By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer
BEACON FALLS — Some octogenarians may favor staying close to the ground and taking it slow. Not Edward Chromczak.
Chromczak, an 83-year-old pilot and Beacon Falls resident, loves to be in the air.
“It’s the joy of flying. There are people that ride motorcycles. There are people that go boating. There are people that ride bicycles,” Chromczak said.
Chromczak is a member of two flying groups — the Oxford Flying Club, which is based at the Waterbury-Oxford Airport, and the United Flying Octogenarians or UFO.
The UFO club is reserved for people who have flown on or after their 80th birthday. It is made up of about 1,670 members nationally with 30 pilots in the state. Members meet occasionally during the good weather months and last met in May at Danbury Airport, their usual local meeting spot.
The Oxford Flying Club has over 90 members of all ages and flying skills. The club has four single-engine airplanes, two Cessnas and two Pipers for members to fly.
Some Oxford Flying Club members have their own planes that they allow other members to fly, Chromczak said. The club also hosts social activities, including picnics and days to wash and polish planes.
Chromczak’s love for flying started unexpectedly in 1957 after he gave his older brother, Francis Moe Chromczak, a ride to the airport for his flying lesson.
“The bottom of the story is he tricked me into going to the airport to take a lesson when he had already arranged to take his lesson and scheduled an airplane for my lesson, and that’s how I got hooked into flying,” Chromczak said.
Chromczak said he always competed with his brother, who became a flight instructor at Princeton Airport before living out the rest of his life in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Chromczak was born and lived in New Jersey before moving to Beacon Falls with his wife, Barbara, in 2009 to be closer to their two granddaughters in Oxford. He worked for New Jersey Bell, which became Bell Atlantic Corp, and then Verizon Wireless before retiring in 1991.
Chromczak said he was part of a few flying clubs in New Jersey, including the Aero Club Albatross, a glider club. A glider is plane that doesn’t have an engine and needs to be towed up into the air.
“It was interesting because most of my advanced ratings I got as a glider pilot and then I shifted those over to airplanes after a while,” Chromczak said.
Chromczak said he has flown more than 50 different planes and more than 3,000 hours, including up and down the east coast and Pennsylvania.
One of his outstanding memories in the air dates back about 20 years ago in Hawaii with his wife. Chromczak flew a single-engine plane over a partially erupting volcano.
“We flew around and we saw part of the eruption. It wasn’t steaming up but it was erupting out into the ocean. …That was a thing that amazed me,” Chromczak said. “We could see it coming up out of the ground and flowing down.”
In 2005, Chromczak landed a seaplane on Lake Washington at Kenmore, Wash.
Chromczak said he takes to the sky about once a week for some short flights about an hour long. His usual flights are around Groton and Block Island, R.I.
He said pilots are devoted to the air and he tries to stay committed.
“We are dedicated to flying. That’s what keeps me going,” Chromczak said. “That’s why I try to stay healthy. I try to watch my weight. I don’t drink a lot.”
Chromczak has no plans to stop sitting behind a yoke anytime soon.
“I will continue to fly as long as my health permits it,” Chromczak said. “It all has to do with your health.”