Christina Hall Detroit Free Press
90-Year-Old Vet Lives Dream of Returning to the Skies
November 10, 2012
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  • By Christina Hall

    For Joseph Horvath, flying in a Cessna Skyhawk 172 was like putting on an old pair of comfortable shoes.

    “Do it, boy,” he told pilot Tim Davis as the four-passenger airplane got ready to take off into the crisp air Friday at Eagle Flight Center at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti Township.

    Horvath, 90, a World War II veteran who flew airplanes, helped push the throttle when the white- and red-striped plane took off.

    He grabbed the yoke, or control wheel, like a pro and turned it to the right as Davis, 24, of Belleville, directed him.

    “We move the ailerons,” said Horvath of Southgate, referring to the flight control device that helps the plane lean in a certain direction.

    Horvath, who suffers from advanced dementia, was able to take to the skies again Friday with the help of Hospice Dreams, a nonprofit, wish-granting group based in Illinois. Horvath’s dream is one of about 100 being fulfilled this year in the Midwest area, said Kristen Kolwelter, dreams development manager.

    For 30 minutes, Horvath flew up to 120 m.p.h., soaring to about 5,000 feet above the clouds to Brighton and back.

    At one point, Davis said he thought he saw Horvath lift his finger to his left eye and start to cry.

    “It was wonderful,” Horvath’s wife, Maggie Horvath, 67, of Wyandotte said of the experience.

    Elaine Sikora, Horvath’s nurse and hospice case manager, also went on the flight.

    “I think it went beyond our hopes,” she said.

    Horvath lives in the Southgate Manor nursing home and can’t stand on his own. He says few words and sometimes spends time tightly holding his wife’s hand.

    But in the plane, something clicked.

    Horvath was nervous as he was carefully lifted from a large, reclining medical chair into the cockpit by Sikora, Kaylie Novak and Laura Smith, both certified nurse assistants with Passages Hospice in Livonia.

    The seatbelt clicked.

    “Are you ready to go?” Horvath was asked.

    “Yeah, I’m ready,” he said.

    He started grabbing for controls even before the propeller started spinning.

    The headset-clad pilot smiled throughout the flight.

    When Horvath turned the yoke to the right, he wanted to go a little bit more, Davis said.

    “You can tell he flew a lot,” Davis said.

    After the group taxied back to the flight center, Horvath’s wife of 27 years proudly said: “Joe did fly the plane.”

    The flight came after a tour of a B17 bomber in a hangar at Willow Run Airport. Horvath flew smaller planes — P51s — but always wanted to fly a B17, Maggie Horvath said. She said he was stationed in the U.S. during the war for two years and was honorably discharged from the Army after two of his brothers, who were overseas, were killed in the war.

    Horvath went on to become a bricklayer, she said.

    “He comes from a time when aviators were even a smaller part of society,” Davis said, adding that flight, two days before Veterans Day, was an exciting opportunity.

    Kolwelter said the group planned to fly in a B17 in August, but Horvath had fallen and was in too much pain. The flight was rescheduled, but the B17 was down for repairs.

    “This has been a long time coming,” said Novak, one of the certified nurse assistants.

    Maggie Horvath said the experience meant a lot, especially because her husband hasn’t done anything like it in years.

    “You have fun?” the vet was asked before his caretakers lifted him out of the pilot’s seat.

    He replied with a nod.