07/27/06 — Pilot is 67 and still flying high

View Archive

Pilot is 67 and still flying high

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on July 27, 2006 1:49 PM

Jack Crawley waited nearly half a century to see his dream come true. The 67-year-old Pinetops man recently earned his pilot's license, flying out of the Goldsboro-Wayne Airport.

When the plane lifted off with Crawley at the controls, flying solo, it was the fulfillment of a boy's dream. As a teenager, Crawley flew with his brother at a local airport and knew right then he wanted to become a pilot.

But life kept interfering in one way or another and it was only after reaching retirement age that he was able to take the steps necessary to make his dream a reality.

For Crawley, the wait was worth it. Flying has proved to be just as thrilling for the man as the boy had dreamed it would be.

"I would say it's about like going to heaven without dying. From what I've read about heaven, I would say that's the only way to describe it," Crawley said.

Even after getting to the point where he could start taking flying lessons, Crawley found obstacles to overcome.

He started taking lessons at the airport in Greenville two years ago. But the plane he used was often in the repair shop and he usually could only get flying time once a week.

He then switched to taking lessons at the Little Washington airport. But the flying school there eventually shut down and he was grounded again.

So, Crawley then tried the Rocky Mount airport. But his stay there didn't last long, either.

"Just when I was about ready to have my solo flight, there was a man doing a cross-country flight. He landed and rolled the plane," Crawley said. "It just happened to be the same plane I was learning on."

Since Crawley was working in Goldsboro at the time, he decided to go to the airport here and see about lessons.

He started out taking lessons from an F-15E fighter pilot.

Bill Wallitzer is a veteran flying instructor at the Goldsboro-Wayne Airport. He took over Crawley's air education and says now that he never had a more willing student.

"Some students don't get prepared mentally before they come to the airport, but I didn't have to worry about that with him," Wallitzer said.

Crawley said the hour-long drive from his home to the airport gave him plenty of time to concentrate.

When the day finally came for Crawley to solo, he was more than ready. But he had a hard time realizing that the big day had finally arrived.

As Crawley and Wallitzer landed the Cessna 172 at the end of a lesson, Wallitzer asked his student to show him his log book, which meant only one thing to Crawley -- his first solo flight.

"You should have seen him. He kept saying, 'Get out of here.' He looked like a little kid in a candy shop," Wallitzer said.

The flight came off without a hitch and the dream of a teenage boy who wanted to soar across the skies had finally come true.

Crawley credited his wife, Judy, with supporting him in his quest. She bought him a gift certificate for his first flying lesson as an anniversary present and encouraged him to stick with the lessons. After he earned his wings, she was his first passenger.

"I'm glad he finally got to do it -- he's always wanted to do it. Now, it's all he talks about. It used to be music, because he plays the guitar, but I haven't heard much about that lately," Mrs. Crawley said.

Crawley received his license in March. Since then, he was made weekend trips to area airports to spend as much time in the air as possible. After all, he has a lot of time to make up.

"Once it gets in the blood, it's there to stay," Wallitzer said.