Foundation gives veterans the gift of flight

Biplane from 1940s takes wing from terminal at Centennial Airport

Posted 6/13/17

Billie McMahon’s smile stretched from ear to ear and lit up the room June 7 after she completed her flight in a 1940s biplane arranged by the Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation.

“The experience was incredible,” McMahon, a 91-year-old World …

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Foundation gives veterans the gift of flight

Biplane from 1940s takes wing from terminal at Centennial Airport

Posted

Billie McMahon’s smile stretched from ear to ear and lit up the room June 7 after she completed her flight in a 1940s biplane arranged by the Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation.

“The experience was incredible,” McMahon, a 91-year-old World War II veteran, said after her flight. “You could see everything and it was exciting when he banked the plane to the left or right. I loved the flight and I would love to go again.”

McMahon was one of about half-dozen veterans from Littleton MorningStar Senior Living Facility who got to take an aerial spin around the area.

McMahon enlisted in the Women’s Army Air Corps during World War II.

“I didn’t like the ways things were going at work — we were at war so I decided to do my part,” she said. “I lived in Massachusetts then and was assigned to a Westover, a nearby base. I was a welder in civilian life and the Air Corps put me to work welding airplanes, B-24 bombers.”

She was later assigned to clerk duty, where she met her husband, and they have been married for 71 years. They lived in Littleton before moving to MorningStar. Her husband was also supposed to fly June 7 but decided to pass it up.

“He doesn’t know what he missed,” she said.

Other veterans from the Littleton facility who participated included Fay Cunningham, 94, who served in the Army during World War II; retired Army Master Sgt. Willis Lee, 82, who was in Korea and Vietnam; and Don Dirroll, 88, a Korean War veteran. One by one, they waited at the Signature Fight Service Center terminal at Centennial Airport to wait for their rides.

The foundation also provided flights for a group of veterans who live in the Parker MorningStar facility.

The powerful throb of the engine powering the 1940s Boeing Stearman Model 75 blended with the whine of corporate jets as the black-and-white biplane taxied into place at the Signature terminal to accept another passenger.

The flights are offered by the nonprofit Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation. The organization’s three aircraft and their crews travel around the country offering the rides for free to veterans and seniors.

“We typically work with assisted living facilities and are able to do this because of the support of our sponsors like Sportsclips and Signature Flight Support,” said Diane Winterborn, the foundation volunteer coordinating the flights. “We are volunteers and each year the foundation’s three Boeing Stearman airplanes travel to hundreds of locations to provide rides for thousands of seniors and veterans.”

The foundation provides the flights in keeping with its motto: “Give back to those who have given and dream of soaring like eagles.”

The veterans waited in the Signature Flight Support terminal for their turn to crawl into the front seat of the biplane.

“I was very surprised when they told me I was going flying,” said 88-year-old Don Dirroll, a Korean War veteran. “I didn’t know things like this existed, but I am glad they gave me the chance to make this flight.”

Dirroll was the first MorningStar of Littleton resident to take the flight. The pilot and volunteers moved in to help him clamber over the side of the aircraft and into the front seat. Once he was belted in, he donned a World War II cloth helmet and earphones, gave a thumbs up and the pilot fired up the engine.

His smile lit up the room when he returned from the flight.

“It was very nice,” he said. “It was a lot better than I thought it would be. I liked that I could look down and see all the buildings and the lakes as we flew over them. It was a lot of fun and I would be ready and willing to go flying with them again.”

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