Pilots

Edna Lockwood

December 1, 2001

She remembers her first flight like it was yesterday: Edna Lockwood was a farmer's wife in her mid-thirties with five little ones at home near Goshen, Indiana, and she wanted that airplane ride awfully bad. So she asked her husband to buy her one. "At that time they didn't push ladies to fly too much," Lockwood recalls, but by gosh her husband saw to it that she got her ride. The airplane was a Piper J-3 Cub, and because the pilot happened to be an instructor he let her takeDthe controls for a little bit. "I was sold," she says. It took her just eight hours to solo. Her husband was sold, too: He went out and bought himself a 1941 Taylorcraft.

"To me it wasn't like a J-3 at all — it was a side-by-side model and it had a wheel instead of a stick," she explains. "And it was a floater. I learned to slip in that airplane because it really floats." A year later the couple both got their certificates.

That, by the way, was in 1947, more than a half-century ago. Her first husband, Clifford Boyer, died in 1976, and (er second husband, nonpilot Orval Lockwood, whom she married in 1979, died in 1985. But today, at the age of 91, Edna is still flying. Right now there are more than 2,600 pilots in their 80s with current medicals, according to the FAA, but go older than that and the number drops off precipitously. Lockwood's one of just 30 pilots in this country who are age 90 or older — and one of only three women.

The nation's oldest pilot is 99-year-old Cole Kugel of Longmont, Colorado, but if Lockwood has a hero it would be John Miller of Poughkeepsie, New York, who Temains in the pilot's seat at age 95. A few years back Miller formed the United Flying Octogenarians — and talked Lockwood into joining — and he's still raising a stink about the age-60 rule that forced him to retire from Eastern Air Lines in 1965.

After 55 years as a private pilot Lockwood has logged more than a few highlights. There was the time back in the 1970s that she circled the Statue of Liberty in New York's harbor, and the time not long after that when she flew the length of the Grand Canyon solo. Once on a trip out West she flew past the stony-faced presidents of Mount Rushmore. But to her, flying itself is a wonderful experience. "I love to fly, just get out [of] the house and fly," she sighs. "Northern Indiana is very beautiful right now."

She logs around 100 hours a year, an average of two hours a week, and most of her 3,800 hours are in her current airplane, a 1976 Piper Warrior. She bought it slightly used — with just 800 hours on it — in 1979. "It was around the time I met my second husband," Lockwood remembers. She and her first husband had traded in their 1941 Taylorcraft for a 1954 Piper Tri-Pacer, and she had already had to have the Tri-Pacer re-covered once. "The second time my son says, 'Mom, you're getting old, why don't you buy another airplane and not get that one re-covered?'" So he scouted around and found the Warrior. A woman named Charlotte Hayden had bought it new and taught students in it at Wawasee Airport, a private grass field near Goshen. "It was almost too much airplane for her students to fly out of that short of a field," Lockwood says. Now it has more than 3,000 hours on it.

Lockwood does have some problems — mainly with insurance. "Either they want the price of an airplane [for a premium] or they don't want to insure me, one or the other," she says. After all, in 50-plus years flying has changed, and the .nsurance com-panies know that.

But not in the way those companies expect.

"My first airplanes were harder to fly than the Warrior, and the navigation!" Lockwood says. "When I learned we didn't even have a battery in the plane, it was strictly pilotage. When I got the radio and then could home in on the VOR, that was great. But the GPS, wow!"

She's never flown for business; most of her flying has been for fun. Sometimes she and her son, 63-year-old aircraft mechanic James Boyer, will take his wife, foster daughter, and granddaughter in their two airplanes — James owns a Piper Comanche — and head out West. "We like to be under gross over the mountains," she says. "It's more fun that way." Much of her flying is local; she likes to airlift her friends to lunch, for instance. There's a place 40-miles-as-the-Warrior-flies away called Karen's Family Restaurant, across the highway from Fulton County Airport in Rochester, Indiana. She can land at the airport and walk across the road with the girls — the youngest one in her 80s. She also likes the restaurant at Branch County Memorial Airport in Coldwater, Michigan. "We have a wonderful time," she says.

And she always wants to make a few trips around the pattern. "Lots of times I fly touch and goes," she says. "You got to keep in practice for crosswinds."