The following links are to media coverage by the Chicago Tribune and WGN Chicago.
Vets return to the skies
Former servicemen honored with free open-cockpit flights
September 02, 2013|By Ellen Jean Hirst, Chicago Tribune reporter
Army veteran Ed Mahon, 91, a resident of Covenant Village of Northbrook retirement community, flies Monday with Darryl Fisher of Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation in a 1942 Boeing Stearman biplane. (Heather Charles, Chicago Tribune)
Tony Thomas, an aviation mechanic in World War II, knows planes. In fact, when he was presented with a Boeing Stearman plane on Monday, he knew exactly how it worked — because even before he was drafted into the war, he knew how to fix its engine. But in his 91 years he had never actually flown in one — until Monday.
“It’s strange and that’s why it was such an intriguing thing,” said Thomas, who said he’d flown in bomber planes as a staff sergeant in the Air Force, but not training ones like the Stearman. “I wouldn’t want to miss out on it. … It was different from anything I’ve ever done.”
The two-person open-cockpit plane became seats of honor Monday for a handful of veterans from a Northbrook retirement community. The Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation gave the veterans free 20-minute flights, 1,000 feet above the northern suburbs of Chicago as part of a nationwide tour. The eight veterans from the Covenant Village of Northbrook retirement community suited up in helmets, goggles and headsets before the plane took off toward bright, puffy clouds over Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling. “There’s quite a view from out there,” Ed Mahon, a 91-year-old World War II Army veteran, exclaimed after stepping down on the small white plane’s wing, onto a step stool and then the ground, with a little help from pilot Darryl Fisher. The foundation is traveling across the country from April to November honoring veterans from senior living facilities. Ageless Aviation spends about $350 on each flight and will take 200 veterans up by the end of the project. The group is largely funded by Willowood USA and Sports Clips, said Paul Bodenhamer, the organization’s executive director. The plane the veterans flew in was used during World War II to train pilots. After the war ended, the three planes the Fisher family owns were used for crop dusting. Fisher, who is also the president of Ageless Aviation, works in the senior living industry and decided he wanted to honor veterans in this way about 21/2 years ago. Joe Kleinbrook, 95, an Army pilot during World War II, said he became a flight instructor during the war and flew the same kind of plane he took a ride in Monday. He remembers clearly his days as a pilot, but most vividly the moment he learned — in the air — that the war was over. “I was in a formation flight … and Harry Truman, who was the president at that time, was scheduled to make an announcement to the people of America,” Kleinbrook said. “So we had our radios tuned in … and he came in and said the Japanese had surrendered and without reservation, the war was over. And we all let out a big cheer.” Bodenhamer and Fisher will head south to Kankakee, Bloomington and Peoria next. “There aren’t a lot of veterans from World War II still living,” said Heidi Laabs, who helped coordinate the event, “so it’s cool to honor the ones who are.” firstname.lastname@example.org