The Amazing Gift

This may well be the happiest story I’ve ever posted on LadiesLoveTaildraggers and it happens to be about my friend Nancy Warren, 84 years young.   Nancy is a pilot and truly remarkable woman who took her first flying lesson in her 50s. She’s a former Citabria owner, a member of LadiesLoveTaildraggers, and until recently, proud owner of Cardinal N30172.

Nancy Warren riding for the 1st time in the backseat of her Cardinal. (Notice her LadiesLoveTaildraggers tshirt!)

Nancy will be the first to tell you she’s had a wonderful life with many happy hours spent aloft in her 30 years of flying. She has fond memories of the support and encouragement she received as a student pilot and early in her flying career. It was the contacts she made in the early years that paved the way for her to fly right-seat in DC3’s and Beech 18s.

Nancy Warren, DC-3

At 84, Nancy appears to be the picture of health and even has a recent biannual & 3rd class medical. She could continue to fly but recognizes she’s slowing down a little ….. and that got her to thinking. Please read on and you’ll understand why I believe this is happiest story I’ve ever posted!

Always a Pilot

by Nancy Warren


For quite some time…..especially the past few years…..I have thought about this time, even as I dreaded it. Overriding the dread, however, was a growing commitment and determination to end my time in the sky on a “high note”.

I wondered if I would know when it was time to “hang it up” in order to do that.

You see, I didn’t want to wait until I had gone past that time and incurred a bad experience…for me, the airplane, or anyone else. And I really didn’t want to “lose” my license to fly; to have it taken from me because of an inadvertent violation of the regulations, failing a flight physical, or any type of incident or accident. So, I waited and continued to fly, though not as often or as far as in the past. And, I never flew on days when I didn’t feel well and strong! (We do experience good days and bad days as we get older, especially past 80.) However, I had passed my flight physical easily this year, also my BFR. Both the plane and I were in good condition!

As time went on, the thought of my flying days ending somehow felt less painful and depressing. I even talked about it more.

Nancy Warren with Eric DeBusk, left, and Thomas Kieffer, right

And then, almost two years ago, I received a letter from a young pilot, Thomas Kieffer, who had read my book and wanted to know if we could meet for breakfast or lunch and “talk about flying”. We met, talked flying, and I came away very impressed with this young man. Then, I met Eric DeBusk, another young pilot, close friend and flying buddy of Thomas, who also greatly impressed me.

We had frequent contact with each other and the next thing I knew I was climbing into the rear seat of their rented Cherokee 140 one day to fly to lunch and do some shopping with them. I loved it! From that time on, when the Cardinal and I were flying somewhere, one or both of them would go along if they were free. It gave them opportunities to fly and become familiar with the Cardinal. In no time, this unusual alliance of pilots, a 19 year-old, 21 year-old, and 83 year-old, were planning a flight to Sarasota, Florida. We made the flight in June, 2012. Had terrible weather….took two days to get there….visited an amazing number of airports….and had more fun than you could imagine!

Eric says, “Thomas didn’t realize how many sectionals it takes to get to Florida!”

The boys took turns in the left seat as PIC, while I rode in the right seat. This gave me time and opportunity to observe how well they flew individually, their teamwork, and their judgment in dealing with the challenging weather conditions. They did a great job and I was totally confident in their ability to fly well and safely.

In Florida, as the three of us were having breakfast one morning at the Blue Dolphin on Longboat Key, I looked across the table at these two fine young pilots who had become as dear to me as grandsons, and I knew this was “the time”. I said, “Thomas and Eric, I have something to tell you.” Both looked up from their breakfast with attention. (they are so courteous and respectful) “I am giving the Cardinal to the two of you.” Thomas looked stunned, and I think Eric had tears in his eyes. They truly didn’t know what to say for a few seconds, and then they broke into smiles, laughter, and excited conversation.

I’m sure there was no sleeping by either one of them that night!

Pilots Thomas Kieffer & Eric DeBusk flying the Cardinal.Thomas is a sophomore at Purdue University and Eric is
studying mechanical engineering at the
Purdue College of Technology in Columbus, Indiana. 

So, how did I feel then? Like I had just done the most important and the most “right” thing that I could ever do in my life. It felt like giving back a little of all that had been given to me and done for me throughout my journey in the world of aviation.

