The air was calm and the skies were clear. It was a perfect day to take to the air and Phyllis Gaul was ready to go.
She and five other residents at Carleton House retirement residence in Oak Bay had earlier decided that they wanted to charter a couple of Cessna 172’s from the Victoria Flying Club and on Sept. 11 they taxied down the runway and took flight.
The Cessna is a very small, single engine, fixed-wing aircraft that can carry a pilot and three passengers. It’s an aircraft that might challenge the nerve of even the most seasoned flier and it is definitely not for the faint of heart. That didn’t deter Gaul or her companions – not for a second.
“I was a pilot once myself,” says Gaul. “I lived in Gander after (the Second World War) and I joined the flying club and was the first female pilot certified there.”
Her flying career was cut short a few years later when her friend Bill Rendell crashed the club’s only aircraft. “He flew it right into a pond,” she says. “He was all right but his wife and I teased him about it for a very long time.”
Neither Gaul’s love of flying nor her nerve has ever wavered. “It was quite interesting for me to sit in the cockpit with the pilot and check out the controls. They’re quite different now, but I could still do it (fly the plane), given the chance.”
Gaul was accompanied by her friends Wayne King and Bill King (no relation). Both men are, like Gaul, over 80.
“I’m 87,” Gaul says with a chuckle. “I won’t tell you their age.” Both men were thrilled with the flight, but for Wayne it was especially nostalgic – he used to fly gliders.
The second plane held three more residents of Carleton House, Sheena Guest, Davis McAlary, and Devita Broadbent. “They flew out over Sooke,” says Gaul. “While we took off over Bear Mountain and on toward Duncan. It was a like flying back through memory lane.”
When asked if she considered it unusual for a group of octogenarians to charter a small plane to fly around the Island, Gaul responded that the whole group is quite capable of “holding their own.”
“We’re ready to do it again,” she says. “Or, maybe next we’ll try bungee jumping.”
After a moment, she laughs and adds, “No, that wouldn’t work. I’m afraid of heights.”