Charles W. Matheis, Sr., a World War II fighter pilot who later certified helicopters for the Federal Aviation Administration until he retired at the age of 83, died May 27 at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach. He was 86 years old.
Mr. Matheis was a native of Buffalo, New York. He graduated from Buffalo Technical high School in 1940. Upon graduation he went to work for Curtiss-Wright, building P-38 and P-40 fighter planes, while attending the University of Buffalo.
Mr. Matheis had lived with his wife and family in Huntington Beach and Irvine for 38 years. During most of that time, he was a helicopter design and engineering expert for the FAA at its Long Beach installation. Mr. Matheis was responsible for certification of the R22 and R44 civilian helicopters now on exhibit at the Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Museum near Washington, DC and the Heavy Lift Helicopter, which is used by firefighters to combat forest fires. He pursued these assignments with enthusiasm and dedication long past the normal retirement age. Upon his retirement in 2005 at the age of 83, Mr. Matheis was feted by his colleagues at a special celebration at the Heavy Lift Headquarters in Victorville, CA. The company sent a plane to Orange County to pick him up; he flew the plane back later that day.
In World War II, Mr. Matheis enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He was deployed to Southampton, England in the 160th Tactical Fighter Group, 360th Squadron, 9th Air Force. He flew the P-51 Mustang on reconnaissance missions.
Upon completion of his wartime service, Mr. Matheis returned to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where he earned his B.S. degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1949. He joined Bell Aircraft and later Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, where he worked in aircraft structural design and flight testing. In 1971, he accepted an offer from Cornell Lab to relocate to Southern California to verification test, flight test, and monitor the development of the new generation B-1 Bomber. Mr. Matheis retired from Cornell by that time re-named Calspan in 1976 and was summoned back to Buffalo to be honored with his 20-year service watch and pin. As it happened, that week, in January 1977, the city of Buffalo was blanketed by a huge blizzard that left behind seven-foot snow drifts. This experience confirmed his conviction that moving his family to California was one of the best decisions of his life.
Mr. Matheis is survived by his wife of 59 years, Mary Aileen Matheis, an attorney who serves on the Board of Directors of the Irvine Ranch Water District, and by seven children — Mary Cheryl, a consumer advocate with AARP in Washington, D.C.; Charles, Jr., an attorney in Newport Beach; Peter, an information technology specialist in Colorado Springs, Colorado; Joan, Athletic Director and educator at Poughkeepsie Day School in Poughkeepsie, New York; Paul, Fire Division Chief with the city of Newport Beach; Edna, an administrator with Aetna in Denver, Colorado; and Edward, a physician in Raleigh, North Carolina; a sister-in-law, Carol Seery of Huntington Station Long Island, New York, seven grandchildren, two great grandchildren and many nieces, great-nieces and great-nephews.
A Mass of the Resurrection will be celebrated at St. John Neumann Catholic Church, Irvine, on June 11 at 11 o’clock, followed by interment at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma, San Diego, California.