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Still soaring at 83

Schenectady man sky high as he earns glider license

Saratoga Soaring Association members congratulate Dr. Robert Mitchell on earning his FAA Private Pilot (Glider) License on Friday, Nov. 4, at the Saratoga County Airport. From left, Fred Woll, tow pilot; Jim Morzillo, FAA Examiner; Pam Grandin, student pilot; Robert Mitchell; and Doug Hatch, Mitchell’s endorsing instructor and mentor.

Saratoga Soaring Association members congratulate Dr. Robert Mitchell on earning his FAA Private Pilot (Glider) License on Friday, Nov. 4, at the Saratoga County Airport. From left, Fred Woll, tow pilot; Jim Morzillo, FAA Examiner; Pam Grandin, student pilot; Robert Mitchell; and Doug Hatch, Mitchell’s endorsing instructor and mentor. Submitted photo

— At 83 years old, Dr. Robert Mitchell may be one of the oldest new pilots in the nation, but he’s just happy to be gliding through the sky.

Mitchell earned his FAA Private Pilot License for glider planes earlier this month at Saratoga County Airport. He trained for three years before taking the exam.

This wasn’t the first time Mitchell had stepped into the cockpit, though.

“I started flying when I was in medical school back in Scotland and I have always been quite enthusiastic about flying,” said Mitchell. “It was a childhood dream that I would be a pilot.”

Mitchell grew up in Britain the years before and during World War II. He was 12 years old during the Battle of Britain, the air campaign waged by the German Air Force against the United Kingdom during the summer and autumn of 1940. The battle also marked the first major campaign fought exclusively by air forces.

“That was a very important part of my life experience as a child,” Mitchell said of the Battle of Britain. “The adventure, excitement … probably a lot of kids my age then wanted to be fighter pilots and save the country.”

World War II concluded before he was old enough to join the air force, but he did serve as a cadet in the British Royal Air Force for five years and flew de Havilland Tiger Moth biplanes with the Aberdeen University Air Squadron.

Mitchell has lived in the United States since 1955 and currently lives in the City of Schenectady. He also graduated from medical school before moving to the states. He now works at Saratoga Hospital in the psychiatric clinic part time. He said he finds his work similar to flying, because both have elements of the unknown.

Gliders don’t have an engine, so they use updrafts called thermals to keep the plane flying through the air. Airliner pilots don’t welcome turbulence, he said, but some turbulence is a good thing for glider pilots. An ideal soaring day would be a couple of days after a cold front passed when there are “lots of floppy” cumulus clouds.

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