Member Spotlight — Raymond Caswell

After a wonderful 87 years of flying, Raymond (Ray) Caswell, EAA 28431, reflects on some of his favorite memories at 99 years of age.

As long as Raymond can remember, he’s been fascinated with airplanes. At just four years old, he attempted his first build. It was a hang glider from plans in a book, and while that build didn’t end up working, his love for aviation and building only grew stronger with age.

Ray started flying gliders when he turned 10 years old.

“I lived in a small town in Minnesota and when we moved to the big city of Winona, Minnesota, why, they had an airport with an FBO and the first thing I did when I got my birthday dollar was go out to the airport and I got a ride, and that was my first flight ever,” Ray said.

Ray earned his private pilot certificate in 1948 and later attended the Northrop Aviation Institute in California before going on to a very fulfilling career in aviation working for Douglas Aircraft and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a radio science system engineer where his main job was to ensure that the space stations were performing correctly.

“I retired in 1989, then I started in puttering with ultralights and when the Rotax engines started coming out … for ultralight aircraft, I really liked that and so I started dealing for Team Aircraft and I built a Team Mini-Max, a low wing with a fellow named Bill Urkes,” Ray said. “In fact, the original ones we built are still flying. And that’s been my main deal as I’ve been really interested in ultralight aircraft.”

Ray said he was drawn to ultralights because they were a perfect match for him and the style of flying that he enjoyed the most.

“I’ve built two ultralights; one was a Mini-Max, the other one was a Fokker D-VIII ultralight, and that was my favorite airplane,” Ray said. “It just had everything I wanted. I did a little change in some of the systems in it. It had a full flight deck and it just flew beautifully, and I loved it. It was a great airplane. I’d modified it a little bit; just anything I wanted in it I had on it.”

Ray said what has kept him in the air for the past 87 years is the pure joy he feels when he flies.

“It’s just the feeling I guess; it’s just being up there and being able to see the whole world,” Ray said. “For quite a while we were allowed to fly a half hour before sunrise until a half hour after sunset, and so I got about 30 hours of night flying in the half hour period there, and to watch the shadows of the mountains draw, they’re beautiful.”

Over the years, Ray has made many fond flying memories and could probably write a book with all of his aviation tales, but there are a few that stand out as favorites to this day:

“In 1927 the whole family was quiet around the radio,” Ray said. “The radio was battery-powered and dad had, or my granddad, had built the radio and we had one earphone for each of the family. I was the youngest then and we were all listening and we could hear the people cheering and hollering in New York, and it was when Lindbergh was coming home from his flight over the Atlantic there. I can remember that just like today. The next day I went out and I was playing with my little friend and an airplane flew over, and he said, ‘There goes Lindy,’ and in that small town I think I thought every plane that flew over for the next couple months was Lindy.”

“I was involved in the flights of the Voyager spacecraft 1 and 2, and one of them is still flying. The last I heard is that it is 10 light days away but now it’s probably about 15, and it has a little plaque on it for the names of all the people involved in the operation and they’re inscribed in gold. So, my name is out there somewhere, but 15 light days away.”

“When I was going to Northrop, I still had my Aeronca and I used to go flying with some guys. This one guy wanted to go up to Northern or Central California up to Visalia and so I said, ‘Okay.’ So, I started up there and it was going good until we hit a real strong headwind and it slowed me up so much I got mixed up in my navigation a little bit and I ended up in the Mojave
Desert, and I knew I was in trouble when I saw a Japanese battleship. It was a target ship that the Army Air Forces used in the Second World War and so I looked at the map and I saw an airport. It was called New Rock I believe. So, I went over and landed there and the fellow with me, he wanted a beer real bad and he saw a beer joint, just on the airport property, I think, and this rather heavyset lady comes out and he asks for a beer and she says, ‘My girls are good girls and they worked hard last night and I won’t wake them up to serve you beer’, and I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why it took so much to get a glass of beer. … But I then later found out that that lady was Pancho Barnes!”

Ray hung up his headset for good in April 2021, when he flew a Challenger during his final flight before retirement. You can watch Ray’s video of his final flight here:


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