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Jenny's final flyover: World War I-era biplane ends flights

WICHITA FALLS, Texas — All things must come to an end, as they say, and the Wichita Falls Curtiss Jenny’s flying days were numbered after Saturday morning.

The World War I-era biplane, one of six left in the world still capable of flying, is housed at the World War I Call Field Living Museum at the Kickapoo Downtown Airport. It will move to its new home at the new Wichita Falls Municipal Airport Terminal in 2014 to be part of a new museum showcasing Wichita Falls’ relationship with flight and the Air Force through the years.

As part of an agreement made with the city, the Jenny will not be allowed to make any more flights after Jan. 1.

The WWI Call Field Living Museum staff is sending the biplane out with a bang, though, as the Jenny’s Saturday morning flight route flew over the Call Field Shopping Center on Call Field Road, the former site of the old Call Field air base from 1917-1919. The air base predated Sheppard Air Force Base by serving as a training base for young pilots learning to fly the then-new Curtiss Jenny biplane.

The plane, flown by pilot Mike Rhodes, started its route at the Kickapoo Downtown Airport on Jacksboro Highway before heading west onto Southwest Parkway and flying over Wichita Lake. The biplane then turned north at Memorial Stadium onto Barnett Road before making its way to Call Field Road, where Rhodes performed a few circles over the former air base site for the early-morning spectators.

“I’ve flown planes for about 20 years, but I’ve been flying the Jenny for two years,” Rhodes said. “It’s a real honor to get to do this since there’s only so many Jennys still airworthy in the world now.”

While some onlookers have watched the Jenny fly many times, others witnessed the nearly 100-year-old plane in action for the first time, like Wichita Falls resident Sharon Stone. Stone said she remembers people in town talking about the old Call Field. When she heard the plane was making its last flight before heading to its new home, she knew she couldn’t miss it.

“It’s a history-making event in Wichita Falls, and it was something nice to see on great day outside,” she said. “(The Jenny) is a great plane, and it was really neat to see it in action. I plan on going to see the museum exhibit once it opens in the new terminal.”

Rhodes said he was able to get a glimpse of the crowd, and was grateful for everyone that showed up. While the Jenny is slated to make one last flight today at 2 p.m. over its normal route around Kickapoo Downtown Airport, a potential cold front could keep the plane from taking flight, leaving Saturday’s flight as its very last one.

“I saw the big crowd gathered (at Call Field Shopping Center),” Rhodes said. “It was nice to have a lot of support and have all the folks come out and see it one last time. We’re schedule to fly (Sunday), weather-permitting, but the weather forecast isn’t as good as it was (Saturday). It’s a good thing that we had a lot of people come out for what could be the last flight.”

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