Bert Zimmerly has literally flown through time. From a 1930 Zenith (a seven passenger biplane) to numerous models of Commanders to the impressive Gulfstream 5, Bert has mastered decades of aviation technology.

Bert made his first flight in the Zenith with his Uncle Fred at the controls.  It was 1934 and he was barely a year old, but he was hooked.  His career as a pilot lasted until he retired in 2013 at a very young eighty.  Bert has become his own legend in the world of commercial and private aviation.

Bert starting his flying career at the age of one, sitting on the wing of Zenith Z63 #5 N935Y

Bert was born into an aviation family. His father, Bert Senior, and his Uncle Fred, along with their wives, owned an aviation company in Lewiston, Idaho. To augment the company income during the summer, the couples would tour the region offering rides at rodeos and country fairs. They toured with two planes, each flown by one of the brothers. The men would provide rides while the women sold tickets and did the marketing. It was in this heady era, when aviation was new and alluring, that Bert became a flyer.

Bert spent his days at the airport as a young child-long before he was even in first grade. His uncle explained, “When Bert was five or six years old he was able to stand up and fly a Cub just with the stick. Then, came the awkward stage when he was too short to reach the pedals and too tall to stand up.”

In 1945, his father modified a 1939 J3 Cub with additional rudder pedals so that Bert could fly. “That plane is now in Gresham, Oregon,” explains Bert. “I need to contact the owner. I would love to see that plane again. I’m sure the owner has no idea why those extra holes are in the floor boards.”

The 1939 J-3 Piper Cub Bert flew in 1945 as he began to log hours. Seen here at Evergreen Airport, Vancouver, WA many years later.

When Bert was fifteen, his father was tragically killed in a weather related accident. His Uncle Fred soloed Bert on his sixteenth birthday. The business was sold four years later, but not before Bert earned his private pilot certificate at age 17.

In 1951, Bert headed off to college at the University of Idaho, pursuing not only a degree but also his additional flight certificates. He obtained his commercial certificate in 1952. He ran the Vandal Flying Club from 1954 to 1955, when he graduated. During that time he earned his flight instructor certificate in 1954.  He joined Bowler Air Service in 1955. “The planes were all older than I was!” exclaims Bert. “There was a 1930 Stinson that I flew into the Idaho back country delivering hunters, fishermen, cargo, and forest service employees. Quite a plane.”

While in college, Bert did a two year stint in the ROTC program. “I liked soldiering, but my buddies teased that if I ever made Lieutenant, I would be a puny one at only 5’4” and 120 pounds so I dropped ROTC,” laughs Bert. In February of 1956, he volunteered for the draft and went on to do basic training at Fort Ord near Salinas, California. Bert was assigned to harbor craft. Suddenly, he was learning to be a sailor on a landing craft, because at the time, the U.S. Army had more vessels than the Navy.

Learning all the ins-and-outs of harbor craft was a good decision. Bert was sent to the last landing craft unit in Seattle, which was also the home of three uncles and several college friends.  They provided the camaraderie Bert relished. Seattle also had the facilities to pursue his instrument rating which he received in 1957. Bert left the military that same year when the government boat operations were closed. He returned to Idaho, but jobs were few. By this time, Bert’s mother and sister were in Portland. His sister, Nancy, was pursuing a nursing degree from University of Oregon. Bert moved to Portland and contacted long time friend “Swede” Ralston. “Swede had a flying service in Hillsboro and needed help with all aspects of the business-sales, service, maintenance, parts and flying,” states Bert. “That was the beginning of my 27 year career with Aero Air.”

Bert, 1957, Clarkston, WA with Stimson SM7

Bert with a 1930 Stinson SM-7 at Moose Creek Ranch strip Sept/Oct 1955 hauling hunting cargo.

From his first day at Aero Air in the spring of 1958 until he left in 1985, Bert “peddled” Commander aircraft.  Bert was a natural. His warmth and charm, coupled with his tremendous mechanical knowledge, made him the perfect salesman. At one point, Aero Air sold 10% of the total production of Commander aircraft. Bert sold the planes into Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska and Montana. It was becoming a profitable business.

“Those were wonderful, crazy years. From the beginning of production with the first Commander, the company provided training to all the pilots and mechanics. It was the only manufacturer of light aircraft to do so. I was often assisting our mechanics while in the field to get a customer back in the air. I avoided getting a mechanics license…the FAA would have taken it away!” Bert laughs.

But in 1981, there was a major economic downturn and major changes were made by the insurance industry. Flight safety and pilot ratings became more stringent. At that time nearly 75% of the Aero Air Commanders were owner flown. “The owners were viewed to be smart enough to own the planes but not smart enough to fly them!” laments Bert. These factors began to impact the sales of Aero Air. For Bert, it was time for another career change.

Bert left Aero Air in May of 1985 and went to work for Louisiana Pacific as a corporate pilot–same airport but a slightly shorter drive. Louisiana Pacific (LP), an international wood products firm headquartered in Portland, had an impressive flight department. Bert had flown backup trips for LP in the early 80s and had a number of friends working there. He had helped train some of the LP pilots and came to know Flo Newton, now President of Global Aviation.

In 1995, Louisiana Pacific downsized its corporate aviation department. Bert took an “early out” and flew Gulfstreams on contract for various corporate entities including Sequent and TAG Aviation of San Francisco.

May 4, 1979 delivering Commander Turbo Prop 681, N22EE to Ed Stanley and Eli Morgan

In the interim, Flo Newton went on to found Global Aviation. Bert went to work for Global in July of 1999 as Chief Pilot, once again working with long time aviation friends. “Flo wanted an experienced pilot, and preferably one with gray hair! I agreed to sign on for one year and stayed for fourteen, a wonderful experience,” states Bert. Now, having just celebrated his eightieth birthday, Bert has decided to retire.  “It’s time to step down and enjoy life on my terms.”

Bert is a strong family man. He and wife, Jean Anne, celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary last May.  His daughter, Jennifer, is an accomplished veterinary technician and his son, Steve, is the Chief Pilot for Stimson Lumber Company. If all goes as desired, there will one day be four generations of pilots in the Zimmerly family.

Bert admits he has had an amazing career. His retirement has allowed time for reflection and computation. “I have flown by my count 854 different aircraft in my life and am only hours short of logging 25,000 hours.” Bert has one motto that has seen him through his career: Take care of the people in back and, don’t crash!

With his skill, passion and exuberance, Bert is flying high into yet another phase of his life.

Bert with his wife, Jean Anne, on his 80th birthday, July 9, 2013. This was his last full day as a Global Aviation pilot. He is seen here with Global's Hawker 800.

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