Rows of houses slipped beneath the airplane’s yellow wings as the 91-year-old circled town in the open-air cockpit for 10 minutes.
Lauppe was at the controls of a 1940 military training plane during an Ageless Aviation Dreams flight at Tracy Municipal Airport.
Standing on the airport tarmac after his ride, Lauppe savored the flight — his first such experience in 70 years.
“It was fun, it brought back memories from 70 years ago,” he said. “I had forgotten what it felt like. This is real flying — you feel the wind.”
Lauppe was one of seven seniors to take a 20-minute flight in the yellow-and-blue Boeing Stearman as the Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation stopped in Tracy as part of the Salute to America’s Senior Farmer and Veterans tour through Central California.
Since 2011, the foundation has provided free flights to seniors in a vintage World War II primary trainer biplane.
Foundation president and pilot Darryl Fisher, 49, is a third-generation pilot, and his family has been involved in senior health care and housing for many years. The foundation, based in Carson City, Nev., gave Fisher an opportunity to reach out to seniors with his love of flying.
“Seniors have given so much to society, this is a way to go back and recognize their sacrifices,” Fisher said. “It is neat to share the experience with them.”
Sponsors help the nonprofit foundation keep the three-plane fleet flying for a seven-week tour, giving more than 150 free flights to seniors.
For Lauppe, the flight was chance to get back into the airplane he soloed in as student pilot in World War II.
Lauppe joined the United States Navy in January 1942 as a 2nd Class Seaman flying a Stearman from the Oakland Airport training base and a dirt airstrip in Livermore.
Dubbed “the Yellow Peril” because of a bright yellow paint scheme, Lauppe flew the Stearman for a couple of months — racking up 150 hours flying time on the way to earning his wings.
He later became a Marine Corps pilot of a PBJ-1 twin-engine medium bomber in the South Pacific.
After the war, he wanted to settle down raise a family although he retained a love of flying.
“I missed it for a while — once you go flying you don’t want to give it up,” Lauppe said. “It’s kind of a thrill, kind of hard to give it up and get used to being earthbound.”
Waiting for the Stearman to arrive at the airport, Lauppe remembered his training days.
“My memories of flying days are great,” he said. “I loved to fly. I think back to some of the experiences I had and sometimes wonder why I wonder I’m here today.”
Up, up and away
Taking her first flight in a small airplane was 90-year-old Lorna Boothroyd, a retired Central School kindergarten teacher who was looking to do something different.
“When you get to be my age you don’t just like to sit, you don’t like to do just nothing,” she said. “I want to do something interesting.”
Climbing onto the biplane’s wing, she needed a little help to hoist herself into the front cockpit seat.
With a headset strapped over her ears and a thumbs up to her family, she took off for her flight over Tracy.
On the ground, Boothroyd’s daughter, Ellen McCray, said her mother wasn’t nervous because “the pilot doesn’t want to die, either.”
“I thought it was fun to see everything way down below,” Boothroyd said. “Nothing scary about it — was just a nice little ride.”
World War II veteran Ed Hettervick, 88, also took his first ride in a biplane.
The former machine gunner on a B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber said he has always loved airplanes.
“After my school and military years I built a model of every military plane form the war,” Hettervick said.
He even made a model of the Stearman, but he never had a chance to fly in one until now.
“It was terrific, I really enjoyed it,” he said. “It was busy up there trying to find landmarks — it was something different to look down on the houses.”
Like old times
Following the flights, the seniors posed for pictures with Fisher and his airplane.
Watching an outgoing flight, Lauppe said he felt a little rusty on the controls — but like riding a bike, you never forget.
“It was entirely different from when I first went up — after a while I thought with a few more flights I could take it up again by myself,” Lauppe said.
Fisher was impressed by the senior’s performance at the plane’s controls.
“He did an amazing job flying,” Fisher said. “I was in the presence of greatness. He flew 10 minutes and was making coordinated turns and smooth flying — it was unbelievable.”
The Ageless Aviation Dreams Central California tour continued through May 1. The foundation now heads north for flights in Oregon and Washington.
For information: www.agelessaviationdreams.org
• Contact Glenn Moore at 830 4252 or email@example.com.