The first time Charles Walker ever took to the skies it was in a Boeing Stearman biplane as a young military pilot preparing to be shipped over to Europe to join the Allied forces fight in World War II.
Now, two weeks after marking his 94th birthday, Walker was given one more chance to soar among the clouds.
Walker was one of 10 Covenant Village residents and two Turlock-area residents that got the chance to cruise the skies in a 1940s era Boeing Stearman biplane thanks to the efforts of the Ageless Aviation Dream Foundation.
“It was the best flight I’ve had all day,” Walker joked after his turn in the plane Monday morning at the Turlock Municipal Airport. “It was very enjoyable, but for me it didn’t last long enough.”
Walker admits that regardless of how much time he got to spend in the plane, it probably wouldn’t be long enough.
The Ageless Aviation Dream Foundation was founded in 2011 by Darryl Fisher with the goal of giving military veterans a chance to take flight again. For the Dream Flights program the Foundation uses three 1940s era Boeing Stearman airplanes, which happen to be the airplanes many military pilots were trained in during WWII.
The Foundation has given more than 850 rides in 30 states. The riders, predominantly WWII and Korean War veterans, get a 15-to 20 minute flight with Fisher serving as the pilot. Monday’s stop in Turlock was sponsored by Sports Clips, which is opening a shop in Turlock and through the efforts of Covenant Village’s Director of Resident Services, Adele Barnard.
“I had learned of the program and convinced them to reroute to make a stop in Turlock,” Barnard said. “We have a lot of veterans that have settled in the Central Valley that could participate in this program.”
Covenant Village started taking sign-ups for the event about two months prior and June Johnson said her husband, 85-year-old Ben Johnson, was one of the first to sign up. The Korean War veteran never got a chance to fly during his service, but the desire has always been there.
“He’s been so excited for this, just like a young kid,” June Johnson said of her husband.
For Walker the chance to get into a biplane again was reminiscent of his days as a pilot in WWII. Walker, who earned the rank of first lieutenant, flew a P-38 airplane out of Italy until he was shot down by German forces.
“I was shot down and then once on the ground I was hit on the back of the head with a shovel by a farmer,” Walker said.
He spent 10 months being moved around to various prisoner of war camps.
“These planes have more power than the one I learned in,” Walker said. “It goes a lot faster nowdays.”