SW Aviator Magazine - April/May 1999 issue
You're Never Too Old To Fly
by Willow Foster
Harry A. Hermann is a springy, tall gentleman who introduced himself to me with the statement that, on his 65th birthday, he went bungee jumping. This past year, he topped himself by earning his private pilot's license just days before turning 70. Harry questioned the sanity of his bungee jump (at least during the first eight feet—he says the rest happened too fast). By contrast, he never second-guessed his desire to fly.

Harry's fascination with aviation was born when he was eight and saw a shiny Ryan STA fly over his home in Maywood, California. It seemed that this fascination was destined to direct his life. He took his first flying lesson in 1950 and logged five hours before the draft led him in a different direction.

Harry went off to do his patriotic duty, putting flying on hold. He served first in California and then a year and a half in England. However, he was far from being done with aeronautics.

Upon his return to civilian life, Harry obtained a job as a tool and die maker on the last piston engine, propeller driven, combat aircraft, the Douglas AD-6 Skyraider. Thus dawned a 38-year career in the Aerospace Industry.

Working as a tool and die maker, Harry met his wife, Lillian, almost half a century ago. Her involvement in aviation includes work on the North American F-86. Lillian has a gentle smile and a twinkle in her eye. She gave a giggle when mentioning the couple's upcoming 48th anniversary. She possesses a rare energy, which enables her to keep pace with a man who is his own perpetual motion machine.

Harry worked hard at his job and his family, which soon included one daughter and one son—and today boasts three grandchildren. With the responsibilties of family and working long hours, flying was always put to the side. For years after a new project started, Harry worked overtime on a daily basis. This reflected the aircraft industry's attitude that, as Harry puts it, "If you have a job that takes 100,000 hours, hire 100,000 people and work them each one hour; if you can't find 100,000 qualified people, hire one person and make him work 100,000 hours." Upon reflection, however, Harry concedes that he enjoys building planes almost as much as flying them. And when it comes to his work, Harry says, "I like working with my hands. Some people design, and some engineer—I build”.

Enjoying his work and working hard gave him the opportunity to work on some of this nation's landmark aeronautical achievements. Harry worked on the B-1 Bomber, the XB-70 (Valkyrie), the B-2 flying wing, and the space shuttles Columbia, Challenger, Discovery and Atlantis.

While working for NASA, he helped lay down the heat-dispersing silica tiles which cover space shuttles. The three ounce tiles are so sensitive that they become damaged by oils from the human hand, and, therefore, are carefully put into place with white linen gloves.

After he left the program, NASA presented Harry with an engraved tile. Encased in a plastic display, the tile is all white and about one and a half inches thick. It is considered a Class One tile (Class Two tiles are thicker and placed on the bottom of the shuttle.). On the front of the case is a picture of a space shuttle and the name "Harry Hermann" in bold letters. Along with a scale model of the shuttle, the tile is one of Harry's most prized mementos.

After working on the Stealth Bomber as a leading tool and die maker, Harry retired on January 4, 1991. He became a lecturer on space shuttles in 1995. Since then, he has given over two dozen presentations to schoolchildren and adults, and he has appeared on How's That?, the New Mexico Military Institute's television show.

Harry wants to get kids interested in aviation. He feels fewer people are enthused about flying than ever before in aviation history. Instead of the adventurous and romantic status it once held, flying has become symbolic of wealth and extravagance. He wants to remind people that flying is something you do for the love of it—though, like any specialized sport, it does take some money, time, and determination.

In addition to his presentations, Harry has also served two years as the president of the Roswell chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association—which he helped found. “I’ve been a member of the EAA since 1979, and two years ago I wanted to find out how many members were in the immediate area." He found that there were 18 members in Roswell alone. By the end of 1998, there were 31 members in the local chapter, which continues to grow.

The EAA has its first public event, called Flying Start, planned for this spring. Flying Start is designed to introduce people who don’t fly to the excitement and wonder that flight offers. Harry is also trying to coordinate events and exchange newsletters with other New Mexico chapters of the EAA.

He said he moved to Roswell in large part because of the hospitality he received during his first visit. At that time, he and his wife became lost looking for a bank and wandered into the city's symphony office. After explaining themselves, they received two free tickets to the Christmas symphony. In March of 1994, the couple set up permanent residence.

Harry is very involved with his community. Currently, Harry gives his time to RSVP (Retired and Seniors Volunteer Program), Habitat for Humanity, and Friends of the Roswell Zoo. He works with the Roswell Community Little Theater, the Pecos Valley Writers Workshop, and helps EAA chapter members to construct their own kit planes.

Harry walks for a mile and a quarter every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and he does a Nautilus workout at the gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He still finds time to work in his vegetable garden—a passion he begged this writer not to forget.

When will Harry Hermann rest? He says never. He has learned how important it is to enjoy living every day. He is the last living member of his immediate family, and he himself is a cancer survivor. “Things that are important become clearer after cancer,” he says. One thing which became clear was that he had to complete his training and earn his pilot's license.

After passing the written exam in August of 1997, Harry went to Great Southwest Aviation and started his flight training again. He was ready for his check ride a year later, and earned his license on August 27, 1998.

Harry now makes a point of flying at least once every two weeks, but only when the winds are favorable. He claims there's no point in making it harder than it already is. His wife has flown with him a total of three times. She says confidently that Harry is a good pilot, and she’ll go up again.

“All I need now is something to fly around in,” Harry says. That's his goal for birthday number 75: to fly a plane he built himself. He has yet to decide which kind of plane.

Being an EAA member for twenty years without the authority to fly may seem unusual, but Harry states, "All you have to do is like airplanes.”

So, why does Harry Hermann like airplanes? “I don’t know. Every time I see the Space Shuttle take off, my heart jumps. It is a thrill to see it land. I see planes in the air and I can say 'Hey that’s my plane (one I helped build)!' No words can explain where my feelings come from.”

Congratulations Harry, we’ll see you smiling beneath that great blue New Mexico sky, and we’ll be sure to smile back.

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