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The pilot who brought aviation to Saudi ArabiaThe pilot who brought aviation to Saudi Arabia

saudi 101-year-old Capt. Joe Grant, left, and Prince Sultan Salman Abdulaziz Al-Saud share a laugh in front of a DC-3 that Grant flew at Oshkosh.

In 1945, Capt. Joe Grant—a former barnstormer who flew for TWA and served in World War II—flew a DC-3 to Saudi Arabia. The airplane, a gift from U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Al-Saud, introduced aviation to the kingdom. On Thursday, the 101-year-old pilot flew a DC-3 at Oshkosh. Among those aboard were Hall Delano Roosevelt, grandson of the former president, and Prince Sultan Salman Abdulaziz Al-Saud, grandson of King Abdulaziz.

“What you’re seeing here is all about relationships, and maintaining relationships,” Roosevelt said during a press conference after the flight.

Grant stayed in Saudi Arabia from 1945 to 1947 to serve as personal pilot to the king and the royal family. “My time in Saudi Arabia was the greatest gift I could ever have been given. At the time, I didn’t realize what an opportunity it was—I thought I was just doing my job,” he said. There were few airstrips and fewer navigational aids in the kingdom, and flying there reminded Grant of his early days flying as a barnstormer.

The king loved flying, according to Grant, and both Saudi Arabian Airlines and the kingdom’s air force sprang from his vision. The king’s grandson became a pilot, as well as the first Arab and Muslim astronaut.

“I have learned so much from this man over the years,” Prince Sultan Salman Abdulaziz Al-Saud said, pointing toward Grant. “Joe said the secret to happiness and living longer is to keep flying.”

Aviation also runs in the prince’s family. He said his son soloed a week ago, “without my knowledge. And now this morning he arranged himself a test flight in the Cirrus.”

Michael Saba, a writer and lecturer on international relations and business matters, has written King Abdulaziz…His Plane and His Pilot, which chronicles the history of civil aviation in Saudi Arabia in the years following World War II—including Grant’s experiences in the country and his relationship with the royal family. The book, Saba’s third, was released at EAA Airventure.

Mike Collins

Mike Collins

Technical Editor
Mike Collins has worked for AOPA’s media network since 1994. He holds a private pilot certificate with an instrument rating.

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