Seniors soar in restored biplane

Seniors soar in restored biplane
Capt. Christopher Culp (left), volunteer pilot with Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation, and Charlie Stratmann discuss the flight plan before taking off in the 1940 Boeing Stearman biplane.

Threatening weather didn’t prevent Charlie Stratmann from taking to the skies April 9 from First Coast Flight Center at Herlong Recreational Airport.

Stratmann, 89, was a passenger on a restored 1940 Boeing Stearman biplane, courtesy of the Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation (AADF), a volunteer-based nonprofit dedicated to honoring seniors and United States military veterans living in long-term care communities around the country. The foundation provides free flights in open cockpit airplanes that were originally used to train pilots in World War II.

“I have never been in a convertible airplane before,” Stratmann stated after landing from the 20-minute flight. “And wow, what an experience! It was great! Fantastic!”

Stratmann served as a pilot in World War II and the Korean War, mostly flying seaplanes. He spent time in Italy, Greece and Spain, and worked the anti-submarine aircraft in Russia. Stratmann, a transplant from Crystal City, Missouri, retired after 31 years in the Navy, and spent 40 years in St. Augustine before he and wife, Jackie, became residents at The Windsor at Ortega about a year ago.

Captain Christopher Culp, a volunteer pilot with AADF for the past five years, enjoys the opportunity to be a part of the foundation and was extremely helpful, making sure Stratmann was comfortable in the cockpit. “I’m glad to bring joy to those we serve, and especially to those who have served our country,” he said, proudly acknowledging Stratmann for being of service to the country.

Gilbert, Col. Bob Brodie, and Carroll

Gilbert, Col. Bob Brodie, and Carroll

Two more veterans got their chance to make the same flight later that same week.

When he was a little boy, Carroll said he always wanted to fly so he joined the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program at age 15. “That’s when I found out that I had bad eyesight which would keep me from being a pilot,” the 76-year-old noted, but it did not keep him out of the Air Force.

Carroll and Gilbert, both Air Force veterans and one-year residents at Arbor Terrace at Ortega, took flight Friday, April 13, from Herlong Airport in the same open cockpit biplane with volunteer pilot Colonel Bob Brodie, an active duty Marine who is in his second year with AADF. He presented each passenger with an autographed cap thanking them for their service to the country. Brodie noted that there have been approximately 3,000 flights since the first Dream Flight in 2011.

Carroll said he moved to Jacksonville after four years in the Air Force where he was stationed in Germany as an Airman 1st Class, medic.

“I was born in Charlotte, N. Carolina, and lived in Jacksonville before, but I didn’t like it as much because all my friends were still in Charlotte, so I went back,” explained Carroll. “Now I’m back again.”

Although Carroll said he enjoyed his flight, “It gets cold up there!”

Gilbert, 88, retired out of Wright Patterson AFB after serving from 1952 to 1972. His last duty as a fuselage mechanic was in Vietnam in 1970-71 where he taught residents how to repair planes. “I’ve been all over the world but I enjoyed England best. I also enjoyed the [Dream] flight; it was different but I won’t go again.”

Valerie Andryc, engagement director for Arbor Terrace Ortega, said this is the second time the facility has participated in AADF. “We were scheduled to fly last year, but Hurricane Irma happened.”

According to Sara Pettyjohn, Life Enrichment director for The Windsor at Ortega/Legend Senior Living, this is the first time the facility has participated in AADF but hopes it will not be the last.

By Phyllis Bell-Davis
Resident Community News

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