By Molly • Molly Walker • 

Up, up and away in an antique biplane

Molly Walker / News-Register
Ageless Dreams provides rides to seniors in an antique Steerman biplane.
Molly Walker / News-Register
Ageless Dreams provides rides to seniors in an antique Steerman biplane.

Wednesday morning, Fisher returned with a different plane, a 1940 Stearman antique biplane used for military training, and Reynolds, a pilot who has logged 17,000 hours of flight time, succeeded in completing his very first biplane ride.

Reynolds suffers from pulmonary fibrosis and is aided by oxygen and a rolling wheel walker. He was a little apprehensive about his lung capacity on the flight — but it all worked out fine.

“It’s the first time I’ve had wind in my face and I loved it,” said Reynolds, who has lived in McMinnville since 1990. “I’d do it again.” In his flying career, Reynolds has flown everything from a T-6 to an F-80 to a DC-10 and several in between.

“Once you learn to fly an airplane — you can pretty much fly anything put in front of you, I think,” said Reynolds.

Reynolds was one of four Hillside Retirement Community residents, all with connections to military service, to experience the aircraft.

Jack Chan served about three years in the Air National Guard, but was moved from his Washington home into the Minidoka relocation center in Idaho during World War II because of his Japanese ancestry. He was just a boy of 11 and moved there with his father in 1942. With a shortage of agriculture workers, Chan’s stepfather volunteered to help by working in sugar beet fields in Montana. When they were released, they started their own farm in Spokane.

“It was weird being behind barbed wire and being guarded with loaded rifles,” said Chan. “We couldn’t understand it. We were American citizens and we were incarcerated.”

Paul Bodenhamer, executive director for Ageless Aviation, told Chan, “On behalf of us, let me apologize.” Chan would go on to attend seminary school and become a minister.

After his plane ride, Debbie Finn, activities director for Hillside, asked Chan, “Jack, what did you think about that?”

With a grin, Jack replied, “I had my eyes closed all the time!”

Then he added, “It brought back memories of my buddy and I going flying in a Piper Cub in high school. It was delightful.”

Paul Till joined the Air Force with the hopes of getting into aviation. However, it was 1945 and there were no spots available. Instead, he went to a photography technical school in Denver and eventually took a discharge, but stayed in the reserves for the next 20 years as an installation engineer based out of the Lowry Air Force Base in Colorado.

He also obtained a degree in civil engineering and worked as a civilian for 35 years for the Denver office of the Bureau of Reclamation.

When his ride was completed, he debarked with a smile, and, like the rest of those who participated, was given a hat by Fisher and thanked for his service. Bodenhamer interviewed them all and is collecting short biographies and photos to include on the nonprofit’s Facebook page and website.

Pat Jacobsen was the final person to take a ride on behalf of her husband, Jerry, a World War II veteran who served with the Navy SeaBees on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, although Pat herself also served 15 years in the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

In his term of service, Jacobsen recalled flying on the second largest flying boat ever built (the Spruce Goose is number one), the Martin Mars, from the Oakland Air Force Base to Pearl Harbor on his way to Kwajalein. It was a trip that took about 17 hours.

At the atoll, which Jacobsen described as 2 1/2 miles long and 2 miles wide, were the ships which were not sunk during the testing of two nuclear bombs at Bikini Island.

“We could see all the superstructures were bent to hell,” said Jacobsen, who served in the construction battalion as an electrician’s mate.

Jerry said that Pat loves the “adventure of the tree-lined stuff” more than he did.

Pat was absolutely thrilled with the biplane ride and was eager for a future opportunity.

The Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation was started three years ago by Fisher, according to Bodenhamer, and includes the two of them and three aircraft. It began after Fisher, a former executive for Sunwest which formerly owned Hillside, had picked up an airplane that was being restored in Alabama and, on his way back home, offered some veterans rides.

“He saw the reaction on their faces — it was more than he ever imagined,” said Bodenhamer.

The nonprofit’s work has grown from 50 trips the first year to being on track for over 200 this year.

“Our mission is to give back to those who have given,” Bodenhamer said. While the current focus is on World War II and Korean War veterans, they also give free rides to others who have served in various ways, such as the veterans’ wives who were left home to deal with things like rationing of fuel, tires and food.

The structure of the organization is dependent on its sponsors, according to Bodenhamer. Those include Willowood USA, a producer of agriculture crop protection products, and Sports Clips, which specializes in hair care for men and boys. Bodenhamer said the sponsors just want to help the audience that Ageless Aviation reaches.

“The stories we hear are unbelievable,” said Bodenhamer.

The biplane has a special significance for Fisher. His grandfather purchased it in 1946 and owned it for three years. It was out of the family until 1983, when Fisher’s uncle bought it back.

“The family’s all flown in it,” said Fischer.

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