The nonprofit organization was founded by Darryl and Carol Fisher and the Fisher family in 2011 as the Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation, and this month changed its name to Dream Flights. It was and remains dedicated to U.S. military veterans and seniors living in long-term care communities who have a burning desire to fly. The organization was featured in the April 2016 AOPA Pilot article, “Skyward, again.”
Since its founding, the organization has grown from one to six touring Stearmans; one more is used for pilot training. In October 2018, at age 104, Norma Evans braved cool and breezy conditions in Lawrence, Kansas, to become the foundation’s oldest passenger.
The Operation September Freedom name highlights September 2, 1945, when Japan signed the Instrument of Surrender in Tokyo Bay to formally end World War II. The 2021 Dream Flight campaign was announced by design on the anniversary of the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, Darryl Fisher explained. “By 2021, an estimated 100,000 of the 16 million World War II veterans will still be alive. We are on a mission to locate, travel to, and honor each one with a Dream Flight,” he explained. “This could be the last opportunity our nation has to thank them for their service, so our pilots will fly coast to coast and town to town, giving WWII veterans Dream Flights.”
The tour will launch on August 1 and continue through September 30. Fisher said that at the middle of the campaign, on September 6, the biplanes will converge on Galesburg, Illinois, during the fiftieth annual National Stearman Fly-In. After honoring some World War II veterans there with Dream Flights, he said the pilots will turn around and head toward their home bases, continuing to give Dream Flights to World War II heroes along the way.
Since 2011, the Nevada-based foundation has given 4,242 Dream Flights, in nearly every state. Volunteer pilots and crewmembers conduct the flights in six restored Stearman biplanes, strategically based in different areas of the country; a seventh, dedicated to pilot training, is based in San Antonio. Its 2020 season had started in February—the earliest ever, Fisher noted—and was ended early, on March 10, by the coronavirus pandemic. “At the time it seemed maybe a little premature, but in retrospect it was spot on.”
World War II heroes can be nominated for a Dream Flight during Operation September Freedom by visiting the website. “And if you’d like to donate to help us with this huge undertaking, your support means the world to us and to our Dream Flyers,” Fisher said.