Se­nior lives life with al­ti­tude Val­ley man fly­ing high at 80

Upper Hutt Leader - - FRONT PAGE - By JIM CHIPP

Neil McCabe took his first fly­ing les­son at 64 years old and now he’s New Zealand’s sec­ond-old­est li­censed he­li­copter pi­lot.

The Up­per Hutt busi­ness­man turned 80 last week and he’s still fly­ing high.

Mr McCabe said he was in­spired to give it a go when he met prom­i­nent pi­lot Brett Emeny at a fam­ily fu­neral in New Ply­mouth.

‘‘We were talk­ing and I told him ‘ I’d like to get my he­li­copter li­cence but I’m too old’,’’ he said.

‘‘Oh, you’re never too old to fly,’’ Mr Emeny said.

The fol­low­ing Mon­day Mr McCabe went to the Helipro of­fice on Queen’s Wharf and said ‘‘ I want to fly’’.

His first train­ing flight was in De­cem­ber 1998. At the time the Civil Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity had a more rig­or­ous med­i­cal pol­icy for older pi­lots and he ex­pe­ri­enced some early dif­fi­cul­ties, but the pol­icy re­laxed and he passed his li­cence in 1999 at 65.

Mr McCabe bought his own he­li­copter, a Robin­son R22, and it was a sen­si­tive topic in his home.

He told his wife just a few days be­fore it was due to be de­liv­ered.

He flies for plea­sure and for some per­sonal busi­ness travel for his plas­tics mould­ing com­pany.

He has had ex­cur­sions to Ash­bur­ton, Hok­i­tika, Blen­heim and Tai­hape. He reg­u­larly flies to Nel­son, where his air­craft is ser­viced ev­ery 50 fly­ing hours.

‘‘One of the prob­lems of he­li­copter fly­ing is that you need good weather,’’ he said.

Sev­eral con­sec­u­tive days of good weather around Wellington is a fairly rare oc­cur­rence, par­tic­u­larly over Cook Strait, so some­times he has to be pre­pared to leave his air­craft be­hind and travel home some other way.

Mr McCabe’s friend Mau­rice Wooster, also a he­li­copter pi­lot, takes an in­ter­est in his fly­ing.

‘‘He doesn’t just fly in cir­cles around here,’’ he said.

‘‘That in­volves him in fly­ing into other air­ports and learn­ing dif­fer­ent con­trols.’’

Mr McCabe said he found that kept his brain ac­tive.

Fly­ing air­craft was just a small part of a pi­lot’s du­ties. Main­tain­ing the ma­chine is a big part, and so is the pa­per­work.

He will know when it is time to stop, he said.

He­li­copter-pi­lot­ing was not his first foray into flight.

In 1955, Mr McCabe and a friend as­sem­bled an Amer­i­can­designed gy­ro­copter.

‘‘We had a cou­ple of teth­ered flights and we had a cou­ple of in­ci­dents, and we broke a cou­ple of sets of blades, and we both gave it away,’’ he said.

‘‘It wasn’t un­til that meet­ing up in New Ply­mouth that I got in­ter­ested again.’’

Ag­ing with at­ti­tude: Eighty-year-old he­li­copter pi­lot Neil McCabe at the con­trols of his Robin­son R22 over the Hutt Val­ley. Inset: Neil McCabe.

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