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"Oldest certified pilot faces end of an era"

Monday, September 10, 2001

Oldest certified pilot faces end of an era

LONGMONT, Colo. (AP) -- Cole Kugel, the oldest certified pilot in
America, is thinking of retiring from flying. 

Kugel, 99, says he may not seek to renew his certification when it
expires in a few weeks. He figures he has soared long enough. 

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, Kugel is one of only
30 certified pilots over the age of 90. But he may drop out of the elite
group following the events of the past several months. 

Last spring, Kugel let go of the plane he cared for most -- the
single-engine Cessna Skylane with the registration 29CM -- just about
the same time he lost the bigger love of his life, his wife, Mildred. 

Together, the events signaled the end of an era. 

"Twenty-nine Charlie-Mike," Kugel said, echoing the words he'd radio to
the airport tower. "But the letters really meant Cole and Mildred." 

As early members of a group of aviation enthusiasts called the Colorado
Flying Farmers, they sat side by side in the cockpit for more than half
a century before she died in June at age 97. 

"It just indicates that plane was their baby," said Warren Rempel, who
has known the couple for 40 years. "They were in the flying game
together. Then came the day she couldn't get out anymore. And he said if
she couldn't go, then he wouldn't be doing a lot of it either." 

Mildred never was certified, but took enough lessons to know how to put
the plane down safely. In the last year and a half, though, her health
declined to the point where she could no longer take her accustomed seat
in the Cessna. 

Kugel sold the plane to veterinarian Lynn Ferguson with a stipulation in
the sale agreement that he be allowed to take it up next March 14, his
100th birthday. 

The FAA requires a physical exam every two years for medical
certification for a third-class pilot's license, and some minor vision
trouble gives Kugel pause, although he doesn't think it would
necessarily keep him from passing the exam. 

"But as old as I am, maybe I ought not to be flying anyway," he said. 

If he doesn't get recertified, he said, he'll still take his century
flight with Ferguson.


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