Four South Florida seniors from Covenant Village of Florida strapped on goggles and headsets and soared through the skies in a 1942 open-cockpit Boeing Stearman at the North Perry Airport in March during an event to honor them for their military service. These Dream Flights were presented by Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation (AADF), a non-profit organization established and dedicated to honoring seniors and United States military veterans. They offer these flights primarily to individuals living in long-term care communities with a mission to “give back to those who have given.”
Funded by donations, the Dream Flights utilize a Boeing Stearman biplane, the same aircraft used to train many military aviators in the 1940’s.”
A flight back in time
As a former pilot in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War, Al Bunker, 86, Staff Sergeant, U.S. Air Force, 1948-1952, said “It was wonderful, just like the old days. You know when you’re an old pilot you feel like you’re where you belong like you’re home when you’re up there.”
JJ Schmidt, 97, a Corporal in the U.S. Air Force during World War II from 1941-1945, also enjoyed the familiarity of the plane. He said about the flying, “Oh that was great! It was really beautiful. Four generations of our family were all together to be there, and the kids liked it and I liked it. It was a great way of flying.” He said, “The best part is just flying and feeling that wind.”
For Vince Wilson, 85, a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War, 1952-1954, “It was an absolute thrill.” Wilson said, “The view is spectacular! You can’t compare it to flying in a commercial airline. Wind in your face, helmet and goggles. And the people in the Ageless Airline Defense Foundation were the nicest, so accommodating, a pleasure to talk to them and a privilege to have that offered to me.” However, toward the end of our conversation, he mentioned his favorite part of being up in the air was coming down safely.
A spring back in their step
The flights were piloted by Mike Winterboer, an American Airlines pilot stationed in Arizona. One day he and his wife, Diane were at an air show and started talking to Darryl Fisher, President of AADF. They decided to join in April of 2014. His wife helps coordinate events all over America. This past year they had 74 events in 22 states. This year they’re looking to expand it to 25 or 26 states. He says as long as AADF is stable they’re going to keep the program going.
When asked what it’s like for seniors to fly Winterboer said, “It’s a pretty cool experience. We’ll take off with a 94 year old and come back with a 24 year old. It puts a spring in your step and opens up a level of energy and enthusiasm that they haven’t had in a while. Some people a couple years down the road claim it was a turning point in their life. That’s why we do it. It’s cool to see the affect it has on them. Some of these folks have lost their independence and for them to come out and do something like this, they never thought they’d have this type of experience again.”
William L. and Dorothy Fisher, grandparents to Darryl Fischer, began the family’s passion for aviation and seniors. In 1965, William L. and Dorothy started a clinic for the aging in Roseburg, Oregon. From then on, seniors and aviation was a priority for the Fishers. Their son, William and his son, Darryl carried out the dream in 2011 when they first traveled the U.S. to provide senior veterans with flights in their Boeing Stearman. The feedback was so enthusiastic that Darryl and his wife Carol decided to found AADF to honor our country’s veterans. Since then, they have provided flights for over one thousand veterans.
To learn more about the Fishers or AADF visit agelessaviationdreams.org. If you know a veteran or veterans that would enjoy soaring through their air, you can submit an application to have AADF come to you at agelessaviationdreams.org/dream-flights/application/.
Gabriella Morris is a home school student and writer at Good News. She can be reached at [email protected]