Age has proven no barrier to the effervescent Col Griffin who, at 90, is one of Australia’s oldest licensed pilots.
Story By Kathy Mexted
“Col Griffin – you were an old bloke when you taught me to fly in the ’80s!” Scott Thompson is surprised to bump into his elderly flying instructor closing up the hangar at Kyneton in central Victoria. “So you’re flying for the airlines?” Col says. “I must have taught you well then.”
If Scott is amazed at the chance meeting, he’s even more amazed when Col climbs into his two-seat RV6 and sets course for Adelaide. The boy from Strathalbyn, SA, born on September 1, 1919 (that’s 1.9.1919 – a numerologist’s dream date), was heading home to celebrate his 90th birthday.
The 350-nautical-mile flight is a snip for this veteran with 68 years in the industry, and more than 30,000 flying hours behind him, covering most parts of Australia. Initially trained as an RAAF Mosquito pilot, post-war he became an airline pilot. Ten years instructing at a flying school followed, and now at 90 he is content to fly for leisure.
His good health and longevity are attributed to genetics and a lifetime of athletics. Col imparts to anybody who’s interested, “Keep off the sauce and get a good night’s sleep. Oh, I’ll make 100; I’ll walk it in. Well, I’ll try anyway.” He won his first marathon at 14 and ran his last at 85. His knees finally gave out and have been replaced, but he expects to be flying for a while yet, and spends most Saturdays at the airport. Favourable conditions see him take the RV6 up, and a couple of times a month fly away for lunch with his wife Doreen.
“Doreen and I lost touch during the war while I was in England,” Col says. “In 1997 I sent a photo I’d taken of her 56 years prior, attaching a note, ‘I’m sorry it’s a bit tattered’.” Surprisingly to Col, she wrote back and said, ‘That’s okay. I’m a bit tattered myself these days.’” He flew himself to South Australia, borrowed a mate’s car and drove up to McLaren Vale where she was living. “I couldn’t wait to see her,” he says, “And when I saw her sitting at the table, I thought, she hasn’t changed a bit”. He adds with emphasis, “I wasn’t letting her go a second time, so I asked her to marry me and we’ve been married now for 10 years.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #70
Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2010