For man’s 100th: The gift of flight

VIENNA – George Craig hasn’t been a private pilot for some 40 years. Then again, he is 100.

To be exact, his 100th birthday was Saturday. To celebrate, local pilot Rick Phillips has agreed to fly him around the county today.

Craig’s daughter Shirley Arbogast said the idea came from one of her cousins and being that Arbogast works at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, things just seemed to fall into place. Arbogast said she chatted with the administrative assistant at the airport, who connected her to Phillips.

“It will make me feel great to get another pilot up there,” Phillips said.

He said he has taken others on flights, but mostly flies for his own amusement.

“I told (my father) about it a week ago, but I don’t think he believes me,” Arbogast said.

Craig said he began flying around 1947 after World War II when his friends returned and used the G.I. Bill of Rights to learn to fly.

“I had to do the same thing,” Craig said.

At one time he owned his own Cessna. Mostly he said he would fly out of the Alliance Airport.

He also served as part of the Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, that would help look for missing persons and aid in various emergency situations.

Craig said in this area things were pretty calm for the patrol though and he flew mostly for recreational purposes. Among his favorite places to soar were Ashtabula and Niagara Falls.

“It was nice. I always enjoyed flying,” Craig said.

Of course his time in the air didn’t come without the occasional mishap.

“I ran out of gas one time, but it was a happy ending. I was able to glide into a field,” he said.

At the time, though, Craig said his thoughts were, “Stupid! That’s the first thing you always look at – the gas tank.”

“He’s got nine lives,” Arbogast said.

His last flight as a pilot was in the 1970s. At age 94, Craig underwent a quadruple bypass heart surgery and last December broke his hip, but Arbogast said he is by no means “frail.” In fact he is living independently in a Shepherd of the Valley villa.

Weather permitting, Craig, Phillips and a couple of Craig’s relatives will take to the skies in Phillips’ Cessna today in celebration of what Craig insists is “just another day.”