‘When you start flying, it’s like dope. You get a little bit and you want some more and some more.’
Bert Wight doesn’t have much of a commute to work. His morning routine consists of walking out the front door of his motor home that sits in the parking lot of Montgomery Field and crossing the airstrip to Western Aviation, where he has been a flight instructor for four years. Wight, 73, began teaching people to fly just after World War II, in 1947. Since his first flight in 1937 on the Chula Vista airstrip that now houses Rohr Industries, Wight has logged more than 19,000 hours in the air, and he has supplemented his love of flying by teaching aeronautics at Mesa College for 13 years. Born in Vallejo, Wight grew up in San Diego and attended Hoover High School. He was an aircraft mechanic in the Navy for 20 years. Now, with three divorces and a battle with cancer in his wake, Wight says he is just out to have some fun. Times staff writer Caroline Lemke interviewed him, and staff photographer Bob Grieser photographed him.
I started instructing in San Diego about 1950, but I was in the Navy so I would be transferred someplace and then I’d teach there, and I’d get transferred someplace else and I’d teach there. In some places, if they didn’t have a flying school, I’d buy an airplane and form a club. Wherever I’d get transferred, I’d fly.
When you start flying, it’s like dope. You get a little bit and you want some more and some more. It’s better than working. That’s one of the problems with flight instructing. It’s so much fun that everybody wants to do it, so it pays kind of low.
Basically, I’m a scaredy cat. I figure every student is out there to kill me or ruin my reputation. So I pay attention. If you have a very good student and you relax too much, they can get you in trouble. I figure my biggest hazard is a mid-air collision. As long as I look and he, or she, looks, there’s not too much chance of a mid-air. I always tell my students, keep looking because the life you save might be mine. And at my age, there aren’t too many lives left.
Usually, somebody wants an older-looking person to teach them to fly. Maybe I just got my license today, but I look like I know a little bit more, have more experience. Actually, age is no big disadvantage.
It’s a good feeling to teach somebody to fly and have succeeded in getting them their license. It’s an accomplishment for them and me. It’s fun teaching it because they don’t have to learn to fly. They’re doing it because they want to.
I had one gal that was using her welfare money for lessons. Almost anybody can do it; it just takes longer for some. I’ve got a few ex-students that are airline captains now. One ex-student flew around the world.
I’ve had one minor accident in a side-by-side aircraft. The student had his brakes on and I didn’t. We landed along the left edge of the runway and he had the left brake locked and the airplane went up on its nose.
We have quite elderly women who come in to learn to fly. Older people are harder to teach. The older you get, the less risks you take. Modern women are a lot easier to teach to fly because they are more adept at doing things that women didn’t used to do. Women now are more outdoors and outgoing. They drive, ski and things like that that they didn’t used to do. The nice thing is they come out here motivated. They want to learn to fly.
I’ve always been lucky. I had cancer in 1981, and I figured at that time, if I died right then, I couldn’t complain. I’ve had a hell of a good life. I’ve owned airplanes, cars and boats. I’ve seen a lot of the world and done a lot of traveling. It’s a good life.