Retiring pilot, veteran receives water cannon salute at Ford International Airport

Posted at 6:52 PM, Mar 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-20 18:52:56-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- As the saying goes, "Time flies when you're having fun." Well, Captain Greg Lewis is certainly wondering where the last 42 years went. The pilot is turning in his wings after more than four decades in the cockpit.

Today, the Gerald R. Ford International Airport gave him a hero's welcome when he landed and then a special send off before his final take off. Several family members and friends joined the Pennsylvania man on his final two flights as a pilot.

"It's been a heck of a ride. I'm going to miss it, and you guys in Grand Rapids are just so friendly. I'm so appreciative," Lewis said.

Lewis, who's spent the last 18 years flying for Southwest, said he has no choice but to retire due to federal age restrictions. Wednesday is his 65th birthday, and that's the current age limit for commercial pilots as mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration. As Lewis prepares to make the transition from pilot to passenger, he'll carry with him the memories.

"I think the neatest thing at Southwest I've ever done was when we do the World War II honor flights, and I had a 94-year-old gentleman that was on the first wave of Iwo Jima. You know, I was just so touched," Lewis recalled.

The pilot said the World War II veteran told him, "Thanks for making my last flight so good."

Lewis recalled telling the veteran, "Oh, don't say it's your last flight."

But the World War II veteran told Captain Lewis, "No, I know it is [my last flight]. But you guys have been wonderful.'"

Lewis said he loves the World War II honor flights.

However, the pilot said nothing tops his most memorable experiences in the Air Force where he served 24 years before joining Southwest. Lewis served our country during Desert Storm as an F-16 pilot.

"When you get shot at it's a whole new game," Lewis chuckled.

The Ford International Airport fire department gave Lewis a water cannon salute as he taxied the runway before his final takeoff. Now that he'll have a bit more free time on his hands, his wife Catherine said she's got the captain's immediate future all figured out.

"Honey do list," she chuckled, "We got a lot on the honey do list."

Interestingly, Catherine Lewis is a flight attendant and said she and her husband have been able to travel together during work over the years.

Ford international Airport said Lewis has logged 14,000 hours in the air.