The 1942 Boeing Stearman with its open cockpit, double set of wings and loud engine seems a bit fragile to generations accustomed to flying in jets. But Tony Thomas, who worked on airplanes like this one more than 70 years ago, was not a bit hesitant about climbing aboard Monday in Wheeling.
"I have a lot of respect for these planes," said Thomas, a World War II veteran. "I saw what they can tolerate.
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"The cadets who flew them, some weren't too careful. They really tested them."
The planes were meant for military training, but the 91-year-old Thomas, who spent nights preparing 100 Stearmans for training flights, had never flown in one of the two-seaters. He got his chance Monday when a foundation called Ageless Aviation Dreams flew Thomas and seven other military veterans who live at Covenant Village in Northbrook on short trips from Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling. They soared at 1,000 feet for views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline.
The foundation consists of pilot Darryl Fisher and Paul Bodenhamer, chief executive officer. Fisher, who lives in Carson City, Nevada, spent his 50th birthday giving the flights.
Warren Evans and his wife, Hope, were among residents and staff who came from Covenant to cheer on the eight men who had signed up for the flights.
"I was curious to see that plane again," said Evans, who entered the Navy right after World War II and learned to fly in the Stearman.
"It's a great plane," Evans said. "It gives you a real feeling of flying. We used to do all kinds of acrobatics."
The flights, funded in part by donations, mean a lot to veterans, Fisher said.
"This is a World War II trainer, very familiar to this generation," said Fisher. "It's very nostalgic and, whether you ever flew in one or not, it evokes an emotion -- like a convertible."