Retired Air Force major fulfills life-long dream
Retired Air Force Major Carl Armani, who turns 85 later this month, fulfilled a life-long dream of flying in a WWII British Spitfire fighter plane. His family surprised him with an early birthday present in August while visiting his son and his family who live in England.
“It was on my bucket list,” said Armani. “The grandkids came along, and I went out there and claimed the seat of a Spitfire. We took off and flew over the bases that were the first bases in World War II and up into the English channel. We also did aerobatics. It was a thrill of a lifetime for me.” Armani had time at the controls and actually got to fly the plane for a bit.
Armani is an experienced pilot who flew for 45 years. Growing up in Syracuse, New York during World War II, Armani developed an interest in airplanes with an airfield nearby.
“I was about 5 years old when I first had a memory. My father would take me out to watch the B-17 bombers take off. That’s where it started,” recalls Armani. “The Spitfire was a famous airplane because they had defeated the Germans in the Battle of Britain, and I have always loved the Spitfire.”
Armani attended Syracuse University, where he joined the Air Force ROTC and got his private pilot certificate. In 1961, he went through the undergraduate pilot program at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia. His first deployment was to Japan and then to fight in Vietnam flying the legendary A-1 Skyraider.
“I flew 66 combat missions in Vietnam and I never got a scratch,” said Armani.
After his military career, Armani went on to be a commercial pilot with Continental Airlines. He worked his way up through the ranks, promoting to captain of a Boeing 727. He flew that aircraft for many years all over Europe, South America and Hawaii before retiring in September 2001. He even had a memorable domestic flight scheduled on September 11, 2001 to the New York area.
“I was in the airplane and we were getting ready to take off from Houston to Newark,” recalls Armani. “They came in and told me that there had been a problem at the World Trade Center. I looked at the co-pilot and said, ‘We’re not going anywhere today.’”
Armani retired weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“I ended up with 30,000 flying hours and a lot of adventure,” Armani shared.
In his first two years of retirement, he helped build Habitat for Humanity houses. Now, he stays busy with a list of hobbies that include pickleball, fishing, reading and traveling. He and his wife of 24 years, Marcy, have four grown children between them. They split their time between The Village at Castle Pines and St. Pete Beach, Florida, where they own a second home. They also spend one month a year visiting their two grandchildren in England.
“They love to pull little jokes on me,” laughed Armani. “English things. They say things like, ‘Grandpa that’s not a proper way to do that.’”
As a veteran, at this time of year Armani reflects on his childhood and the loved ones he lost in World War II. He also remembers his military friends who did not come home and the courage of so many others.
“I was lucky. I owe my career to the military. My flying job was the job of a lifetime. I can say that I have lived a full life,” Armani concluded.
By Mindy Stone; photos courtesy of Carl Armani