Glenn Quillin was 17 years old the first time he saw a Goodyear blimp soaring overhead at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago and he decided that one day he’d like to take a ride. It took only 86 years to accomplish his goal.
The Carlsbad, California, resident, who turned 103 in January, traveled to Gardena recently for an hourlong ride 1,500 feet above the Los Angeles coastline aboard the Goodyear blimp Wingfoot Two.
“I tell you, it was a wonderful trip,” Quillin said of the experience. “It lived up to all my expectations. The first thrill was when I got the phone call saying you’re invited, and the second thrill was when I climbed that ladder and got in.”
Goodyear spokeswoman Priscilla Tasker said her company doesn’t ask its passengers their ages, but they do believe that Quillin is the oldest rider they’ve ever had. That detail is important for Quillin. He celebrated his 100th birthday in 2016 by jumping out of an airplane, and he has since made a habit of getting himself into the record books.
Aiming for a record
In February 2018, at age 102, Quillin briefly held the Guinness World Record as the oldest zip-liner, until a 106-year-old Englishman zipped past to claim the record two months later. Then, in May last year, he published his autobiography, which bested by two years 100-year-old Englishwoman Bertha Wood, who currently holds the Guinness record as the oldest author to publish a first book. At this point, there is no record on the Guinness website for the world’s oldest blimp passenger.
“I like to keep active, and I’m not an armchair sports person. If I’m going to enjoy a sport, I want to be in it, not watching it,” he said.
Quillin’s autobiography, “Life in the Dash” — referencing the punctuation symbol between the years of birth and death in an obituary — chronicles his life, which began on Jan. 18, 1916. He and his sister were given up by their impoverished parents and adopted by Guy and Rena Quillin, who were wheat and corn farmers in Colona, Illinois.
By age 10, he was planting and plowing fields and his innate skill at building and repairing farm equipment led to a long career as a precision machinist. During and after World War II, he did machine design and testing work on a top-secret atomic particle accelerator, guided missile systems, the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and nuclear testing at the Las Alamos laboratory in New Mexico.
In later years, he ran his own machine shop and worked as a private investigator. In 1960, he joined his wife Signa’s real estate business. She died in 2010 after 68 years of marriage, one daughter, two grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
Quillin has lived since 1998 at the Carlsbad By the Sea Retirement Community, where executive director Joan Johnson describes him as an inspiration to both residents and staff.
“I think the phrase ‘say yes to adventure’ best summarizes Glenn. He never says no, and he’s always so positive and happy,” said Johnson, who was Quillin’s guest on the blimp ride. “He’s had this drive for adventure his whole life.”
Enamored at World's Fair
Quillin said he’d been intrigued by blimps ever since the World’s Fair. Tasker said Goodyear sent two blimps, named Puritan and Reliance, to the fair in July 1933. In those days, the blimps had a helium chamber capacity of 123,000 cubic feet. By comparison, the Wingfoot Two’s chamber is nearly 300,000 cubic feet, she said.
As the years passed, Quillin couldn’t get the blimps out of his head, so about 30 years ago he and a buddy in Los Angeles wrote to Goodyear repeatedly to try to secure a ride, with no success. Rides are by invitation only, and back then only Goodyear Tire customers were extended invites.
This year, he decided to give it one last try and wrote to the tire maker, asking if he could take a ride in honor of his 103rd birthday. That did the trick.
Quillin said he and his grandson are now talking about how he’ll top himself for his 104th birthday in 2020.
“We’re talking about going hang-gliding at Torrey Pines or Warner Springs,” he said. “I’m not the least bit afraid. It’s something I’d really enjoy.”
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