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Local seniors take to the skies
Dream Flight
Florine and Buz Smith, Gene and Marilyn Anne, Della and Tom Koop, Florence Fruin, David Derickson, Tom Brazeal, Art Benson, Bob Pitney pose for a photo in front of the Boeing Stearman airplane used in Saturdays Dream Flights. - photo by Photo Contributed

Though he never piloted his own plane during his time in the military, that hasn’t stopped 85-year-old David Derickson from taking to the skies as a passenger in small planes over the years. On Saturday, however, the retired U.S. Army Sergeant was given the chance to soar in a plane unlike any other.

Derickson was one of eight Covenant Village of Turlock residents who cruised the skies last weekend in a cherry red 1942 Boeing Stearman –  the same airplane used to train military aviators in the 1940s – thanks to the efforts of the Ageless Aviation Dream Foundation.

“It was a very well-presented plane. It was in top shape, so I didn’t have any qualms about going up,” Derickson said. “I figured if the pilot was ready to go up, I’d go up with him.”

The Ageless Aviation Dream Foundation was founded in 2011 by Darryl Fisher, who wanted to honor U.S. military veterans living in long-term care facilities. To date, the non-profit foundation has given more 3,000 Dream Flights to senior WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans, as well as senior thrill-seekers who want to experience the delight of flight.

Derickson was inspired to sign up for the program because of his love for flying, he said. Originally from Escalon, he served in the U.S. Army from 1953-1955 after being drafted and was sent to Korea just as the conflict ended. Though he loves being in the air and has flown in many small planes before, he never got his pilot’s license and eagerly looked forward to Saturday’s opportunity to ride in a WWII era plane for the first time.

Derickson and the other participants strapped on a canvas headset and goggles before hopping onto the Boeing Stearman where they were each treated to 15-minute flights, soaring 1,000 feet over Turlock.

“We flew in, flew over Covenant Village and that was kind of interesting seeing it from the air,” Derickson said. “It was only a 15- or 20-minute ride, but it was fun.”

Seven of the eight who received a Dream Flight are veterans, including Bob Pitney, Jim Crawford, Tom Brazeal, Art Benson, Buz Smith, Florence Fruin and Derickson. One non-veteran, Hope Schenke, is 99 years old and described the day as “making a little girl’s dream come true.”

While Saturday marked former U.S. Army Corporal Smith’s first time flying in an open-air cockpit, former U.S. Navy Dental Technician Fruin took her first such flight at the age of six on a farm in Illinois. Whether they’ve flown or not, Derickson believes the opportunity was special for each and every participant.

“I didn’t see anyone who didn’t enjoy themselves,” he said. “Ageless Aviation seems to be a good deal. I really hadn’t ever heard of them before…but they’re doing a good thing for veterans.”