BOCA RATON — Still active and agile at 95, Duane Webster climbed one leg at a time into a World War II-era biplane at Boca Raton Airport on Thursday.
Webster settled into the war-era plane — something the U.S. . veteran hasn’t done since the 1940s. He adjusted his aviator sunglasses, pointed his finger at the nearby crowd and used his hand to salute.
And then he soared.
Webster was one of six Boca Raton veterans, along with one pilot, all over the age of 76 who flew in the refurbished war plane on Tuesday morning, courtesy of Ageless Aviation Dream Foundation, a Nevada-based nonprofit that offers flights in the biplane to veterans throughout the country.
“That was fantastic,” Webster said just after he climbed out the plane, which took him 1,000 feet above ground at 85 miles per hour.
During the flight, Webster threw up two thumbs up and told the pilot through the microphone, “This is great,” said Darryl Fisher, the pilot and founder of the nonprofit.
“He absolutely loved it,” Fisher said.
The bright blue and yellow 1940 Boeing Stearman biplane once belonged to Fisher’s grandfather, who purchased it after it was used to train pilots in World War II. He’s been giving free rides to veterans throughout the nation since 2011, although Tuesday’s was his first flight in Palm Beach County.
“That plane not only means a lot to our country, but it means a lot to my family,” Fisher said. “Our mission is to give back to those who have given so much to this country.”
The seven Boca Raton residents, who all live at St. Andrews Estate retirement community off St. Andrews Boulevard north of Palmetto Park Road, each flew in the plane for about 20 minutes with Fisher at the helm.
All have military backgrounds or flying experience and all had a strong connection to the experience.
For Webster, who served in World War II as a navigator on a Marine transportation squadron that flew over the Pacific Ocean, it reignited memories of his youth.
“It’s hard to explain,” he said. “But it’s a thrill. A deep, deep thrill.”
The flight brought back only the fondest memories to Bob Breiling, an 88-year-old Navy veteran who flew carriers during the Korean War.
“The most difficult part (of flying) was getting on and off the carriers,” said Breiling, who hadn’t flown in a plane for five years before Thursday. “Being up in the air? That’s the fun part.”
Breiling and Webster both flew commercial planes later in their careers.
But the small planes are the most exciting, they said.
“Big planes are boring,” Breiling quipped.
And while the retirees weren’t the oldest to take a twirl in Fisher’s plane (that would be a 103-year-old veteran from Texas), they didn’t let their ages define them while they glided Thursday.
That’s all to familiar for Webster, who celebrated his 88th birthday by jumping out of a plane at 13,500 feet.
“I like to stay busy,” he said with a laugh. “But seriously, at some point you start to ask yourself, ‘Can I still do it?’ ”
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