A Wing and a Prayer

Even at 100, Cole Kugel is ready for takeoff.

"Never dreamed of a birthday like this," he said, squinting through the flash of another camera. "Going color-blind, though."

The next day is milder, and Cole is ready for takeoff. Twenty minutes into the flight, after he's circled his farm, he steers his old plane toward Longmont and then lands at the airport he helped build, as smoothly as a mallard in a lily pond.

John Johnston
The wild blue yonder: The Longmont Flying Ranchers then (Cole Kugel is ninth from the left).
The wild blue yonder: The Longmont Flying Ranchers then (Cole Kugel is ninth from the left).

"Well," he tells a group of spectators. "Brought it back. Didn't break it up, either."

His niece, Kay Sachs, plants a kiss on his cheek.

"Hey," she says. "Good job."

His nephew, Bryan Kugel, offers his own critique.

"You flew outta here as straight as a beaver on takeoff and didn't wobble a bit," he says. "And then you set it down better than a lot of other guys out here. Tail wind didn't bother you a bit. Haven't lost your touch."

Lynn Ferguson, who kept his birthday promise by sitting next to Cole through the flight, reports that Cole was calm and confident during their short trip. When Warren Rempel flew by them a few times in a vintage World War II plane, performing a congratulatory roll, Cole didn't flinch. "He did great," Ferguson says. "He told me, 'I want my plane back.'"

"Oh," Cole chuckles. "I just might take it back. I feel right at home in this seat. But I'll pay you for the paint job."

When someone suggests a 101st birthday flight, though, Cole laughs it off. For now, this is enough. For now, he is content.

For thirty glorious minutes, he was an Oklahoma farm boy again, soaring above the pasture with the wind and the clouds and going places, just like a bird.

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