Learning to fly aged 86: ‘I think the secret is to keep moving and not to give up’

Annette Callan ticks flying a plane off her bucket list, along with skydiving, parasailing, mountain climbing and more

An 86-year-old self-confessed adrenaline junkie from Co Louth has ticked another challenge off her bucket list by flying an aeroplane.

Annette Callan, from Ardee, recently took control of a two-seater craft during an introductory lesson at the National Flight Centre in Co Kildare.

“The instructor got a great kick out of her and even let her take full control of the plane as she travelled through the skies over Meath and Louth,” says her daughter, Deirdre McCormack. “She absolutely loved it and can’t wait to get back up again so I’d say that’s the Christmas and birthday presents from us sorted for a while.”

Ms Callan says she could not wait to “get into the driving seat in the plane as I am a bit of a daredevil”.


“I was so looking forward to the challenge of flying solo and ticking another thing off the bucket list,” she says. “It was a wonderful experience. I had a great sense of freedom and calm up there. Being in control of the aircraft was really stimulating and just goes to show that you are never too old to do anything.”

Ms Callan has previously completed a skydive, learned to stand on her head in her morning yoga practice, gone jet skiing and parasailing, and scaled Croagh Patrick before the Covid-19 pandemic put the brakes on her adventures.

“I think the secret is to keep moving and not to give up,” she says. “I’m a very strong-minded person and I won’t let anything beat me — so bring on the next challenge.”

Keeping positive, she says, is one of the keys to making the most of life.

“I hate being around complainers,” she says, adding that she insists on getting out in cold weather which is aided by warming up two potatoes in the microwave and putting them in her gloves to keep her hands warm.

“Sure I’m busier now than I was 20 years ago.”

Ms McCormack says relatives struggle to believe how full of life the octogenarian is at times.

“We can’t keep up with her. I’d be embarrassed to tell her I was tired after a day’s work,” she says. “She looks after the grandkids when her children are working and is really the backbone of this family. The grandchildren even make her play midfield in soccer with them.

“I think she put her life on ice for so long to rear her children and now it’s time for her to live on the edge, and fair play to her.

“At her age, you think parents become somewhat dependent on their children but not mam, we are all heavily dependent on her.”