The three old-timers laughing in the sunny Sky Kitchen restaurant at county-operated San Carlos Airport had just realized that, between them, they had more than 150 years of experience at piloting airplanes, mostly over the Peninsula.
Flying instructors Dale Kuhns and Bill Heinecke, both 70, began taking flight lessons in the mid-1950s. Businessman Jay Quetnick, 86, started in 1939 at Palo Alto Airport, taking college pilot training funded by the U.S. Army Air Force prior to WWII.
All three still fly their own airplanes. Octogenarian Quetnick just passed his latest annual qualifying test.
"I’ve been flying out of San Carlos Airport since it only had a gravel runway," Kuhns said. "There were no night lights. A bunch of us just went out and put lines of reflectors along the sides of the runway so we could land after dark. There were no fences and kids could just walk out and talk to the pilots."
After 43 years of teaching the Private Pilot Ground School class at College of San Mateo, Kuhns is training his replacement this semester so he can retire.
"I met so many nice people teaching that class all these years." Kuhns said. "I’m going to take a half-page ad in the newspaper asking everybody who studied for their FAA written test with me to get in touch, so I can find out how they did with their flying."
Kuhns has done just about everything a flier can do in the Bay Area. Starting out as a United Airlines mechanic, he became one of the first airplane traffic reporters on KGO radio. For 12 years, he operated a fixed-base maintenance station at San Carlos. "As a station operator, you do everything," Kuhns said. "Sell airplanes, rent airplanes, give flying lessons, do repairs and refueling."
These days, Kuhns just flies for fun in a lovingly refurbished 1975 Cessna 182 Skylane four-seater parked outside the hangar where Oracle tycoon Larry Ellison keeps about a million dollars worth of airplanes and Maserati autos. "Our Cessna 182 cost $31,000 new and now it’s worth $100,000." Kuhns said.