Five lucky veterans got the ride of their lives Aug. 10 when they were each buckled into a 1940s Boeing Stearman biplane and flown over the countryside around the Aurora State Airport.
They flew one at a time as the plane only has room for one passenger plus the pilot in the rear, and the experience is becoming an annual event for residents of King City Senior Village. Thanks to donors and community support, the Dream Flight Foundation, which was created in 2011 by Darryl and Carol Fisher and the Fisher family, operates all over the country flying veterans on short hops using volunteer commercial and retired pilots. The biplanes were originally used for crop-dusting and training military pilots in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
First up was Lou Bunch, who was born and raised in Huntington, Ore., and served three years in the Navy. Afterwards he had quite a career that included working as an experimental flight test mechanic and inspector, and he also worked on intercontinental ballistic missiles. He and his wife Georgie just celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.
Next up was Ray Beyer, who was born and raised in Spokane, Wash. He served in the Army and worked in Washington as a chemical distributor. In Tigard, he was on the staff of Rise Church (formerly Calvin Presbyterian), directing the choir and playing the organ and piano for 12 years. He then became the musical director of Northwest Senior Theatre, which is a troupe of talented senior citizens that performs around the metro area.
Len Ufford, who served in the Air Force, flew next. He was born in Bellows Falls, Vt., and raised in Hanover, N.H. He served in the Air Force, and later he and his wife Jill managed retirement facilities, finally coming to Oregon where her mom lived to get away from the cold Northeast winters.
Jerry Larsen served in the Navy, and he and his wife Jan celebrated their 60th anniversary last October. After his stint in the Navy, Jerry worked for Pacific Northwest Bell and later AT&T, working in mid- and upper-level management and making many moves around the country. They moved into Senior Village – their 16th move – just days before Jerry took his flight.
Bill Gerkin was last up on the roster. He served in the Oregon National Guard and for years owned a vending business. Bill, whose wife is Evelyn, now spends his days volunteering. He has been a Meals on Wheels People driver through the Tigard Senior Center for 30 years; he has volunteered at Just Compassion, which provides services to homeless people; and he has been a member of the King City Lions Club since 1997, where he works on programs that include providing help with sight and hearing issues and raising funds to support local food banks and sending veterans on free Honor Flight trips to Washington, D.C.
Commercial pilot Ryan Wier, who flies for Southwest Airlines, flew the Senior Village veterans last year and also flew the first four veterans this year. Gerkin was flown by Molly Littlefield, who retired as a Boeing 777 captain for United Airlines. She was the 23rd female pilot hired by United and the 22nd to become a captain. Littlefield flies for the Dream Flights program with her husband Keith, also a retired commercial pilot.
For more information on Dream Flights, visit dreamflights.org.