A group of seniors aged 83 through 94 strapped themselves in, pulled on their aviator goggles and canvas helmet and soared across the cloudy sky above Fullerton, California on a WWII-era biplane Thursday.
A former prisoner of war in Germany, a WWII plane mechanic and a former navy wife were among the five Rowntree Gardens Senior Living Community residents with connections to the military who took flight one by one with a pilot in the restored 1942 plane maintained by Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation.
Darryl Fisher, pilot and founder of AADF, and his volunteer pilots, honor veterans living in long-term care facilities across the country by providing "dream flights" on fully restored WWII-era planes. The foundation has taken flight with 1,500 seniors to date.
"I could see everything," said 83-year-old Chuck Iverson, a former corporal of the U.S. Army and first-time flier. He was the first of five passengers to take off Thursday morning. "Nothing else matters. You feel very comfortable," he said.
"'I was relaxed and felt no fear, no pain — just total joy,'" Jason Sherman of Rowntree Gardens Senior Living recounted Iverson saying after dismounting the plane.
For Iverson and some of his peers, an experience like this was just a number on their bucket lists. For those who once flew warplanes, ascending into the clouds once more took them back to their youth.
"It brought back a lot of memories," said 94-year-old Edwin Willems, who served as a plane mechanic during WWII. "It was the smoothest flight I've been on."
Loved ones cheered from below as they watched the plane glide across the cloudy sky above the Fullerton Municipal Airport with their relatives strapped inside. One family member traveled from Chicago to watch his brother take flight for the first time.
"It's not just a ride," said Fisher.
This was Fisher's first time flying veterans living in Orange County. He plans to return in the fall to fly with the three seniors who could not ride due to the rain.
"Their peers will ... hopefully be encouraged that they too can go do things that are on their bucket lists," said Randy Brown, chief executive of Rowntree Gardens.
"Just because you age doesn't mean you lose your dreams," said Fisher.