A small red and white plane sped down a runway on the morning of Nov. 22 at the Altoona-Blair County Airport before ascending into the sky as it likely has many times before.
However, this time, pilot Richard Gray had a notable passenger on board. Don Booterbaugh, a 93-year-old World War II veteran and former private pilot, was in tow.
“It’s been a long time,” Booterbaugh said of the duration since he last flew in a similar airplane.
Booterbaugh is a resident of Elmcroft of Altoona, a senior living community in Duncansville, and, when employees heard him tell stories of his flying days, they took steps to get him back in the air, Elmcroft spokeswoman Beth Lewis said. This was an act his family appreciated.
“This is the best thing ever that they could have done for him,” Bonnie Miller, Booterbaugh’s daughter, said. “This is a wonderful day.”
Booterbaugh, whose time as a World War II paratrooper took him as far away as North Africa and Italy, said he was able to jump from planes during the war, but did not have a chance to fly a plane until he returned home.
“I always went up in them, but never came back down in them,” Booterbaugh said, telling one of many jokes Saturday morning.
After securing his private pilot license, Booterbaugh often flew a small plane out of a former airport in Cresson, he said.
And during the Korean War, he re-enlisted in the Air Force, though he was not sent overseas, he said.
“I wanted to go, but they wouldn’t ship me,” he said.
The Nov. 22 flight was made possible as part of a Second Wind Dream, Lewis said, explaining Second Wind Dream allows donations to be taken in online to fund special events for the elderly.
Elmcroft has fulfilled several Second Wind Dreams for its residents each year for the past few years, Lewis said.
Lewis said the flight took about a week to set up, and it was easy to find a pilot because she is friends with Gray, who works as a station manager at the airport.
A crowd of family members gathered near the runway, braving the cold, windy weather to watch as the small plane took off.
Among them was another of Booterbaugh’s daughters, Sheila Ault.
“I love it,” Ault said, relaying what the flight meant to her and her father. “It’s something he wanted. He said he just wanted to fly one more time.”
His daughter, Donna Shedlock, who was able to fly with her father and Gray, became emotional while talking about the experience, having trouble finding the words to describe it.
“It means a lot,” she said. “I think it’s been his dream for a long time.”
The family members, including several toddlers and at least one baby, waited for about an hour in an airport waiting room while Booterbaugh was airborne, and their support, Booterbaugh said, was welcome.
“It’s great to see them here,” he said, shortly after landing. “They are a wonderful family.”
And the flight itself, Booterbaugh said, was satisfying, too.
“I was well-satisfied. I liked it a lot,” he said. “Oh, yes I did very much.”