Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation treat local veterans to aerial tour
By Jana E. Pye, Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation made dreams come true for two dozen U.S. Veterans at the tiny Branham’s Airport not far from the Darlington Raceway September 2 – 4.
“Wow,” said Danny Weaver or Darlington, U.S.Navy veteran. “That was one thing off my bucket list and I’ve done it now, fly in an open cockpit airplane. I can’t thank them enough. I really can’t. I didn’t do a whole lot to deserve that. That’s worth a million.”
Weaver and his brother Grady were one of a handful of veteran siblings that have flown on the “Dream Flights” by the foundation.
The AADF, a non-profit organization, is dedicated to honoring seniors and United States military veterans. Their primary focus is individuals living in long term care communities, but occasionally provide flights to other veterans, such as those in the Darlington area. Their mission is “Give back to those who have given.”
AADF President Darryl Fisher from Carson City Nevada, and fellow AADF pilot Mike Winterboer from Oregon flew the gold and blue Boeing Stearman open cockpit biplane down from North Carolina after flying veterans from Winston Salem, Salisbury, and Pinehurst. The gentleman will meet with their largest sponsor, SportClips, during the VFW Help a Hero SportClips 200 race at the “Track Too Tough To Tame” and will stay for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 race before heading off to their next flight locations.
“One of my ground crew told me, this is a time machine- people go up at (age) 90 and come back down at 50. It puts a spring in their step – it gives them something they haven’t had in years.”
In addition to the flight, veterans are given a cap signed by the pilot, and a flight certificate is mailed to them to keep, along with a photo.
The inspiration for the foundation happened quite by accident, according to Fisher.
“Back in 2011, my father called me up and asked if I would go to Mississippi with him to fly his biplane back to Oregon after it was restored. A father and son barnstorming tour, sure…sign me up!” he laughed.
“Then, I got to thinking. I’ve worked in senior housing all my life and thought, we’ve got to make 15-20 gas stops between Mississippi and Oregon, why not stop and give some flights to veterans in some facilities? We are going to be stopping anyway.”
“Our first stop was in Oxford, Mississippi…Hugh Newton, I will never forget. The bus was out there, people milling around, and the newspaper was there. We didn’t know what to expect. I’d never loaded anyone that age into an airplane. We got him up and he was just on cloud nine. We land and everyone is clapping and his wife came up to me afterwards and told me, ‘He’ll take this to the grave. You have no idea what you have just done for him.’ My dad and I got to the hotel room that night and we both said, wow that was just magical. It was just powerful.”
For the next two weeks, Fisher called his wife Carol each night and told her about the experiences, what joy they witnessed from the veterans. The memories that came back after each flight, and the rejuvenation they witnessed.
Upon their return, the couple talked it over and decided to form a non-profit.
“My wife made me a deal, if we don’t have the money, we don’t fly. She did all the legal work, the paperwork – we are not independently wealthy folks. Our mission is clear, “Giving back to those that have given’ If it If it is valid and it’s valuable, people will understand it and they will donate. And it has continued to grow.”
An email from SportClips in 2013 began a sponsorship that has allowed the Foundation to grow larger.
“SportClips are wonderful people,” said Fisher. “Gordon Logan himself is a veteran, and believes in this.”
This year the foundation will give 600 flights across the United States. They have currently flown in 32 states. There are four pilots (including Fisher) and two more are coming on board. Future plans include raising money to purchase a fourth plane to keep in San Antonio, TX. The plane used in Darlington will be based out of Florida to give flights on the east coast, and into the northeast.
Mike Beckham, member of the Darlington American Legion Post 13 and instrumental in coordinating veterans for flights with the AADF:
“It feels like I want to start learning how to fly one of these machines,” said Beckham. “It’s exhilarating- it is just something to know that these aircrafts are out there still flying, and you have the opportunity to get in one. Now you know what it was like when aviators were using these in the ‘30s and ‘40s It’s just super. Whoo, whoo! It’s smooth, it’s like driving on a newly paved asphalt road. That’s what it feels like you are just moving through the air.”
Steve Foster: “It was great,” said Foster. “I gotta catch my breath and I wasn’t even pedaling. It was wonderful I told my kids, my daughter was all for it. My wife was not so sure, and said are you sure you want to do this? I said yes honey at my age I’m doing it. Foster is nearly 70, and this was his first flight in a biplane. He built many when a model airplane club was still formed in Darlington, and was familiar with the original way the planes were covered in cotton and painted with “dope” to make the fabric stretch.
“The experience was exhilarating,” said Weaver. “I could smell cotton, and the engine oil. I got the lifting rush and stuck my hands up to feel the cool air. I looked down and saw where my Mom lived, the racetrack, we circled the Grove Hill Cemetery, the old high school, and flew right over the Memorial Park and the Square.”
His kissed his wife, Fran, and said, “This is what I want for Christmas. My brother and I could have fun with that!”
“This would be hard to fit in your stocking,” she replied.
The Boeing Stearman is the same aircraft used to train many military aviators in World War II. They were used as trainers for the United States Army Air Force, United States Navy, and the Royal Canadian Air Force. There were at least 10,626 built during the 1930’s and ‘40’s. In post-war years, they were auctioned off and used for crop dusting or aerobatics. The timeless design of the radial engine was commonly used in aircraft from the 1920’s-1940’s. Its low, raspy engine sound is unforgettable and has the innate ability to bring back nostalgic memories for veterans and seniors.
The Foundation has three, completely restored 1940’s Boeing Stearman airplanes to give Dream Flights. The three airplanes are staged in different locations to allow us the opportunity to honor seniors and veterans throughout the United States.
“My grandfather bought this airplane in 1946 and sold it in ’48 to an inland air service in Wananchee Washington,” said Fisher. “They sprayed with it for 34 years. I spoke with the pilot and the mechanic that was with this airplane the entire time. They had 10 Stearmans that they sprayed with, and this is the only one that they never wrecked. If you can believe that!”he said, chuckling. “It’s just nearly impossible.”
Later on, Fisher’s uncle found the plane and bought it in 1982 to use to fertilize crops for 3 – 4 years.
“By that point in time it was just a bucket of bolts,” recalled Fisher. “It was tired, worn out. So from about late 80’s to 2004 it was just in pieces in his hanger. He called me and said “Hey, I’m gonna sell the airplane, I don’t have the time to restore it’ It took me about two seconds. All I said was, SOLD. At this point in time there is an emotional attachment. I shipped this, my other airplane, and my Dad’s Stearman down to Mississippi to a gentleman by the name of Pete Jones Air Repair. We loaded up a semi with parts and pieces of three airplanes, our engines and propellers- and two years later he built us three new airplanes. It was finished in 2008 and two or three years I had it and flew it here and there a little bit, but what do you do with them? At some point in time they just sit in the hangar. This allows us to give back to veterans. It is so gratifying, and we are so blessed to be able to do this.”
Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation is a non-profit organization established and dedicated to honoring seniors and United States military veterans. The primary focus is on individuals living in long-term care communities. Their mission is to “Give Back To Those Who Have Given.” Through its donors, the Foundation provides Dream Flights in an open-cockpit Boeing Stearman biplane, the same aircraft used to train many military aviators in the late thirties and early forties.
The Foundation is completely made up of volunteers who schedule and provide Dream Flights around the country. The Foundation is funded through corporations and private donations. Every dollar received is applied towards the costs of the airplanes and Dream Flight events.
To learn more, visit: www.agelessaviationdreams.org