SEQUIM — A group of eight seniors from The Lodge at Sherwood Village soared over the Sequim Valley Airport in a special flight in a Boeing Stearman trainer biplane.
The Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation came to Sequim on July 9 to provide the special flights.
The nonprofit group founded in 2011 and based in Nevada operates several Stearman biplanes to give flights all around the country to seniors and military veterans.
“Watching the looks on their faces and the joyful energy they get is worth every second of coming out here,” said Andrea Riemer, the ground coordinator of her pairing with her partner Clint Cawley, who is the pilot for their “Dream Flights.”
Both Riemer and Cawley fly for local airlines and during flights Riemer spends time discussing the flights with those waiting for their own flight and those who have already been up in the air.
“When they come back down, they don’t want to just sit around,” Riemer said. “They want to go right back up, and it gets everyone around excited.”
The flights generally last about 10 minutes, with Cawley flying from the backseat of the two-seat biplane along a pre-planned path to show off various aerial views of the area.
Their guests can make special requests, though, like retired Air Force veteran Ken Leuthold did when he asked to fly over his family’s property.
Janet Ford, a retired Navy medical evacuation nurse, asked to be flown over The Lodge, which Cawley was more than happy to accommodate.
“I waved at so many people down there!” Ford exclaimed after they landed.
The Stearman flown that day is a special one for Ageless Aviation: the “Red Stearman” that now serves the western U.S. is also the plane flown by foundation founder Darryl Fisher in the inaugural flight in Mississippi in 2011.
Built in 1944, the plane served as an Army training plane out of various western United States bases before eventually being sold and converted into a crop duster.
It’s been in the Fisher family since 1982, and eventually Fisher was inspired to restore it and use it to honor seniors and veterans.
“It was originally supposed to be a one-off event,” Cawley said of a conversation he had with Fisher back when it was first being planned. “I really took off from there.”
Thanks to several major sponsorships and numerous donations, Ageless Aviation is able to provide these flights for free.
“We don’t want cost to be an obstacle for anyone to be able to fly,” Riemer said.
The organization has provided more than 3,900 flights in over 40 states, and the hope is to have flown in all 50 by the end of 2020.
“We’ll have to get creative for Alaska and Hawaii, though,” Cawley laughed.
The Lodge tries to provide these kinds of experiences for their residents whenever they can.
”It’s been since 2014 that we had a flying experience like this,” said April Oldfield, a representative from The Lodge.
“But we recently had the opportunity to go up in a hot air balloon, and we have a few residents who want to go skydiving, so we’re trying to get that planned too.”
Experiences outside of the norm is an important thing to the Lodge, Oldfield said, to help give their residents the opportunity to do things they haven’t done before or even thought they couldn’t do normally.
Ageless Aviation also believes in that sort of mission, and will even try to go above and beyond to make sure the experience is not only positive, but happens at all, organizers say.
“We once got contacted by a wheelchair-bound man who other flight services said they couldn’t take up in their planes,” Cawley said.
“We were able to figure out something with the local fire department where they brought out a ladder truck and used the ladder and a sling to lower him into the plane.
“That’s one of my favorite memories of doing this.”
Riemer encouraged any seniors or veterans who are interested in taking a flight to apply at agelessaviation dreams.org, even if they’re an individual and not part of an organization like The Lodge.