It was more than a flight of fancy when Herman W. Goldstein of Amherst took an interest in flying more than 70 years ago. It was his destiny.
Now 88, the longtime amateur pilot and flight instructor recently was honored with the prestigious Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, given by the Federal Aviation Administration to pilots demonstrating professionalism, skill and aviation expertise by maintaining safe operations for 50 years or more.
Family, friends and former flight students joined Goldstein last week for the presentation of his award and a dinner in Goldstein's honor at Carmine's Restaurant on Sheridan Drive in Clarence.
"Me, I've been flying for 70 years," said Goldstein, a New York City area native, who is known as Herb to his friends and family.
"When I was 13 years old, I was at a Boy Scout camp and they had a little airport right near it. They took us out to look at it. They got me into an airplane and flew me around. So, that's how I got started," said Goldstein.
From that early age, he was hooked on throttles, ailerons and fuselages. Goldstein built model planes as a child and even attended the Manhattan School of Aviation at age 14.
At 15, he moved with his family to Buffalo and attended Technical High School, before it was merged with Hutchinson Central High School.
When he was 16 years old, Goldstein took flying lessons in Rochester, and while he was a student at Niagara University, Goldstein attained his private pilot's license on Feb. 9, 1942.
"When [World War II] broke out, I joined the service right away. I was an air cadet," said Goldstein.
He was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant in the Amry Air Forces.
"I went into the ferry command," Goldstein added. "I flew in North Africa. I was stationed in Italy [and] Central America. When the war ended, I quit [flying], but then I heard about the Civil Air Patrol, and they had airplanes to fly for practically nothing. So, right away, I joined the Civil Air Patrol."
Goldstein, a former captain in the Army Air Corps, continued flying in the Air Force Reserves with the 914th Tactical Airlift Wing out of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, where he became a squadron commander with 150 cadets. Goldstein has been flying with the Civil Air Patrol, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, since 1955.
"The main thing [the Civil Air Patrol does] is search and rescue. If [pilots] crash in a wooded area and they can't find them, the Civil Air Patrol, they look for them If they're [stranded] in water or [a victim of] a drowning, they look for Civil Air Patrol to try to locate them," Goldstein explained.
During his time with the Civil Air Patrol, Goldstein was also a flight instructor. Larry Skerker, group commander for the Civil Air Patrol of Western New York, was one of Goldstein's many students.
"I enjoy the sensation of flight. I enjoy the challenge that it provides me. It's very enjoyable to me," said Skerker. "I took [flying] up when I was finished with college and Herbie was my instructor."
Although he has spent about 70 years of his life in a cockpit, Goldstein is hard-pressed to explain exactly what it is about flying that attracted him to such an adventure in the first place.
"Some kids like to build model airplanes and some kids would rather fly real planes. There's just so many reasons why someone would decide to learn to fly," he said.
Still, flying is just an avocation for Goldstein, who for many years ran his own printing business, Rich Printing on Buffalo's West Side, as his main vocation. He and his wife, Phyllis, also raised five children.
He'll be 89 in November, but he continues to fly.
"I generally try to get at least four hours of [flying time] a month," said Goldstein. "I'm still flying, but my arms are kind of tired."