours in the air and has made about 800 landings. He flies two or three times a week, generally around his home area, and sometimes to get that “$100 hamburger.”
His first passenger was his 90-year-old wife.
A former Tuskegee Airman, Warren spent many of his younger years flying in the back seat of planes as a navigator during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. In fact, he had hoped to become a military pilot, but was eliminated from pilot training at Tuskegee.
“There was only a certain number of black pilots allowed to fly,” he said.
“They didn’t want us.”
When he retired in 1978 as an Air Force lieutenant, Warren said he gave up the idea of ever flying. Instead, he focused on encouraging and helping others to fly.
In 1997, he organized a local Young Eagles program, with EAA members offering free airplane rides for youth ages 8-17 to spur their interest in aviation. He even offered scholarships, donating money he made from speaking about his Tuskegee Airmen days to fund flight training for youth.
Then in 2007, he bought a plane, a Beechcraft Skipper, which had been donated to the Tuskegee Airmen chapter he belonged to. He asked a friend, who was also a certificated flight instructor, to give him lessons.
“I got pretty good—better than I thought I would do,” Warren recalled. “I told the CFI that he shouldn’t let me get away with anything.
“If I was going to be a pilot, I wanted to be a damn good one.”
On September 18, 2008, at age 85, he soloed. “I was the oldest person to ever officially solo,” he said. “Previously, the oldest person was 84.”
But he acknowledged it wasn’t easy getting his private pilot certificate. A big problem was getting his medical since he was on his third pacemaker and had glaucoma. It took lots of medical reports and time before he received his third-class medical certificate, but even then it had provisions. Then his certificate was revoked because of field of vision problems, and he then had to go through the process again.
“I think the FAA thought I’d give up,” he said, “that I was just a doddering old man in a wheelchair.”
He never gave up; he just kept at it—and did it.
He’s not giving up, either, in encouraging others to become pilots. His target now is his 68-year-old son, Jim Warren Jr., of Chicago, who was born three days after he got to Tuskegee and who is attending EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2011 with him.
And if anyone else has ever looked to the sky and thought how much fun it would be to fly, his advice is simple. “Don’t tell people your goal because they’ll just tell you why you can’t do it,” he said.
“Just go do it.”