John Scroggs is pictured at Covington Municipal Airport on the day of his second solo flight back in March, some 62 years after his first solo.
COVINGTON -- Conyers resident John Scroggs is living proof it's never too late to achieve your dreams.
Scroggs made his first solo flight in an airplane in 1949, at age 18. In March, some 62 years later, he soloed for the second time at age 80.
Scroggs became fascinated with flying as a child, growing up about a mile from an airport in Greenville, S.C. In 1938, his father's friend took Scroggs up in his plane and a lifelong obsession was born.
"I remember it was a red Stinson. I remember wanting to get out and get the toy cars I saw down on the road," Scroggs said.
Later, his father gave him a refrigerator shipping box that he transformed into a plane, cutting holes in the side and front for a door and window.
"I found a piece of a broomstick, dug a hole in the ground near the front and put an old cane bottomed chair behind it. My plane was ready. In the next days and months, I 'flew' that plane to all sorts of exotic places, fought many dogfights and weathered many storms, which after a while, turned my plane into a soggy wreck," he said.
Scroggs then got interested in balsa models he could buy at Kress and Woolworth for 10 cents. He joined a Civil Air Patrol squadron at the local airport, where he was introduced to the basics of flying.
"I vowed then I would learn to fly when I could afford it," he said.
Scroggs' family moved to the North Carolina countryside near a small airport called Brockenborough Field, and he convinced the owners to allow him to clean planes and taxi them to and from the gas pumps in exchange for flying time. He would earn an hour in the air for a week's work.
"If there was an empty seat they would take me up and let me fly with them. I learned a lot from that," he said.
An instructor surprised Scroggs by letting him fly solo for the first time when he was 18.
"I was euphoric, but holy moly, I was flying this plane by myself. I flew where my house was about a mile from the airport. I buzzed my mom in the backyard. She was hanging up clothes. Of course she dropped them all."
Scroggs joined the Navy in 1950 and was sent to San Diego, where he intended to become an air cadet but was turned down due to his height: "There was a height minimum of 5'6" and all I could stretch was to 5'53/4"."
Since he had a pilot's license, Scroggs was chosen to attend Airman Prep School in Memphis, Tenn., where he was assigned to aviation electronics. He was then sent back to San Diego and became an instructor in electronics maintenance and ASW intercepts, teaching pilots and crews how to hunt down submarines from the air. Though he got in some time in PBYs and R4Ds, used as flying classrooms, Scroggs wasn't able to get in the cockpit.
Following his discharge in 1954, Scroggs joined the Navy Reserves and went to work for AT&T. After being promoted to supervisor at AT&T Scroggs found himself facing the decision of whether to attend a two-week training cruise with his squadron or attend training for his company. He chose the latter.
In the early morning hours of Sept. 12, 1962, "My wife told me I sat straight up in bed and (yelled out). She said, 'What's wrong?' And I said, 'I don't know. Something woke me.'"
A few hours later, a neighbor knocked on the door and delivered the news that the plane Scroggs was to be on had crashed, killing all aboard.
"After that, my wife laid down the law," he said. She told him no more flying, "And I honored her wishes."
But Scroggs never lost the desire to be up in the air. He admits he did sneak up with his pilot son occasionally.
After his wife died in February 2010, Scroggs was determined not to become complacent about life.
"People who sit back and vegetate and contemplate their navel, they don't live very long. You've got to have something to keep your mind active and keep your interest up. Be a part of life," he said.
So Scroggs once again got in the cockpit, this time at Covington Municipal Airport. In March, he soloed for the second time, some 62 years after his first big achievement.
"When I got to the end of the runway, it was like a big weight was lifted off my shoulders. I was back in my element again," he said.
He's logged about six hours since then and is working on getting a private license so he can venture outside the 50 mile radius he is restricted to as a student and so he can take friends up. He's also made an offer to purchase a plane.
"He's very motivated," said instructor Richard Helton, who said Scroggs is working on his cross country and night flying in preparation for obtaining his license.
Scroggs never thought of letting his age deter him from his goal.
"It's never too late to chase your dreams if you're physically and mentally able to do so," he said. "I'm 80 years old. I'm really healthy and active. I play golf and sing with the Covington-Conyers Choral Guild."
Scroggs is also writing a book on his experiences as a Scout master in Decatur in the '60s and '70s, titled "Help, There's a Cow in My Tent."
"At one time I woke up at 6 a.m. to a bloodcurdling scream and sure enough there was an ole heifer that stuck her head in one of the pup tents where the scouts were sleeping and she scared the wee out of them," he said.
Scroggs hopes to have his pilot's license in hand by August.
"If I can get a plane and get a private license the world's the limit then," he said.