Dream Flights: Giving Back to Those Who GaveJan 27, 2022 01:52PM ● By STEVE CORBIN
This past September and October if you happened to glance skyward and saw a bright yellow World War II-era biplane flying overhead, chances are you were witnessing history in the making. The passenger was likely a WWII veteran flying in one of six restored Stearman biplanes, the same aircraft used to train aviators during the war. It was part of the 2021 tour by Operation Dream Flights, a nonprofit organization founded in 2010 by Darryl and Carol Fisher and the Fisher family, dedicated to honoring seniors and military veterans.
Of the 16 million who served in WWII, fewer than 200,000 veterans, the youngest being 95 years old, remain. The Dream Flights mission is to honor as many of these heroes as possible. To date, about 5,000 WWII vets have flown on a Dream Flight. The cost is free, and the flights are funded by sponsorships and donations, as well as support from volunteer pilots, crew members, and maintenance and administrative staff. The pilots and crew are barnstorming across the country, stopping in towns large and small to meet the veterans and their families.
Each 20-minute flight is preceded by a small ceremony introducing the veterans and describing their WWII records and stories. They then climb into the open-cockpit biplane for a most memorable flight cruising 1,000 feet above their community.
The Dream Flights Tour stopped at Page Field in Fort Myers this past September and October to fly local WWII veterans, mainly from the Shell Point Retirement Community, in a beautifully restored yellow seven-cylinder 1943 Stearman biplane, The Spirit of Wisconsin. This plane had been used to train pilots during WWII, then was purchased to work as a crop duster but later sat in storage. The plane made its way to Missouri, North Carolina, and Tennessee before finding a home with Roland Garlinghouse, an aviator and Stearman enthusiast. He restored the plane and used it to travel locally and to vintage aircraft gatherings around the country. He also gave flights to neighboring retired naval aviators and is now a part of the Dream Flights squadron.
The Dream Flights mission is “to give back to those who gave” by offering an adventure-of-a-lifetime flight to WWII heroes, now known as part of the “Greatest Generation.”
One of those veterans who made his Dream Flight in October was Dick Corbin, a 98-year-old resident of Shell Point. He served in the war with the 84th Army Infantry Division “Railsplitters,” 333rd Regiment, as a sergeant. Dick was a Battle of the Bulge survivor, Bronze Star recipient, and led a military police platoon after the war ended.
“It was a great ride,” he said after finishing his Dream Flight. “I was a little nervous at first because I’d never been up in a plane like this before, but I am so glad I did it. Such a beautiful day, and everyone who put this together did a wonderful job and made us feel really special. It was a real honor.” After the flight each veteran signs the tail of the plane.
For more information about Dream Flights visit dreamflights.org.
Steve Corbin is a TOTI contributor, a longtime resident of Sanibel, and loves exploring the state to uncover hidden gems.
ABOUT THE DREAM FLIGHTS
Dream Flights are funded by sponsorships and donations and supported by volunteer pilots, crew members, and maintenance and administrative staff. The cost is free to the veterans.
Veterans fly in one of six restored Stearman biplanes, the same aircraft used to train aviators during WWII.
The pilots and crew barnstorm across the country, stopping in towns large and small to meet WWII veterans and their families. They listen to their stories and fly the vets in open-cockpit biplanes, soaring 1,000 feet above family and friends.