Pan Am Clipper Pilot Turns 103

Published in Midwest Flyer – Dec 2016/Jan 2017

IOLA, WIS. – The Central County Flyers celebrated the 103rd birthday of one of their members – Paul Johns of Iola, Wisconsin – on October 14, 2016 at the airport named in his honor – Central County Airport – Paul Johns Field (68C). Johns, who was born on October 11, 1913, flew a Boeing 314A Clipper for Pan Am during World War II. Some 57 airplanes and 200 people came out to celebrate Johns’ birthday.

Johns soloed a glider in 1929 at age 15 after three 15-minute flying lessons. Two years later, he went on to obtain both his commercial and airline transport pilot certificates. He then joined the Naval Reserve where he obtained both maintenance and radio repair certificates, and became a flight instructor for the U.S. Navy and United Airlines.

Johns was hired by Pan Am in 1939 to set up an instrument flight-training program for pilots flying to Europe via South America. He then started flying Pan Am’s DC-3s in Central and South America. By 1944, he was flying the Pan Am Clipper flying boat across the Pacific from San Francisco to Honolulu, logging 220 flights using only celestial navigation.

Each flight would carry 40 passengers and 3,800 gallons of fuel. Johns would typically depart San Francisco before sunset, and would see “Diamond Head” by sunrise.

Following his career at Pan Am, Johns became a corporate pilot in Wisconsin, and did some acoustic research and development with Walker Exhaust in Racine, Wisconsin.

Johns quit flying his homebuilt Kitfox at age 85, but at age 90, he took a course in computer repair, and is not in the least intimidated by modern cyber-technology. He is also a licensed ham radio operator (KF9ZN).

While Johns appreciates people’s interest in his flying career, he does not put himself in the same category as Jimmy Doolittle and Charles Lindbergh, although he was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame in 2009.

The Central County Flyers has a display cabinet in the main hangar with artifacts and memorabilia donated by Paul Johns, which describe his career and the aircraft he flew.

In honor of Paul Johns’ many years of service to the aviation community as a pilot, leader, and role model, the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association presented him with a certification of appreciation, signed by AOPA President & CEO Mark R. Baker.

Each Friday, the Central County Flyers Association puts on a lunch for pilots that fly in and local residents who are registered members. A lifetime membership is $10.00, payable at the door. The only requirement is that you are a proponent of general aviation. For additional information, visit

The airport also provides a shuttle between the airport and the Iola Car Show each July, which is one of the largest car shows and swap meets in the U.S., featuring 2500 show cars. The 2017 Iola Car Show, July 6-8, will feature the 50th anniversary of the Camaro and Firebird, as well as Trans-Am Series Ponycars. For additional information, visit

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