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Barnstorming biplanes honor World War II veterans

“It was nice and smooth,” Miller said as he pumped Smith’s hand in appreciation. Acting as ground crew for the flight, fellow Dream Flights pilot Max Combeau chocked the blue-and-yellow biplane’s wheels at Carroll County Regional Airport/Jack B. Poage Field.

The mid-Atlantic honor flight is one of about 500 completed missions that began August 1 to remember the Greatest Generation as the youngest of them approach their mid-90s.

Operation September Freedom is intended to locate and honor more than 1,000 World War II veterans with open-cockpit flights during a coast-to-coast barnstorming sweep of more than 300 cities in 61 days. Dream Flights has divided the United States into six regions and dispatched six similarly restored Boeing Stearman Model 75 biplanes—known in their military configuration as U.S. Army PT–17 trainers—to recognize senior veterans for their service.

Dream Flights pilot Max Combeau wears an Operation September Freedom jacket that reflects the mission intended to honor more than 1,000 World War II veterans with open-cockpit biplane flights from August 1 through September 30. Photo by David Tulis.

Smith and Combeau are responsible for East Coast flights and were barnstorming to New England when they stopped in central Maryland. The two planned to honor as many veterans as possible with 20- to 30-minute open-cockpit flights at about 90 mph.

The route eventually points them west toward the fiftieth National Stearman Fly-In at Galesburg, Illinois, September 6 through 12. The fly-in includes aircraft award categories, short-field takeoff competitions, spot landing contests, flyovers, aerobatic contests, picnics, and socializing.

More than 11,000 of the radial-engine trainers were produced in the 1930s and 1940s and about 2,500 remain on the FAA registry.

“It’s awesome, it’s exciting, and it’s rewarding,” said Smith, a corporate pilot, and a Piper J–3 Cub owner from North Carolina who enjoys flying low and slow at 1,000 feet above ground level. “It’s a culmination of everything I Iove about aviation. It’s so much more than just a flight.”

“It’s such an honor to fly these guys,” added Combeau, a fixed-wing medical evacuation pilot and a Piper J–3 Cub owner from Nevada. “It’s a small thing for us but it’s so rewarding for the veterans and their families.”

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