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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Never too old for piloting

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

I can now state confidently that there are four authenticated UFOs based in Hawai'i. I have been in personal contact with three of them over lunch at the coffee shop in the Hale Koa Hotel and can assure you that there is nothing mysterious about UFOs. In fact, they talk your ear off.

These UFOs are members of the United Flying Octogenarians, a nationwide organization of active aviators 80 or older. Maybe that's the mystery. What keeps them in the air when other 80-year-olds retire to hospital beds?

John Gleeson, 82, of Waikiki, said what keeps him flying is the risk involved. During World War II in the Army Air Force, he flew into Sweden as a spook for the OSS, forerunner to the CIA.

Jack L. DeTour, 82, of 'Aiea, said his squadron in the Philippines skip-bombed at such low altitude that the planes came back with branches of jungle trees stuck in the wings and the rigging of Japanese destroyers stuck in the tail.

About risks, DeTour said: "I'd rather fly to Moloka'i than drive to the North Shore. It's safer."

"No, the element of risk is missing," Gleeson argued. "If you lose your engine on the way to the North Shore, you're OK. If you lose your engine over the ocean on the way to Moloka'i, you have a problem."

Willy Schauer Jr., 82, a retired Air Force colonel who lives on Wai'alae Nui Ridge, didn't get into the argument. He sat there looking smug, then pulled out his wallet, much as older people do when they want to show you photos of their grandchildren.

His snapshots are of planes.

One is a single-seat biplane that he built himself, 16 feet, 8 inches from wingtip to wingtip, top speed 100 miles an hour. The tank holds 12 gallons of gas that keeps him in the air less than three hours.

The other plane is a red RV-4 monoplane he performs acrobatics in. In the rearview mirror, Willy can see the faces of younger passengers in the rear cockpit. When their faces turn green, he stops doing barrel rolls and heads for home.

DeTour's wife said he flunked retirement because he's flown for half a dozen companies after leaving the Air Force. He said he once flew a gyrocopter from Ka'ena Point to Dillingham Field "like standing on a basketball."

One of four UFOs in Hawai'i couldn't make it. Just as well. He wouldn't have gotten a word in edgewise. As soon as one told a war story, another UFO would top it.

I thought I had them stumped when I asked what they do in the air when they have to go wee-wee, as 82-year-olds are inclined to do. Gleeson had a ready answer: "We take short trips."

Reach Bob Krauss at 525-8073.