Roger Fenton, left, gets ready to take off from the Auburn Municipal Airpot in a 1942 Boeing Stearman military trainer plane piloted by Darryl Fisher. COURTESY PHOTO, Kevin R. Knox

Foundation honors elderly military veterans with flights in an historic, open-cockpit, two-seater biplane

Invited to soar the sunny skies in a open-cockpit, vintage biplane last Friday, Steve Dyke and several Auburn-area seniors jumped at the chance.

For Dyke, who has spent a lifetime in aviation, foremost as an air traffic controller, the front-seat view of the Green River Valley from 1,000 feet above the ground took him back to his days in the Air Force and Air National Guard.

“Absolutely wonderful,” said the 76-year-old man, who grew up in the Midwest before embarking on a long and rewarding career that embraced the wonders of flight. “It was very comforting, knowing I had the power there, which a lot of these planes don’t have.

“I’m always leery about abrupt changes,” said Dyke, having lunch after his nostalgic flight from the Auburn Municipal Airport, “but this particular aircraft had the weight, it had the power and the stability to handle just about anything. It was very comfortable, very nice. Wonderful airplane, wonderful flight.”

All courtesy of Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring seniors and United States military veterans in long-term care facilities. Since its launch in 2011, the Reno, Nev.,-based foundation has flown more than 3,000 “dream flights” throughout the country.

The foundation, composed of volunteers who donate their time and talents, relies on donors to cover the cost of flights, which are offered at no charge to seniors and U.S. military veterans in retirement communities.

At the controls of the 1942 Boeing Stearman military trainer plane was Darryl Fisher, who established the foundation and works in the senior-living industry. Fisher, who grew up in a family deep-dyed in aviation tradition, listened to passengers’ stories before helping them climb into the biplane. Tightly strapped into the cockpit, some goggled, and each wearing a head-set, guests enjoyed a 15- to 20-minute flight through Auburn skies.

Fisher also signed commemorative hats and took photos with the grateful, grinning seniors afterward.

“Our foundation’s mission is to give back to those who have given,” Fisher said.

The flight was part of Village Concepts’ Project Bucket List. Guest passengers represented Village Concepts Retirement Communities of Auburn and Enumclaw.

For Roger Fenton, of Auburn, it had been a long time since he sat in such a two-seater. Fenton, who served in the military, began flying small planes when he was 13, growing up in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“I enjoyed it,” Fenton said. “It’s just a noisy military trainer (used to train World War II pilots).”

Don Ollivier, 80, of Auburn, was a control tower operator in the Army before fulfilling a 30-year career as a mechanic and plumber for Boeing. He had flown and worked on many airplanes, big and small, but nothing quite like the vintage ’42 Spearman.

“It was fantastic,” he said of the flight. “It’s just a different feeling than what I’ve known before.”

Enumclaw’s Bette Guenther, 82, has ridden in a hot-air balloon, but she never imagined taking flight in an historic biplane.

“No, it wasn’t (on my bucket list), but it ended up being on it,” she said. “It was absolutely wonderful.”

Flying in such a plane had been one of 90-yearold Bob Stygar’s unrealized boyhood dreams.

“I never had a chance to do it,” said the Enumclaw man. “It was great, a lot different than anything I’ve flown … the wind blowing in your face.

“I’d like to do it again.”