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"78-year career not just flight of fancy"



Saturday, July 16, 2005

78-year career not just flight of fancy 
By Sherry Grindeland 
The Seattle (WA) Times

 
Clayton "Scotty" Scott piloted a Twin Aerostar from Renton Municipal Airport
to Boeing Field yesterday morning. The short hop was routine. The reason was
memorable.

Scott, a Mercer Island resident, flew himself to his 100th birthday party at
the Museum of Flight.

And this time, unlike his first landing at Boeing Field in 1928, the airport
was open. Back then, Scott and two passengers departed in a 1927 biplane
from Gorst Field, less than a mile from the newly constructed King County
Airport. When they returned from the $10 sight-seeing trip, winds prevented
Scott from landing, so he put the plane down on the new and unopened runway.

He went back to the county airport at 5:30 a.m. the next day and flew away
before anyone else arrived at the airstrip.

Scott was the first pilot to fly across the Gulf of Alaska. He survived
several mishaps there and elsewhere, including losing an engine over the
Cascades and fuel-line problems in British Columbia. He kept control of his
airplanes throughout a number of emergencies, and he and his passengers
always walked away from accidents - though a couple of the planes didn't
survive.

Such prudent decisions have sustained Scott's 78-year flying career.

For a while, he worked as Bill Boeing's personal pilot and was gutsy enough
to complain to his high-powered boss that the Boeing Boat, a plane that
could land and take off on land and water, performed poorly. When told to
pick out a better plane, Scott picked a competitor's product - a Douglas
Dolphin.

Bill Boeing bought one. Later, also on Scott's advice, Boeing purchased a
second Douglas plane, a DC-5, for his personal use on cross-country flights.
On one trip to Los Angeles for Boeing, it was arranged for Scott to fly
Howard Hughes to a lunch date. Ginger Rogers accompanied Hughes when he
arrived at the Glendale Airport.

Scott also worked as a United Airlines pilot and still laughs over his first
experience. In a video produced by the Museum of Flight, he describes
starting work for the airline in Portland on a Friday morning. His first
flight was that night as co-pilot on a flight to Salt Lake City. A few
minutes after the Boeing 247 departed, the pilot - saying he wanted a cup of
coffee - turned the plane over to Scott as they were flying up the Columbia
River Gorge.

"I thought, 'This is a great way to run an airline,' " Scott said.

Within a year, he was working as a test pilot for the Boeing company. He
logged more than 1,000 flights in B-17s during World War II and still
describes the B-52 as the Cadillac of Boeing bombers.

When he retired from Boeing in 1966, he opened a shop in Renton, modifying
and rebuilding float planes. (He still works two to three days a week.) His
first contract was with Boeing, to build a replica of the company's first
plane. He then flew the model around the country before it went on display
in the Museum of Flight.

Scott was smitten with airplanes as a teenager. One night he slipped into
the cockpit of an OX-5 Jenny used by a barnstormer and played with the
controls, dreaming of flying.

He took his first flight in 1922 - borrowing $3 from his girlfriend so the
two could afford the $10 ride at Seaside, Ore. During his senior year of
high school in Portland, he took courses at an aviation and auto-mechanic
school.

Through his job as a bank clerk, he met Vern Gorst, who hired him as a
station attendant for the entrepreneur's newly launched Pacific Air
Transport, which had won the airmail contract between Seattle and Los
Angeles. During their downtime, the pilots taught Scott how to fly.

He soloed Feb. 27, 1927. His pilot's license is No. 2155.

"He's the oldest active pilot, with the lowest-number license," said Douglas
Murphy, regional administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA).

Murphy was part of Scott's birthday celebration yesterday, presenting him
with the FAA's Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award. It is given to pilots who
have demonstrated exceptional competence and commitment to excellence for 50
or more years, and Murphy estimates only 18 people on the West Coast have
ever received it.

"I've never presented one before," he said.

His presentation followed an announcement by Marcie Palmer of the Renton
City Council that Renton Municipal Airport will now carry a secondary
designation as Clayton Scott Field.

At one point yesterday, Scott posed in front of a 1928 biplane on display to
commemorate his first landing at Boeing Field.

He looked at the plane and instantly recognized it - as the wrong plane.

"This isn't it," he said. "This is a later model."

Murphy shook his head in amazement.

"He looks and acts like he's 70. He's quite a guy," Murphy said.


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