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Flawless flight puts 95-year-old pilot within reach of record book

Peter Weber Jr. prepares for his flight March 30 in Placerville, California.
Peter Weber Jr. prepares for his flight March 30 in Placerville, California.
Ed Fletcher And Bill Lindelof Tribune News Service

SACRAMENTO – Peter Weber Jr. flew a plane for about 20 minutes on a recent Monday. The flight was nothing fancy, just three looping circles around an area airfield. But it could nonetheless snag a Guinness world record for him.

Weber, 95, told reporters gathered to witness the event that the flight qualifies him as the oldest active pilot.

“I feel great,” the retired U.S. Air Force veteran said after landing and turning in the keys of the rental plane. “It was a short flight, but it was all the (Guinness) requirements.”

For the record: Weber was 95 years, 4 months and 23 days old at the time of the flight.

Weber and his son, Pete Weber III, who also flies, started looking into the record after they wondered whether the elder Weber was the oldest pilot in California.

Guinness lists Cole Kugel as the oldest pilot ever. Kugel, who lived in Longmont, Colorado, flew for the last time in 2007 at age 105. He died the same year.

Weber, who exchanged emails with Guinness over many weeks, said the record keepers have designated a new category: Oldest qualified pilot still licensed and flying solo.

Weber’s record attempt comes as most people his age consider giving up driving a car, said Jessica Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Forty percent of Californians over the age of 85 are licensed drivers, according to DMV and census records. Weber is one of them.

Private pilots over 40 are required to have medical exams every 24 months. The number of pilots over 90 with valid medical clearances totaled 106 as of June 2013, according to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Pacific Division.

On the potential record-setting flight, he flew alone in a rented Diamond DA20. It’s one of 37 plane models he’s flown in his 72 years as a pilot.

Weber’s military career began in the Army’s combat engineers unit. But after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he passed the test to be an aviation cadet and started his flying career in the Army Air Corps, forerunner of the U.S. Air Force.

During World War II, he flew P-38 fighters in the South Pacific, was an instrument flight instructor during the Korean War and flew an AC-130 gunship in Vietnam.

Weber, who began military service as a private, retired from the Air Force in 1970 as a lieutenant colonel. Since then he has flown for fun.

“I like to fly,” he said. “I fly at least twice a month. I like to observe and take anybody up for a ride who wants to go.”

He said that his good health, mental acuity and long life can be traced in part to his diet.

“My wife, Ruth, is a good cook,” he said. “We’ve been married 72 years. I was a cadet in primary flight training when we got married.”

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