BREWER, Maine — An oft-recited aviation saying claims “there are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots.”
Peter Goutiere is living proof that saying is wrong.
Goutiere celebrated his 100th birthday last month. Many years were spent in the air, including during World War II, when he transported cargo under enemy fire while dodging mountain peaks in Asia.
Goutiere was born to British parents in India in 1914. His father was a superintendent of police in an area outside New Delhi. At age 14, his family moved to Bangor, following his older sister Christine Weston, who moved to Maine after marrying a Bangor businessman. She became a successful author.
Growing up as a child in the burning-hot Indian climate, Goutiere was used to wearing shorts. In Bangor, his classmates in Maine teased him for not wearing pants, he recalled.
The Goutieres moved across the Penobscot River to Brewer a year after their arrival. He went on to graduate from Brewer High School in his early 20s, after dropping out for a few years, and ultimately ended up marrying his former English teacher in 1939.
That same year, he enrolled at the University of Maine, became an American citizen and heard President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiate a Civilian Pilot Training Program in an effort to beef up the number of trained pilots in the United States.
“I get terribly seasick, and I didn’t know how well I’d do in an airplane,” he said during an interview Monday at the Vacationland Inn in Brewer, where he’s staying.
Goutiere signed up through the university and began training in Bangor. His first training flight was in 1939, when he and an instructor flew out of Godfrey Field — today’s Bangor International Airport — in a small Piper Cub. After demonstrating a few turns, the instructor let go of the yoke and gave the control to Goutiere.
“That was the time of my life,” the spry, sharp centenarian said. Later that day, he took the plane up on his own, sparking a love affair that has lasted 75 years and has taken him across the globe.
Last month, Goutiere stepped into a DC-3 on an airstrip in Washington state. The plane, restored by the Historic Flight Foundation, was the same one Goutiere flew during a portion of his time flying in Asia. The plane went up for a four-hour flight, from Seattle to San Francisco. Goutiere piloted the 70-year-old plane for a portion of that journey.
This week, Goutiere returned to Brewer to deliver a speech about his life as a pilot to a group known as The Quiet Birdmen, a secretive organization founded by World War I pilots for U.S aviators. Its meetings are closed to the public, and the rules of the Birdmen bar them from seeking publicity.
“His accomplishments are exceptional,” local Birdmen member Ray Gibouleau said. “No other pilot known to our [group] has, at age 100, flown a DC-3 from Seattle to San Francisco. And it was the same DC-3 that he flew when it was new, from Miami to Calcutta, India, 70 years ago. How can you not have a deep respect for such a man?”
In December 1941, Goutiere was sitting in a hangar at Brewer’s airport when FDR announced Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. He tried to sign up for the U.S. Army Air Corps, but at age 27 was months older than the Army’s cutoff age of 26½ at that point in the war.
He ended up searching for other ways to fly as part of the war effort, ultimately joining the China National Aviation Corp. as a pilot. The CNAC had been “at war” since the Japanese military invaded China in 1937, moving fuel and supplies from India into China.
During his career with CNAC, Goutiere flew about 680 missions over “The Hump,” the treacherous route over the Himalayan Mountains. Most trips took about seven hours.
“These weren’t sit back and enjoy kinds of flights,” Goutiere said. “We had three main enemies: high mountains, Japanese Zeros and the weather. It was the weather that took most of our [airplanes].”
He watched friends die. Several fellow pilots who flew too high to avoid the mountains were spotted and shot down by Japanese fighter planes. Others were swept into mountainsides by 100 mph winds while flying low to avoid the threat of fighters. CNAC transport planes were unarmed. Good weather wasn’t a good omen. It brought out more enemy fighters.
Goutiere was one of the lucky ones to survive.
After the war, Goutiere describes himself as a sort of “vagabond pilot,” who traveled the world working for various organizations. One of his longest stints was with the Federal Aviation Administration, working as an inspector. That job took him to Jordan and throughout the Middle East.
Today, Goutiere calls Katonah, New York, home, but he visits family in Maine whenever he can.
After a century of life that has taken him to Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Caribbean and many U.S. states, “Maine always stands out in my heart,” he said.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter @nmccrea213.