Already a member? Please login below for an enhanced experience. Not a member? Join today
Menu

Barnstorming biplanes honor World War II veterans

Six pilots flying vintage Boeing Stearmans aim for 1,000 flights in 61 days

World War II veteran James “Jim” Miller, 94, flashed a smile and a thumbs-up from the front seat of a restored 1940 Boeing Stearman Model 75 Kaydet after Dream Flights pilot Marcus Smith brought the taildragger to a halt in Westminster, Maryland, September 6.

Operation September Freedom

  • Operation September Freedom
    World War II veteran James Miller, 94, signals a thumbs-up after a Dream Flights open-cockpit biplane experience to honor his military service. The organization has taken nearly 500 military veterans aloft since August 1 and intends to top 1,000 by September 30. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Operation September Freedom
    Dream Flights pilots Max Combeau and Marcus Smith thank World War II veteran James Miller, 94, for his military service. Miller served as a mail expeditor and a night guardsman. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Operation September Freedom
    World War II veteran James Miller, 94, prepares for an honor flight in a 1940 Boeing Stearman Kaydet to recognize his military service. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Operation September Freedom
    World War II veteran James, 94, Miller participates in a Dream Flights experience in Westminster, Maryland, September 6. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Operation September Freedom
    Dream Flights pilot Max Combeau, acting as ground crew, signals pilot Marcus Smith that he is clear to start the Stearman’s radial engine. The aircraft was in service as a U.S. Army trainer before it was purchased in 1946 by William L. Fisher, the grandfather of Dream Flights founder Darryl Fisher. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Operation September Freedom
    World War II veteran James Miller thanks Dream Flights pilot Marcus Smith after the 94-year-old’s honor flight. “It’s a small thing for us, but it’s very rewarding,” Smith said. Photo by David Tulis.

“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.”

A Boeing Stearman military trainer operated by Dream Flights pilot Marcus Smith departs for an honor flight with World War II veteran James Miller at Carroll County Regional Airport/Jack B. Poage Field in Westminster, Maryland. Photo by David Tulis. The rudder of a restored Boeing Stearman biplane is covered in signatures from scores of World War II veterans who participated in flights honoring their military service. Photo by David Tulis. World War II veteran James Miller, a mail expediter and night guardsman during the war, adds his signature to scores of others on the rudder of a restored Boeing Stearman Model 75 after completing a Dream Flights mission In Westminster, Maryland. Photo by David Tulis. Dream Flights pilots Marcus Smith and Max Combeau brief World War II veteran James Miller before a flight in a restored 1940 Boeing Stearman Model 75. The organization dispatched six vintage Stearman biplanes across the United States to participate in Operation September Freedom. Photo by David Tulis.
David Tulis

David Tulis

Content Producer
AOPA Media Content Producer David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-wining AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft ad photography.
Topics: Vintage

Related Articles