Education Matters: 98-year-old learns to fly

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MONTROSE, Colo. They say it’s never too late to learn something new. The senior citizens who participate in the PACE program on the Western Slope are prime examples of how true that is. Last Spring we met a man who’s finding his voice through painting after losing it to a stroke.

This Summer KJCT News 8 cameras had the opportunity to take off with a flying student who is non-traditional, to say the least. 98-year-old Mabel Livingston has always wanted to learn to fly. She says she can’t remember a time when she didn’t love planes, and her interest was only fed by her brother’s passion for flying. He was a pilot in the Air Force.
The trouble was Mabel didn’t have the money for flying lessons when she was a girl, or when she grew up to be a wife and mother. But this year, for her birthday, with several generations watching, Mabel is getting a flying lesson.

Mike Plante owns a 6 seat, twin engine plane with a pressurized cabin. Which means Mabel can bring her oxygen along for the ride. Plante is a volunteer pilot with Angel Flight, the non-profit that’s known across the country for helping fly sick people to critical doctor’s appointments, relocating survivors of domestic violence, and more unusual flights, like Mabel’s.

Plante says he’s honored to share his plane with all of these people, but today is a new adventure for him; he’s going to let a total rookie take control of his plane.

Mabel’s ready though; she’s read pilot manuals cover to cover. And as Plante goes through his pre flight check list every word and gauge is familiar to her. Before we know it, just as her brother always said she would, we’re taking off, and Mabel is taking over.

We take a ‘round robin’ flight path, heading over Ouray towards Pagosa Springs, Durango and Telluride. For a plane this small, cruising altitude seems like it’s barely above the peaks of some of Colorado’s most famous fourteeners. Plante tells Mabel she can take over on the controls. Without hesitation, this seemingly frail woman grabs the yolk with confidence and pulls back. And everyone’s stomachs almost fall out our bottoms. For the next forty-five minutes she skims across the tops of the Juans asking Plante to identify this lake or that road. PACE’s Director of Recreational Therapy is along for the ride, pointing out Red Mountain Pass, Mount Sneffels, and other places most people won’t even see from the ground.

Aside from her few questions, I squeeze a few in too. Mostly she answers ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Mabel says flying the plane is like riding along on a nice, soft cushion.

Before we know it we’re back on the ground with Plante piloting our landing as Mabel’s family waves from the tarmac. It’s Mabel’s birthday, but she gifted us with a golden lesson, never give up on your dreams.

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