I have loved every moment of my time in the skies….embraced every adventure….met every challenge, accepted every failure, and savored every triumph. I felt blessed to have done what I’d hoped to do…end my journey on a high note. Now, I could hand over the keys with a glad and grateful heart, for I’d had my turn….. now it was theirs. Even more, N30172 will remain in the area, and the boys and I will fly together from time to time.

Proud part owner, Thomas Kieffer

Did I have even a moment where I thought, “my God! What have I done!?” Oh, yes! It was the day when all the paperwork was done and sent in to FAA, Insurance people, and State Revenue people. Suddenly the finality of it hit me….I don’t have an airplane anymore. I don’t even feel like a pilot anymore. Who am I now?

It was my flying buddy, Rusty, who rescued me that day with these words, “Before you were born, and after you leave this life, you WILL ALWAYS BE A PILOT.”


  • Owen Stiegelmeier
    Posted at 20:15h, 30 December Reply

    Nancy ,what a great story. From a fellow UFO and tail dragger pilot I am not ready to hang it up yet but have to admit I thought about it many times.Happy new year.

  • Elaine Kauh
    Posted at 16:03h, 26 December Reply

    I loved seeing your Cardinal, which is my favorite nosewheel to fly! Years ago I used to fly one that looked nearly identical – the gorgeous maroon color scheme and the STOL kit with the ‘thin wings’. Now I am building my Cardinal time in a similar 177A. What a beautiful airplane to go with this touching story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  • L D Jeffries
    Posted at 12:03h, 21 December Reply

    There are two possibilities in every pilots life. The time will come when they walk out to their aircraft not knowing this is their last flight, or when they walk out to their aircraft fully realizing it is their last flight. I believe for all of us who look skyward our entire lives, this event is as significant a day as our first flight or solo. I will choose the second if granted the choice, and stories like Nancy’s, although sad and heart tugging, are also uplifting and inspiring. Her “grandsons” will now carry it forward for life, and her courageous, generous, loving act will likely positively affect hundreds of current and future aviators. I salute you Nancy with tears in my eyes! God speed!

  • Linda Melhoff
    Posted at 10:33h, 21 December Reply

    My mother hung up her goggles at age 80 and gifted her 2 airplanes to her 2 pilot daughters. Her love of the sky never changed. She is proof that you are always a pilot and your long connection with aviation and the people you’ve met along the way does not end ever.

    I admire you, Nancy, and the decision you’ve made. Your story made my holiday!

  • tina thomas
    Posted at 08:54h, 21 December Reply

    Absolutely Amazing!

  • Kelly Jeffries
    Posted at 08:32h, 21 December Reply

    You are a class act, Nancy. You may no longer be PIC (Pilot in Command) but you certainly are a Pretty Impressive Chick! Have those boys chauffeur you to Savannah, TN for the next LLT Fly-in.

  • Ray Johnson
    Posted at 01:20h, 21 December Reply

    Incredible !!!!!

  • ginny wilken
    Posted at 22:15h, 20 December Reply

    Beautiful, and correct in every way, Nancy! I started later in life, too, and will have one gorgeous Skyhawk looking for a home eventually. I hope I find someone as worthy as you did.

    My partner, who is 84, this year stopped flying and “sold” his Mooney M20C, his for 48 years, to his friend and protegé in A&P stuff, who is in his 40s and raising a lovely family. The young man sold his C150 for $19K to a friend, and we sold the Mooney for that to him. Now he has something to take his wife and kids around. My partner regrets not a moment of either flying or quitting:)

    Quitting well is as important as flying well!

  • Paco
    Posted at 22:01h, 20 December Reply

    You are more than a pilot.

  • Anne Wright
    Posted at 21:34h, 20 December Reply

    This a wonderful story, but I cried all the way through!

  • Dave Hoepfinger
    Posted at 21:30h, 20 December Reply

    There is no reward that measures up to giving, truly giving, which you have done Nancy.
    Come fly my PA-16 anytime. Merry Christmas.

  • Natalie McHaffie
    Posted at 20:23h, 20 December Reply

    Thank-you. I’ve just sold my plane of 20 years, a Pitts Special and I too have had that “who am I?” feeling. Now I can think – I’m only 66, what kind of flying next – after all perhaps I too have 20 years to go.

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