The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

Local Scene

December 1, 2012

Octogenarian realizing his life-long dream to pilot a plane

PALESTINE — Palestine resident James Niles believes that it’s never too late to learn something new.

The octogenarian is living proof of that as he’s realizing his life-long dream of learning to fly a plane.

“To me, flying is more like a journey with no final destination,” James said about his latest endeavor. “As long as it’s enjoyable, beneficial and educational, I will do it.”

James and his wife Cheryl became interested in flying last July after seeing a story in the local newspaper about a free ground school at the Palestine Municipal Airport.

They immediately signed up and in mid-August, both began ground school. After completion, James continued on the path to achieve his dream and started flight school with Bill Campbell of Apex Aviation of Palestine.

“Flight school is so good for our brains because it keeps your mind focused and thinking,” Cheryl said. She plans to follow her husband’s lead and start flight school after the first of the year.

The Niles said they don’t mind the expense of flight school because the experience far outweighs the cost.

“At this stage in life, I can afford it,” James smiled.

“He’s earned it,” Cheryl added. “He’s been a good steward of his resources.”

James takes flying lessons about once a week with instructor Campbell sitting next to him in the 1967 Cessna 172. Cheryl sits in the back seat.

“I just tag along and keep quiet,” Cheryl smiled.

On Nov. 16, James logged his 26th flight with Campbell.

It takes James about 15 minutes to go through the pre-flight check list. Once in the plane, he takes his time checking everything from gauges to doors and windows under the watchful eye of his experienced instructor, before taking off.

Although he has completed more than two dozen flights, James is not quite ready for his solo flight, a feat that will earn him his shirt tail, the prize a student pilot gets once completing their first solo.

Flying at 100 mph at 2,000 feet above the ground, James can handle his plane with little direction from Campbell, who has been a flight instructor for 21 years.

On a recent flight, James goes through several maneuvers as directed by Campbell and completes a few landings and takeoffs.

“He’s probably the oldest person I’ve taught to fly,” Campbell said about James. “But anybody can learn and start flying at any time.”

Once a pilot’s license is earned, it is good for life. The only requirement is a bi-annual flight review, according to Campbell.

After completing his flying lesson, a beaming James heads inside the airport to fix his hair and update his log book.

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