Retiree with a Yen for flying

Lee posing with his light aircraft which he assembled by himself.

MALAYSIA - Lee Chong Yen used to look up to the skies when he was a little boy and always dreamed of the day he could look down instead.

He achieved that dream half a century ago and today, the 76-year-old is the oldest light aircraft pilot in Malaysia, and is still flying high despite his age.

"As human beings, we envy the birds. If you asked people if they would like to fly, most would say yes. That sentiment is natural," said Lee.

The father of two said he took up flying lessons when he was in the United Kingdom in 1961 studying mechanical engineering.

He worked part-time to pay for the flying lessons and subsequently the licence.

He then earned his private pilot licence, which allowed him to fly up to six passengers at a time.

Lee said one of the best things about flying was meeting new people who have the same passion for flying.

Also, the view is a big plus point for the widower.

"When looking down, everything looks so tiny. You get a panoramic view of everything," he said.

Lee said flying gave him a sense of calm and he had no fear even when piloting solo when he first started.

"My most memorable flight was flying to Bali in 2006 as I had to make various stops along the way; it was the longest flight for me in terms of distance," he said.

When asked about his parents' support of his passion for flying in his younger days, he admitted that they did not know about him getting his licence to fly.

"But when they did find out, they were supportive," he said.

Although most at his age would have slowed down their momentum in life, he believes he "has a few good years left ahead to fly."

"I do not think about my age. It is just a number to me. I have a few more years to enjoy flying, then I will hang up my headset," he said.

Lee holds an assistant instructor licence and teaches at Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). The association confirms he is the oldest pilot in the light aircraft category.

"It is nice to teach young people about flying. It gives me a sense of fulfillment at the end of the day," he said.

He said most people were surprised when they found out he still actively flew twice a month.

"This is why I advise the young to not smoke and maintain their good health," he said.

His secret to staying healthy is "being very selective about food" and cycling every day for half an hour.

"I have only seen doctors for my check-ups for my private pilot licence, except once when I had a fever about 20 years ago. I am very fortunate in that sense," he said.

There was a period between 1980 and 2005 when he had to stop flying because of family and work commitments, however he never stopped keeping abreast of the news in the aviation world.

Due to his age, Lee goes for a medical check up every six months to clear him for flying.

One of his pride and joy is his bright yellow light sports aircraft which is "home built."

"I sent the tail kit to the Czech Republic to piece the aircraft together. I was there during the disassembling process to bring it back here and I reassembled it myself in two days in 2005," he said.

Now, he said no one knew the aircraft better than himself so he did the maintenance himself.

"If I was younger, I would definitely like to own another plane," he said.

Although his children are not interested in flying, he is happy to be able to impart the skills he has gained to other aspiring pilots.