All seven of the passengers who, one by one, boarded the 1944 Boeing-Stearman biplane operated by the Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation on Sept. 7 at the Albany Municipal Airport were older than the plane itself.
Some of them, by decades.
Lou Piah, 98, was 24 when the now-glossy red plane was put into military service during World War II, training pilots in California and then providing years of service in the crop-dusting industry.
Some 10,000 Stearmans — which cost about $9,000 each — were built by Boeing Aircraft and used to train thousands of pilots during the war years.
Asked if he was a bit nervous as he was assisted toward the plane, Piah — who was a private pilot and once owned an airplane — quickly responded, “Nope.”
In addition to Piah, others taking flights were Red Schwindt, Jean Allen, Marvin Neuleid, Ray Farrell, Jean Abbott and Mary Hails-Avery. They were assisted by staff from The Oaks at Lebanon Retirement and Assisted Living Community, and the Albany Fire Department.
Thursday’s event provided Oaks residents with 20-minute flights over the mid-valley. Although the flights had to be pushed back a couple of hours due to cloud cover and a touch of rain, the sun broke out about 11 a.m.
The Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded by Darryl Fisher in 2011 to honor U.S. military veterans living in long-term care facilities. The program is funded entirely by donations and its mission is to “give back to those who have given.”
Volunteer pilot Christopher Culp of Jefferson is a retired chief pilot for the Oregon State Police.
“Anyone want to walk on a wing?” Culp joked with his soon-to-be passengers, most of whom used walkers or scooters to get from The Oaks van into the Infinite office at the airport.
All were veterans, a spouse of a veteran, or a Rosie the Riveter.
Culp said the Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation has provided nearly 3,000 flights in 38 states and is on track to add 1,000 more flights this year. A similar event will be held in Corvallis Friday.
He estimated it costs about $450 per hour to keep the Stearman in the air.
First passenger Neuleid, 82, was all smiles after his flight. “If anyone else doesn’t want to go, I’ll take their place,” he said.
A Minnesota native, Neuleid worked for the city of Hillsboro and later for the Beaverton School District.
“By golly, it’s something new,” he said before his flight. “I like to fly, but I’ve never flown in a biplane.”
During World War II, Schwindt, 96, served on a submarine tender and later was a longtime building contractor. His older brother, Peter, served aboard the USS Arizona at times, but not when it was sunk by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941. Schwindt also was a private pilot and owned a Cessna 172 for 16 years.
The hardest part of the flight, according to Schwindt, was getting into the plane. “I’ve never had to get into one from the top,” he said.
Schwindt estimated he has logged more than 3,100 hours as a pilot.
Allen, a 92-year-old Rosie the Riveter, had hoped to take an Ageless Aviation flight two years ago, but injured her leg. So she was excited to get a second chance Thursday morning.
Allen was an arc welder at the navy shipyards in Vancouver, Washington during the war.
“I’m excited,” Allen said, as she anticipated her flight.
Farrell, 96, installed communications equipment while serving with the Army Air Corps in China, Burma and India during WIII.
“I wasn’t a pilot,” he said. “I’m ready for this, though. It’s exciting.”
Sport Clips Haircuts is a major sponsor of the Ageless Aviation program. Glenn Thorsen owns two shops in Salem and said he likes to drop in on local flight events.
“It’s so much fun,” he explained. “I get to hear the veterans’ stories and talk to them. At one event, a veteran brought his flight jacket and log book. He flew 23 missions over Europe during World War II.”
In addition to group and individual photos with pilot Culp and the Stearman, passengers also received autographed caps.
The Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation is based at 1894 E. Williams St. 4-451, Carson City, Nevada 89701. To learn more, call 775-727-8906 or visit www.agelessaviationdreams.org.