• An Old and Yes, a Bold Pilot

    Posted on October 12th, 2013 John Dorcey 4 comments
    Central County Airport (68C)

    Central County Airport (68C), photo courtesy WisDOT Aero

    Yesterday was a great day for flying – the morning air was like glass, the fall colors were dramatic in the glittering sunlight, and there was a birthday celebration to attend.  Even better, a birthday party at an airport. This wasn’t just any birthday and Iola’s Central County Airport (68C) isn’t just any airport. You might assume that this little gem of a landing facility is in the central part of Wisconsin. Actually located east of the state’s geographic center, it is however in the center of Waupaca County.

    Each of the airport’s three turf runways provide a challenge for pilots. There are trees, wires or farm buildings providing distractions during the approach. Then there are the relatively short runways – average length is barely 2000 feet. Almost every Friday throughout the year, the Central County Flyers Association hosts a lunch that draws a crowd. Yesterday, it was an exceptional crowd. Early reports put the unconfirmed number of aircraft that flew in at just over 50, including a pretty Beech 18 from Manitowoc (KMTW). The auto parking lot was overflowing with an estimated 75 vehicles.

    You could assume that it was the food or the beautiful fall weather that attracted the crowd. While it is true those things helped, everyone was there to celebrate the 100th birthday of local pilot Paul Johns. Paul was born in Indiana on October 11, 1913, raised in Illinois, and spent his adult life in Wisconsin. Well he lived in Wisconsin when he wasn’t flying somewhere else in the world. Paul soloed a glider at the tender age of 15 in 1929. Two years later he soloed a Curtiss Pusher and another year later, at age 18, he held a limited commercial pilot certificate. Joining the Naval Reserve during the Depression, Paul acquired a radio repair certificate and his A&E aircraft mechanic certificate. He then began instructing naval cadets in the Link Trainer. He was hired by Pan Am Airlines in 1939 to develop their instrument training program.

    Air race legend Bill Brennand (left) and Paul Johns (right) elder statesmen of Wisconsin aviation

    Air race legend Bill Brennand (left) and Paul Johns (right) elder statesmen of Wisconsin aviation

    Paul achieved his ultimate goal when he was named a line pilot for the carrier, first flying DC-3s throughout the Caribbean and South America. Then, in 1944, Paul was transferred to the carrier’s Pacific fleet where he flew the PB2Y3 and the fabled Boeing 314 Clipper. Captain Johns completed 220 trans-Pacific flights. His growing family pulled him away from those long flights and Pan Am and he hired on as a corporate pilot in Racine, Wisconsin. He flew Beech 18s for J.I. Case and a DC-3 for Walker Engineering. Reaching retirement age Paul transferred into the Walker’s engineering department.

    Just part of the crowd celebrating Paul John's 100th Birthday at Iola's Central County Airport

    Just part of the crowd celebrating Paul John’s 100th Birthday at Iola’s Central County Airport

    He may have retired from corporate flying but he never lost his love of flying and maintaining aircraft. At the tender age of 75, Paul ordered plans and materials for a Kitfox homebuilt airplane. One year after construction began, the aircraft made its first flight. He flew the airplane for seven years before selling it. After 66 years of flying Paul hung up his goggles. Paul remains active in the electronics and computer fields. He was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame in 2009. He’s attended every annual event since.

    Paul still drives himself out to the Central County Airport every Friday for lunch. You will find him seated at the end of a picnic table where he shares his many flying stories with anyone who asks. The twinkle in his eye seems to get brighter as he moves along each story. His reliving those history making flights must keep him young. Happy Birthday Paul! Captain Johns, you are amazing, for at 100, you are indeed an old pilot and a bold pilot.


    4 responses to “An Old and Yes, a Bold Pilot” RSS icon

    • I told Paul at the end of the day I’ll see him again next year at his 101th!! I made the effort of bringing the 18 in that day as Paul flew Beech 18’s years ago. He made a point of coming out to get a close look at the machine and I’m sure it brought back memories!!

      As these other folks have mentioned you need to meet and talk to Paul to really appreciate what an awesome Gentleman he is. The EAA has a thing something like “voices of aviation” and did a video/interview of Paul-VERY INTERESTING to say the least.

      Come to 68C on a Friday afternoon and have lunch with Paul Johns-You’ll be glad you did.

      See you many times on Fridays b4 your 101th Paul.

    • tania wadzinski

      Agreed, great story about Paul but why not…..he’s the real deal. An absolutely facinating person.
      How lucky Central County is to have him as ‘one of the guys’ at Friday lunch. If you haven’t had the chance to meet and talk with Paul you’re missing a part of history.
      Happy 100th Paul.

    • Very nice story, John, about a very nice man, and a legendary pilot. I’ve often said that there’s no place on earth that’s quite like Central County on a Friday noon. I’d also say that there’s no one on earth quite like Captain Paul. What an inspiration, at 100! 68C and Paul Johns represent the best of the general aviation world. One oversight, John: you didn’t mention Paul’s tablet computer. Amazing at 100!

    • Great story about Paul, but for those of you who do not know Paul you have to meet him, hear his stories and spend time with him to understand the depth of his love of aviation and what a kind loving humble man that he is! He is truly walking talking history and a true legend and and I am proud that he is my friend and my hero!! Blue Skies Paul!!

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