2017-12-01 / Front Page

Loving life in the sky and on land


Ninety-three year old Jack Starling enjoys his remote control lawn mower. Ninety-three year old Jack Starling enjoys his remote control lawn mower. Ninety- three- year old Columbia resident Jack Starling isn’t about to let life pass him by—either on the land or in the sky.

He’s a pilot who takes to the air regularly in his Piper Cherokee 140 to meet his friends for breakfast and lunch. He’s a person who likes to repurpose existing electronics into new and interesting uses. He’s a guy who doesn’t want to sit still and let age and fear catch up with him.

“As long as I can go do what I want to do, then I want to keep on living,” said Starling. “I’ve been real lucky that I can do that.”

Starling, originally born and raised in Columbus, Georgia, was training to fly a C-47 towing plane in anticipation of fighting in World War II, but that plan was derailed before the company could go into action, as the war ended in 1945, right before the completion of training.


Jack Starling flies his Piper Cherokee 14 plane to meet friends for breakfast. Jack Starling flies his Piper Cherokee 14 plane to meet friends for breakfast. The trainees were divided into three sections, and Starling was one of several who was sent to North Carolina to train in the art of flying gliders.

“We were young kids back then, and we gave the people sort of a hard time,” he remembered. “The next class that came in was threatened with getting their license pulled if they messed up like we did.”

Although aviation was in Starling’s blood, he didn’t want to make a career as a commercial pilot in his civilian life.

“Back then, they flew you to a particular route, like Atlanta or New York, and then you had to spend the night and fly back the next morning,” he said. “Being a newlywed, I didn’t want to get involved in all that.”

He was married to his wife of 61 years, Verlin, also known as “Lin,” who was, like him, an amateur radio enthusiast. He has continued that interest in the decade after her passing. And then, as in the past, and today, there is flying.

The desire to take to the sky hit him again more than two decades later after the war. In 1986, he bought the Piper Cherokee and started participating in activities with other fellow aviators, including “breakfast clubs” and “lunch clubs” that are quite different than one would imagine.

“On certain Saturdays, at breakfast club, we fly to a certain airport and have breakfast,” Starling said. “At lunch club, every other Friday, we do the same.”

When pressed on his favorite airport, Starling admits only to loving his home base at Owens Field.

His aerial hobby is just one of Starling’s talents, which he was rather reluctant to expand on during an interview with the Star. His other area of expertise includes repurposing existing materials into new and innovative uses.

For example, he fashioned a motorized wheelchair and a lawn mower into a remote-controlled device that is guided manually—similar to the way one might steer a miniature plane or toy boat.

“I like to build things —mostly out of things I already have,” he said. “I’m not really an inventor.”

He also maintains his and his daughter’s automobiles, does his own home repair, and generally just lets each day dictate the direction his imagination takes him.

“I wake up each day, take a shower, eat my breakfast, and decide what to do,” he said. “It’s pretty simple.”

With all his interests, Starling said he doesn’t reflect much on the secret to a long and fruitful existence.

He does, however, have a bit of advice for those who want to age gracefully and with purpose.

“Don’t say you are too old to do something,” he said. “You should never let fear stop you from doing what you want to do.”

And what Jack Starling wants to do is fly, repurpose and choose his own path. And he does.

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