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90 years old and flying high

On any given day, one can find Rudy Welch at Meadow Lake Airport in Falcon, Colorado. Welch, age 90, has owned and operated American Aviation Inc., housed at the airport, since its inception in 1972.The organizationís official website describes it as a ìfull service Fixed Base Operator Ö and Cessna Pilot Center;î it is the oldest continuously operating airplane maintenance shop and flight school in the region.Welch speaks modestly of his career. ìItís normal work; itís like everything else. You kind of just stay after a while,î he said.Although he is a longtime resident of Cimarron Hills in Colorado Springs, the airport is a second home to Welch, a father of two and grandfather of one. Welch is there so much that he has to be prompted to take a day off.ìHeís there seven days a week,î said Natalie Mielke, his office manager, who has worked with Welch for 10 years. Recently, she convinced Welch to take a hard-earned day off to celebrate Memorial Day, and the two spent the holiday at Territory Days in Old Colorado City in Colorado Springs.Welch has spent 45 years ó half his life ó with American Aviation, offering flight training, conducting aircraft rentals and sales and performing aircraft maintenance. He is assisted by a small team, but as a certified Airframe & Powerplant mechanic, ìRudy really does most of it,î Mielke said.With a quiet demeanor, Welch recounted his lifetime of aircraft experience.ìIíve worked at airports for the last 60 years, and I did the same thing in the service,î Welch said. ìI used to build planes, but donít anymore. I do still fly from time to time.îBorn in Wallins Creek, Kentucky, Welch grew up in Texas and Tennessee. He joined the U.S. Navy in 1944 at the tail end of World War II, and began working with planes as a civilian in 1946. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1950 and did aircraft maintenance; later, he served in the reserves until 1963 when he retired.His close friend Frank Macon, an original member of the Tuskegee Airmen, has known Welch for more than 50 years. He met Welch at the Colorado Springs Airport during Welchís time as the airportís flight instructor and chief pilot.Like Mielke, Macon speaks fondly of his friend, reminiscing about the first time they met in the 60s. Macon, who learned to fly during World War II but was a civilian at the time, had been attempting to fill up a flat tire on his airplane.ìRudy comes up, talking to me about how I might need to learn how to fly,î Macon said. ìI kind of laughed and went along with him. I brought my plane out of the hangar, taxiing it around. This thing had a 42-foot wingspan and a 300-horsepower engine. It made a lot of noise. I hadnít intended on flying it, so I filled up my tire and put it back in the hangar. Rudy says to me, ëWell, I guess you donít have to learn how to fly after all.íîWhile Macon doesnít make it out to Meadow Lake Airport as often these days, he still sees Welch from time to time to assist with aircraft sales and other day-to-day operations.ìWeíve had a great friendship, and weíve always been good buddies,î Macon said.Even at 90 years old, Welch continues to pass the Federal Aviation Administrationís rigorous medical exams, which are required to continue flying.ìHe still has his pilotís license, he still teaches; he does maintenance and flight review. Iím so comfortable going up in a plane with him; I donít think I feel comfortable going up with anyone else,î Mielke said. ìHeís just amazing. I just adore him and Iím not going anywhere. Rudy is my best friend in the whole world.îPeople are welcome to visit the airport and take tours of the hangars or the aircraft itself. Mielke also invited visitors to picnic and observe the aircraft above.In celebration of American Aviationís 45th anniversary, the organization is hosting an open house July 29, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Meadow Lake Airport. The event óand the food ó is free.Meadow Lake Airport is at 13539 Judge Orr Road in Peyton, Colorado. Visit for more information.

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