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A program that combines resources from three regional organizations aims to provide flights in WWII-era biplanes



The Aurora State Airport played host on August 18 to nine Oregon U.S. military veterans, aged 72 to 96 years old, who had the chance to fly in a 1942 Boeing Stearman open-aired, two-seater bi-wing airplane — the same make and model used to train aviators in the 1940s.

The flights were made possible through funding provided by the Vital Life Foundation, a Milwaukie-based nonprofit that supports causes and resources that help seniors, the Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation, a nonprofit founded in 2011 that honors seniors and U.S. military veterans living in long-term care facilities, and Sport Clips, the haircut salon that caters to men and boys.DANIEL PEARSON - Each flight took off from the Aurora State Airport and lasted 40 minutes.

“Vital Life serves to provide meaning and vitality in the lives of seniors, and that’s exactly what today was all about,” said Ann Adrian, the foundation’s executive director. “Each and every one of these senior veterans dedicated a portion of their lives to serving our country and it’s so important that they are recognized for doing so.”

World War II veteran Bob Fisher was sitting quietly in the shade, watching as his plane landed after taking a veteran up for a 30-minute flight at about 1,000 feet. Fisher said his son originally came up with the idea of providing free flights in their own Boeing Stearman biplane, which they restored in March 2011, and when he gave his permission, his son revealed that he already had two people scheduled to fly.

“I remember WWII really well — I fought in it,” Fisher said. “We’re getting close to our 2,000th flight now. One of the planes we use was my dad’s plane that he bought in 1946. My uncle taught my dad aerobatics, so I grew up around that atmosphere. Riding in a plane for me is as comfortable as riding in a car.”

Betty Cooper also had the opportunity to take a spin in the Boeing Stearman and she said it was one of the more exciting things she’s done in some time.

“It was a lovely view of the whole wide world up there,” she said.

Steve Fogg, chief financial officer of Marquis Companies, a company that operates 23 long-term care and assisted-living facilities in Oregon, California, Idaho and Nevada, including Hope Village in Canby, said honoring veterans with rides in a biplane brings them back to their youth.

“It gives them the opportunity to take a ride in a wonderfully-old airplane that helps them remember the days when they were back in the field doing what they do, and it lets them all know that we appreciate their service,” Fogg said.

Jack Shattuck, owner of several Sport Clips locations in the Portland metro region, said there are three Boeing Stearman’s around the U.S. flying veterans during summer months and that many of the pilots are commercial aviators who donate their time.

“This has been going on for several years and it gets more and more popular as recognition of the program comes out,” Shattuck said. “The idea is to do this indefinitely while they are still here. The WWII generation unfortunately is beginning to die off. Some of these people here today are in their 90s but they are very spry and anxious to get up. After they get off the ground they have big, smiley faces. It’s really fun to watch them have such a great experience.”

For more information about the Vital Life Foundation go online to www.vitalifefoundation.org.

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