Thursday, January 05, 2012

Destrehan, Louisiana: Pilot takes to sky to celebrate 50 years of flight

Photo Credit: Rusty Costanza, The Times-Picayune
Jim Finley of Destrehan plans to celebrate 50 years of flying on Saturday by 'just going to up and fly around a little while,' he says.

Photo Credit: Rusty Costanza, The Times-Picayune
Jim Finley, 72, says he fell in love with flying on his first flight, and by the end of that year, he had earned his pilot's license.

By Matt Scallan, The Times-Picayune

Jim Finley plans to climb into his small, no frills plane at the St. John the Baptist Parish Airport on Saturday and take it for a spin. Nothing unusual about that.

Between piloting Air Force jets that snatched film capsules from military satellites out of the sky, to flying children to Shriners burn units, and participating in search and rescue operations in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Finley has logged some 9,200 hours of flight time.

What will make Saturday's flight a special one is that it will mark the 50-year anniversary of Finley's first time in the cockpit.

Finley, a 72-year-old Destrehan resident, said he has no particular place to go on Saturday.

"I'm just going to up and fly around a little while to celebrate," he said Thursday.

Finley, who owns C.N. Finley Plumbing Co. sold his Cessna 210 and bought a 1946 Piper Cub J-3 a year ago, the same model plane that he flew in for the first time while in college.

The bright yellow plane has no avionics, no electrical system and no battery. Finley carries a portable radio with him. The 765-pound plane, which Finley easily rolls around the airport apron with a dolly that attaches to the rear wheel of the "tail-dragger," has a top speed of 72 mph.

"I enjoy it a lot more," he said. "The Cessna was transportation. The J-3 is flying."

A fellow student of Finley's at Louisiana Polytechnic Institute in Ruston took Finley on his first flight on Jan. 7, 1962.

"I fell in love with it immediately," he said.

A month later he took his first solo flight and by year's end he had his pilot's license. Finley joined the Air Force after college graduation, and was assigned to classified projects that included retrieving the satellite surveillance data over the Pacific Ocean as part of the nation's intelligence gathering efforts during the Cold War.

"If one broke up, or we missed one, a Russian submarine would always be there to pick it up," he said. Finley said he didn't fly for about 10 years after leaving the Air Force, but missed it more than he realized.

"I started to get so psycho about it, I couldn't go near airports. So my wife Lynne said, 'Start flying again,' " he said.

There are relatively few pilots Finley's age. only 28,000 of the 628,000 licensed pilots in the United States are 70 or older, according to Federal Aviation Administration estimates.

But Finley said he is healthy and has no plans to leave the cockpit anytime soon.

"There's a sense of freedom up there. It's very relaxing," he said "You have to focus on the flying and forget about everything else." 
Article, photos and comments:

No comments:

Post a Comment