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Aging Vets Take Thrill Flight In Open-Air Cockpit

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (WCCO) -- At nearly 90 years old, climbing into the cockpit of a World War II military training bi-plane was never on Willard Bardon's bucket list.

"I'd just as soon be on the ground," Bardon laughed.

But for the former Korean War combat engineer, it was hard to pass up a flight when offered as a gift of thanks.

"I was more nervous than he was," Bardon's daughter Lori Steffens said, "but I thought this is very cool that he was able to go up in a plane that these people are honoring him for."

On Wednesday morning, with family and friends looking on, Bardon was airborne. From 1,000 feet above Flying Cloud field, he was soon soaking up the rare sights of the beauty below.

The warm wind in his face quickly put a whistle in his heart.

Sponsors of the flights, Great Clips and MatrixCare, say it's a way to give back to those who've given the rest of us so much.

"You can imagine the average day is not super exciting. When they sit in the front of that thing it's quite an adrenaline rush," MatrixCare CEO John Damgaard said.

Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation provides their flights in a 1942 Boeing Stearman. It's the plane initially designed as a military trainer back in the 1940s. The foundation is the brainchild of pilot, Darryl Fisher.

"And so this is our way of saying thank you in a really unique way to people who have really done a lot for us," Fischer said.

With their 15- to 20-minute rides over, Bardon and his fellow veterans gave their experience in the Stearman a thumbs-up, proving you're never too old to relive the thrill of your youth.

"It was a fun whistle, fun to see everything," he said.

Over the years, Fischer's foundation has taken more than 1,500 seniors, mostly World War II and Korean veterans, on the flights.


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