Nonprofit to offer WWII veterans free vintage plane flights
AUSTIN, Texas – About 1,000 World War II veterans will have the opportunity to fly in a 1930s-era aircraft during a two-month span in 2021, according to the nonprofit group conducting the campaign.
Dreams Flights announced Monday that its Operation September Freedom campaign will send its fleet of six open-cockpit Stearman biplanes to cities across the country to take veterans on a free, 20-minute flight.
“It literally is life changing for them,” said Darryl Fisher, founder and president of Dream Flights, formerly known as the Ageless Aviation Dream Foundation. “This is like a time machine.”
The flights will take place between Aug. 1 and Sept. 30, and a World War II veteran can be registered for a flight until June 1, Fisher said. Then the group will coordinate its fleet to go to that veteran’s town and take them on a flight.
“It’s very difficult for them to travel long distances,” he said. “That also means that something like this is really meaningful to them, so we have to go to them.”
Fisher, who works in the senior living facility industry, founded Dream Flights in 2011 to combine his passion for caring for the elderly with his passion for flying. A third-generation aviator, one of the Stearmans in his fleet was purchased by Fisher’s grandfather after the end of World War II to help support his farm.
Stearman biplanes had a rugged construction that made them ideal for training new pilots for the Army Air Corps and Navy, according to the website for Boeing, whose Stearman Aircraft Division out of Wichita, Kan., first introduced the aircraft in 1934. In the case of Fisher’s grandfather, the planes were also popular as crop-dusters because of its ability fly low and slow.
Since 2011, Dream Flights has flown 4,204 veterans and seniors living in retirement and long-term care communities. Operation September Freedom is the first tour dedicated to honoring a group of veterans who served during a particular war. The oldest flight participant flown by Dream Flights was 104, Fisher said.
Pilots for the nonprofit primarily fly for major airlines and are active-duty or retired service members who volunteer their time. As part of the campaign, Dream Flight crews will rendezvous at the 50th National Stearman Fly-in in Galesburg, Ill., on Sept. 6 to fly in formation for the crowd.
“[Operation September Freedom] will be the largest barnstorming event in history,” Fisher said. “Wherever World War II veterans are located, we’ll find our way to their nearest airport and create a moment of magic they can relive until their last days.”
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, an estimated 100,000 will be alive in 2021 -- the youngest will be 95 years old, according to Dream Flights.
While next year’s event has sponsors, including SportClips, American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living, Argentum, DirectSupply, Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Airlines, the group is seeking donations to help with the upkeep of its Stearman fleet and pay for travel for its volunteers, Fisher said.
“We’re asking all Americans to join our effort to locate members of the Greatest Generation so we can thank them one last time for their service,” he said.
Dream Flight requests for World War II veterans are accepted at http://dreamflights.org/honor.