With a schoolboy grin on his face, 82-year-old Myrl Hoefer took the controls of the Cessna 172 Skyhawk, soaring into the sky for the first time in almost 25 years.
“I’m more rusty than I thought,” Hoefer said as the runway fell beneath him.
Hoefer had one big thing on his bucket list: to fly. And on Tuesday, that dream came true.
With help from his friends, neighbors and the Northwest Flight School, the retired traveling salesman was given a chance to fly one last time.
“I’m very thankful,” Hoefer said. “I was so excited I woke up at 6 this morning.”
As a young man, Hoefer worked for Intermountain Surgical Center, a Boise-based company selling surgical supplies throughout Idaho. But trains and automobiles weren’t Hoefer’s style; they were too slow. He preferred to travel by plane, taking his own Cessna 172 across the state.
“I was really thrilled to see it was a 172,” Hoefer said of the aircraft lined up for his flight Tuesday.
He noted that he paid $14,000 for a plane that today starts at $289,500.
Hoefer’s return to the air began about a month ago. Hoefer and his girlfriend, Jaynie Stephenson, were having breakfast at Felts Field. Stephenson said she noticed the way he looked longingly at the flight memorabilia and knew how much he wanted to fly again.
But old age hasn’t been kind; Hoefer has suffered from breathing problems, arthritis and a brain tumor, conditions that would normally make it impossible to fly again.
“He’s had some serious health issues,” Stephenson said. “He thought he would never be able to touch any controls of an airplane again.”
She was determined to help Hoefer fly, but she didn’t know where to start.
So Stephenson, who lives in the same Spokane retirement home as Hoefer, turned to a neighbor, Doris Altergott.
Altergott reached out to Northwest Flight School, which opened in January. The school donated an hour in a plane with Tabitha Rahder, the school’s owner.
“The rest is history,” Altergott said. “I guess God really wants him to go up.”
Stephenson couldn’t keep a secret. As soon as she heard Hoefer was cleared for takeoff, she told him the good news.
“He’s not a really emotional guy, but he just lit up,” Stephenson said. “His blue eyes just sparkled and he smiled. He’s just been so excited.”
Hoefer soared through the clear blue sky for nearly an hour, hovering over the blue sparkling water of Loon Lake and making the skyscrapers of downtown Spokane look like children’s toys. He circled through the sky, farmland sprawled out far below him. He didn’t say much as he turned back to the runway, letting Rahder take the controls for landing.
As Hoefer turned the plane off the runway, taxiing back toward the hangar, a firetruck sat parked on each side, their hoses spraying water over the top of the aircraft. Rahder said it’s the traditional farewell celebration for retiring pilots.
“It’s a really hard time for anybody to know that it’s going to be the last flight that you go up on,” Rahder said.
Safely on the ground, Hoefer held Stephenson’s hand and hugged her.
He was shaking from landing, but he still had a smile on his face.
“This is definitely going to be the highlight of his life,” Stephenson said. “At this point, anyway.”
In the lobby of Northwest Flight School, he handed Rahder his logbook. She turned to the first blank spot. The last entry was marked 1988.
“Make it nice and clear,” Hoefer said. “Because it’ll probably be the last one.”