Pilot, 82, smooth as silk at controls after decades out of cockpit

Robert Smuts, 82, admires an aircraft parked at Grand Junction Regional Airport after flying one himself again after nearly 30 years, and impressing the instructor who went up with him.

Robert Smuts doesn’t have any regrets about the 82 years he has lived so far, but there are a few things he’d like to give one more try before he’s through.

“I just wanted to see if I could fly again,” Smuts said, grinning wide while gripping his cane and rubbing his sore knees in the Colorado Flight School lobby Thursday morning.

Smuts had just returned from an hourlong scenic tour of the Grand Valley with flight instructor Nikki Bozarth.

“It felt wonderful,” he said after adjusting his hearing aid.

“They say it’s like riding a bike, but with these newer planes, I needed to be updated,” he said, at the same time giving Bozarth a wink and nod.

It had been nearly 30 years since Smuts had flown a plane. Back in 1968, he was a licensed pilot who flew a Cherokee 150 for pleasure.

On Thursday, he gripped the stick, guiding a state-of-the-art Cessna 182 with a glass panel.

“This is a huge accomplishment for him to have flown such a technically advanced aircraft,” Bozarth said. “He’s quite a bit older to be up there, but he fell right back into it.”

Smuts was shocked at how large Grand Junction had grown to be.

“I was absolutely amazed,” he said, adding he even saw his house on Orchard Mesa while in flight.

Smuts, who grew up in Indiana, owned a peach orchard in Palisade until the mid-1980s. He moved out of the Grand Valley and only returned nine months ago to be closer to his family.

Originally, Smuts had planned to fly to Rangely, where he had completed flight school, but he had to be satisfied with touring the valley on Thursday as the Rangely airport had been closed for the day.

It didn’t matter. Smuts just wanted to fly one last time.

“Once you fall in love with aviation, it never leaves you,” Bozarth said, adding she often is hired by people who want to check flying off their life’s list.

Smuts, who was recently diagnosed with emphysema, said he has just a few things left to mark off his list.

“I think I’ll just spend my inheritance before my boys get at it,” he joked, adding his sons gave him the go-ahead to do just that.

Last week, Smuts played nine holes of golf with his son in Rangely. It had been six years since he had hit a golf ball.

“I hit it pretty good too,” he said.

Pretty soon, he wants to host a barbecue or a shrimp boil for all of his friends and family.

“I cooked a whole beef one time, and it fed over 300 people,” he recalled.

Next fall, he has plans to catch a really big fish in Alaska.

Other than the items left on his list, Smuts said he has done all there is to do. He and his wife,  Phyllis, have worn out three motorhomes by traveling 300,000 miles since retirement.

“My knees are wore out, but my heart is good,” Smuts said. “I told the doctor there were two things that are the best prescriptions — love and laughter.”


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