Greg’s March column, “Airplane for Sale: In Praise of Older Pilots,” and additional photos

How many people put off their dreams of a lifetime as they get older, and as a result, never attain them? And how many others get discouraged during the process of pursuing those dreams, and quit?

Idaho pilot Phil Role waited later in life than many to become a pilot, and overcame challenges to achieve that goal. A dozen years later, after encountering serious bumps in the road of life, he looks back to assess whether it was worth it.


Above: Phil Role flies his beloved Piper Comanche over southern Idaho. Click here to see additional photos. ©2010 Gregory N. Brown

Postscript, June 11, 2010: Sadly, Phil Role passed away this morning of complications of his condition described in the column. We had hoped to fly to Sandpoint next month to meet him and Mary Catherine in person. Goodbye ol’ buddy. Hopefully there’s a cream-puff Piper Comanche for you to fly up there…

If you enjoyed this story, you’ll love Greg’s book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane. Autographed copies available!

7 thoughts on “Greg’s March column, “Airplane for Sale: In Praise of Older Pilots,” and additional photos

  1. Cheers for sharing this moving account. I’m also a late starter to flying. I’m still heading towards my first solo and am in my mid-40s. Like Phil, life just took up a huge chunk of my attention and flying took a distant back seat. And like most older students trying to learn a new trick, it does take longer. I’m always envious of younger people seemingly able to pick up flying like it was second nature and solo before you know it. Has the effort so far been worth it? I have to admit that doubts are always there because life’s other priorities are never banished. Flying is but another thing to be added to the list of tasks. But I would hope in the next 12 months or so, to be able to look back and say: “Yes, learning to fly was the best personal achievement in my life.” All the best to everyone.

    1. So glad you enjoyed it! I thought it was very gracious of Phil to share his story, including the health issues, so we could look back over his shoulder and see what he got out of flying. I know you will find the same joy when you finish, too! BTW I enjoyed checking out your blog! As soon as your budget permits I do encourage you to invest in a noise-canceling headset. Along with improving safety and reducing stress through improved communications, it will reduce fatigue. Please keep us posted on your progress!

  2. Aloha Greg, I just read your story on Phil Role and thought it was great. I am 9 years old from the Big Island of Hawaii. I have flown with Phil while staying with my grand parents in Sandpoint. Phil let me fly a bit on a short trip to Washington state for lunch. I joined ‘The Young Eagles’ after that flight and have been hooked ever since. Phil gave me a radio controled plane and found me a flight simulator for our home computer. I don’t know if his plane has a ‘soul’ but it sure talked to me when I had the controls. I’m going to be a piolit as soon as I can afford lessons.Thank you for the story. Some machines seem to be alive when they’re running. Phil’s Piper is like that.
    Max Shaffer

    1. Thank you for posting this, Max! I did not know about this aspect of Phil’s flying – helping and encouraging young people like you to fly. What a mentor he must be! Clearly you will make a heck of a pilot yourself, when the time comes, and have a passion to spread the word like Phil does. One other thing: We hear in the news all the time about how young people these days can’t read or write as well as they should. Well, you disprove that assertion big-time. What a compelling and eloquent writer you are! I hope that writing will play a big part in your future along with flying. I for one want to read of your adventures!

  3. Thank you for posting this, Max! George is my daddy and Phil is his good friend. I spent a lot of hours in N6931P; she truly does have a personality and is one of the most elegant birds in the air today. My daddy used to fly me home from college on the weekends and I will miss her. Sadly, I did not have any photos, so I am thankful that I now have a few. It is with a sad heart that I say goodbye – Phil, you are in my prayers. I know how hard it is to give up a friend – even a mechanical one.

    Elin K.

  4. Gregg:
    Thank-you so much for posting tie story about Phil.
    I came across this story this morning while doing a search for multiple myeloma at AOPA. Like Phil I started flying at a more mature stage in life (52) and like Phil I fell in love with my own flying carpet, a Mooney M20-F. Also like Phil I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and I fear that I will have to sell my beloved Mooney.
    When I read the original piece in Flight Training I wanted to contact Phil because we have these things in common. I’ll wait until I meet Phil at some future fly-in.

    1. Dear Chip, Thanks much for your very kind words. Like you, I am deeply sorry I did not get to meet Phil in person. I understand the prognosis can be good for many MM patients. I wish you the very best in rapidly overcoming that hurdle! Sincerely, Greg

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