Aviation Icon Vern Foster has "Flown West"
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In the parlance of the aviation communityu "flown west" or "gone west" is a pilot's final flight, one to eternity. So it was for Vernon "Vern" Foster, a well known pilot in Enid aviation circles as well in his former home state of Colorado. Vern succumbed to old age at 103, though in reality, Vern was never old, never over-the-hill, nor beyond his years for those who knew him.
By the time Vern reached age 96 and quit flying, he had flown for 72 years and logged nearly 25,000 flying hours, or 1,042 days or 2.85 years. In that time, Vern had flown in 141 makes/models of airplanes, and instructed in 114 of them, including instruments and acrobatics. Vern allowed as how he didn't have any trouble flying at age 96, he just had difficulty climbing in and out of the airplane!
Vern was born in a farmhouse near Ness City, Kansas on March 22, 1917. By the time he was in his early teens, the family was enduring the struggles of the depression and the calamity of the early thirties dust storms. But this was also the era of the barnstormers, pilots flying about the nation in old World War I rickety airplanes, often landing in pastures near the small towns along their route, displaying their derring-do, and offering rides for a dollar or less. These pilots and their flying machines were the early inspiration for Vern and his brother Keith to become pilots.
In his 72 years of flying, Vern fulfilled the gamut of what aviation offered. Late in WWII, United Airlines had a contract with the Air Transport Command to furnish pilots. In the year 1945, Vern flew C-54's throughout the Pacific theatre, flying cargo to the air bases as they were liberated, and on the return flights carrying wounded service members back to the States, and later, internees from Japanese prison camps.
Aside from his long career with United Airlines, Vern flew for a charter airline and had his own charter operation and flight academy. In the early years, just prior to being hired by United Airlines in 1943, he served as a civillian instructor for the Army Air Corps.
In 1947 Vern was flying DC-3's at United Airlines. As fortune would have it, he met a beautiful Flight Attendant (then called stewardesses) named Kay Cowan. Vern and Kay were married in August 1947, and left on their honeymoon, in, of course, a small airplane. Two children were to follow, Linda and Bill, the latter a retired Navy pilot. Vern's parents Sada and Malcolm Foster have passed on, as has his brother Keith, a WWII B-24 pilot who was killed in a crop dusting accident. Kay, Vern's wife of 56 years predeceased him, as well as granddaughter Sarah Foster. He is survived by son Bill Foster and wife Judy; daughter Linda Roark and husband Gary; grandchildren, Renee Harvel and husband Paul,; Jerome Roark and wife Whitney; Mathew Foster and wife Marguerite; David Foster and wife Jennifer and Ben Foster.
A gentleman always, Vern was known for his genteel manners, words spoken softly, yet he could produce a quick hearty laugh, even if it was at his own expense. Perhaps these traits were related to his humble beginnings on a Kansas farm? He made many friends over the years, especially throughout aviation, his consummate love. One particular quirk was that Vern loved cowboy boots and wore them as often as he could, swearing they were more comfortable than any other footwear, and, he would add, one could wear two different socks. Vern was known for his remarkable memory. Mention an airplane of the 30's and he would quickly tell you it's engine, and whether you wanted to know or not, all the other airplanes that had the same engine. He could immediately name his first grade teacher, her substitute might take a few seconds longer.
Vern's awards are numerous. He was inducted into the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame in 1987; named FAA Safety Counselor of the Year for the seven state Northwest Region in 2002; received the FAA Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award in 2011; and was inducted into the Blue Max Society in 1981.
He was a member of the Colorado Pilots Association (Past President); Experimental Aircraft Association; Aurora Masonic Lodge; El Jebel Shrine; Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association; United Flying Octogenarians; Silver Wings Fraternity; Colorado Aviation Historical Society; Flight Instructors Association (Past President); and the Stapelton International Airport Lions Club (Past President).
Vern's memoir "Flying in the Real World" was published in 2015.
Fair Skies and Tailwinds