Percy B. Decarteret, 84, just may be the oldest pilot still teaching people to fly and, by reputation, is the toughest pilot license examiner currently certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Mention DeCarteret's name around any airport in California's San Joaquin Valley and you will likely get a grin, a shake of the head and some comment on how meticulous a flier this octagenarian is and how hard it is to pass one of his FAA flight tests.
According to FAA records, DeCarteret is one of 49,362 certified flight instructors, and one of the 1,500 instructors who are certified FAA "pilot examiners."
He is qualified to teach and evaluate pilots in both single and multiengine aircraft and to give instrument and sterological training.
FAA spokespersons and officials of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association say DeCarteret is probably the oldest flight instructor and license examiner in the country.
Away from the airport Percy DeCarteret does not look like a pilot, but then neither does he look like a man born in 1894. He is a thin, taciturn fellow, a great grandfather who might be an electrician or a telephone repair expert, or a small town businessman.
Actually he was all of these things before he learned to fly in 1939. He was 45, at the time, married and the father of two.
Since 1939 he has logged nearly 8,000 hours and has certified 656 students for their FAA private pilot's license. He is still giving 30 to 35 flight tests a year, even though he is semiretired.
DeCarteret admits he is a stickler for detail and that his 2 1/2 to 3-hour-long "check-rides' are more exhaustive than those given by most examiners.
But he insists it is important for students to demonstrate they can handle an airplane under any emergency conditions.
DeCarteret said he had had a total of 10 forced landings in his career, but adds "I've never put so much as nickle's worth of damage on any airplane."
DeCarteret was only 9 and living in Seattle when the Wright brothers made the first powered flight at Kitty Hawk. He doesn't recall hearing about the event until years later.
In fact, it was not until 1915 that he even got the urge to learn to fly. "We were at the world's fair, in San Francisco, and watched Art Smith put on an air show in an old bamboo and cloth ship. It was something, he even wrote his name in the air."
DeCarteret said he failed to get into the newly created Army Flying Corps during World War I because he lacked a college education. He ended up operating radios that linked artillery gunners to the spotter airplanes that flew over German positions.
Shortly after World War I ended the DeCarteret family moved from Seattle to Exeter. "My dad bought the Exeter phone company and I went to work for him. We had 175 phone connections when we started."
Using the expertise he learned in service, DeCarteret kept the phones in repair, and worked in the family "electric business," building and repairing radios for townspeople and farm families.
DeCarteret always remembered the air show put on by Art Smith, but it wasn't until 1939 that he had the time and the money to learn to fly. For someone who wanted to switch careers, the timing could not have been better.
By the time DeCarteret got his private license and qualified for his commercial license. World War II was building in Europe and the Army Air Corps was scrambling to expand.
Hundreds of experienced pilots were needed by the private flying schools that contracted to train military pilots.
DeCarteret had 80 hours of flight time and his commercial license when he went to work for the Visalia-Dinuba, (Calif.) School of Aeronautics, at Sequoia Field, in 1943. At the time thier school had a dozen "flights" of cadets, 60 cadets to a single flight, 12 instructions to a flight.
DeCarteret wanted one of the $360-a-month instructor jobs, but he started for about half that amount, dispatching and test flying the aircraft that had been overhauled by mechanics.