RED OAK, Iowa -- On Friday, Dec. 21, Ernie Smith turned 101 years old. How did he celebrate? He flew a plane.
In 2017, the Guinness Book of World Records named Smith the official world's oldest active pilot. That was until he suffered a minor stroke and could no longer pass the medical exam to be certified to fly.
On his birthday, Smith was getting back in a plane.
Norm Yeager, Smith's friend and pilot instructor, gave him a ride to the airport. Smith used his walker to get to the plane and climb inside. From there, Yeager watched while Smith started the plane, taxied out, took off and flew around the pattern before retiring after a flawless landing.
“Three miles west of the field, ceilings dropped to the ground,” said Smith. “I went around the pattern at 400 feet, but as I turn to the left to get in there, I had to dive as the clouds went all the way to the ground.”
For Smith's flight on his 101st birthday, it was not merely a joyride for him. He piloted the aircraft the whole time.
“He taxied out on the pre-takeoff check, took off, stayed in the traffic pattern and landed. [He] taxied in and shut down,” said Yeager.
Yeager himself is in his 80s. He is recognized as an outstanding instructor pilot and has helped Smith for years.
Smith still comes out to fly with someone just about every week. And on his birthday, even though the flight was short, he wanted it to be a good one.
“Suppose this is my last flight, I’m going to try to make it a good one,” said Smith.
Later in the day, Smith’s friends from all over gathered at the airport to honor him on his birthday.
“Got a bunch of cupcakes yesterday from a lady and they all had 101 on them,” said Smith.