Up, up and away!

By Geoff Lee

November 24, 2016 9:50 AM

AGE IS NOTHING BUT A NUMBER Seventy-seven-year-old student pilot, Dan Holt ,gives the thumbs up as he's stoked to be the oldest new student pilot in the history of Border City Aviation behind the controls of this vintage Cessna 172 aircraft. GEOFF LEE LLS PHOTO

Dan Holt is flying high in the skies above Lloydminster
The 77 year-old student pilot, who lives in Athabasca, is just days away from earning his pilot’s licence at Border City Aviation.
It’s a now or never opportunity for Holt to check it off his bucket list.
“I missed my chance when I was 16 in the air cadets—I had my chance to get it and I took a job with good money instead and I’ve regretted it ever since,” he said.
He aims to pass with flying colours and take his partner, Arlene Anderson, for a celebratory flight on the 1962 Cessna 172 she bought for both of them to learn to fly.
Holt says he just wants to be a fair weather pilot as the plane is set up for visual approaches.
“That’s all I want to do – on a nice day go flying,” he said.
Holt has already amassed more than 60 hours of flying time and is nearly ready for his exam.
“I’m just polishing up for my final test—on my flying, some of the things aren’t just perfect,” he said.
Holt said his lifelong desire to fly a plane “queued up” for him a little over a year ago.
“I went with friends to a little personal fly-in and my lady and myself both decided we were going to do it.”
Anderson is taking her ground schooling first, leaving Holt to fly her Cessna that she bought in Lloydminster.
Holt says the plane is one of the most common trainer planes that is a joy to fly.
“They are very simple and fly very good—they handle very easily,” he said, adding the tricky part is dealing with high cross winds.
Holt started lessons in Athabasca in April and will finish up in Lloydminster under the guidance of chief flight instructor, Erwin Warkentin, who says Holt is the oldest new learner he’s taught.
“There’s things that he learned really quickly—I didn’t have to teach him map reading, because he’s part of the old school,” said Warkentin.
“He learned how to navigate with maps, not with Google.”
He said Holt’s teaching him that sometimes just the simplest way, is the way to teach someone.
“He’s very much a pencil and paper kind of guy,” said Warkentin.
Holt was raised on a farm in Peace River, just two and a half miles south of the airport where he and his brothers used to go to watch planes take off.
“My older brother got his pilot licence at 16 through the air cadets and I messed up there,” said Holt, who’s not letting his second chance slip away.
He noted his brother, who’s now 80 and lives in Nova Scotia,  is thrilled to hear he is finally learning to fly.
Holt is a retired journeyman automotive and heavy duty mechanic who flew dozens of times as an oilfield consultant—as a passenger.
“Over the years, I put in hundreds of hours of flying in small planes over the northern Albertan bush,” she said.
He said all that flying kept his piloting interest keen, noting he’s had some adventures, as he calls them, in small aircraft over the years.
“Coming out of Rainbow Lake on a DC-3 in the early 70s, one engine all of a sudden got really rough so they shut it off, and the DC-3 just plugged along on one engine and landed in Peace River,” recalled Holt.
“They checked it out and one spark plug had blown out of the engine.”
Another time, he said while flying in a Cessna 172, similar to the one he’s learning to fly, smoke came rolling out from under the dash, but despite the scare, they landed safely in High Level.
“I had a lot of confidence in the man operating it,” said Holt, who had no thoughts of crashing.
Learning to fly at a late age hasn’t been as easy as he thought it would be.
“My reactions aren’t like they were when I was 16—some of its a little tricky,” he said.
Holt passed his Class 3 medical in order to fly, but he’s ever hyper to the onset of allergies to things like new paper and over ripe bananas that will ground him from flying that day.
His allergies were caused by complications from an appendix operation he had as a kid.
Three months after corrective surgery in the 90s, Holt said he was climbing slopes in the west hunting sheep.
“I try to stay in good shape—I do a lot of walking in the bush hunting,” said Holt.
He’s had no allergic reactions in the cockpit and Warkentin’s okay with it.
“He’s a very regular flyer for us (and) at the end of the day we all have to pass a medical,” said Warkentin.
“It’s not every day. I am teaching someone basically as old as my grandfather to fly a plane.”
He said Holt is doing it for fun.
“It’s kind of a life goal that he’s had— it’s now or never sort of mentality,” said Warkentin.

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