Lee Roberson got a thrill last week when he flew over his childhood home in Wilder.
Roberson, 61, a former helicopter pilot for the U.S. Air Force, hadn’t been up in a private plane for at least 10 years. He hadn’t flown by himself for two decades since losing his pilot’s license due to a disability that left him confined to a wheelchair. He resides at the Idaho State Veterans Home, 320 Collins Road in Boise.
“My dad loved to fly and losing his pilot’s license to his disability was really tough for him,” daughter Chelsea Tuttle said. “Having the opportunity to not just go up in a plane again, but to take over the controls and fly over his home — where he used to do flyovers when he was stationed at Mountain Home — was absolutely priceless.”
Meridian pilot Scotty Crandlemire took Roberson up Wednesday in the initial flight for a program entitled Elevate Our Veterans. Crandlemire began flying in 1984, when he was stationed with the Air Force in England. The program is a way, Crandlemire said, to thank veterans for their service and to make them feel appreciated.
Ed Priddy of Meridian provided the 1966 Cessna P-206B plane used for the hourlong flight that began and ended at the Nampa Municipal Airport.
“Mr. Roberson was a treat to fly with,” said Crandlemire, who works in sales and pilot services for Cascade Aircraft Management in Caldwell. “You could see it in his face and eyes.”
Roberson, who was initially stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base, retired in 1997 after 20 years of service. He was a lieutenant colonel when a medical discharge ended his career. He had also served at Elgin AFB in Florida; Kadena AFB in Okinawa, Japan; Kirkland AFB in Albuquerque, N.M.; and McClellan AFB in Sacramento, Calif.
He flew Huey and Blackhawk helicopters during more than 35 missions, Tuttle said. He was licensed as a commercial helicopter pilot for both visual conditions and using instrument panels. He was also licensed as a private pilot for single-engine airplanes.
His parents, Alvin and Alice Roberson, still live in the home where Roberson grew up in Wilder. His mother came outside and waved when the plane carrying her son flew overhead.
Tuttle secretly fed Crandlemire information to guide the plane to Wilder without Roberson catching on. The pilot described it as a “tearful moment” when they flew over the home several times and Roberson saw his mother waving.
“The ear-to-ear smile as he was being loaded into the aircraft was rare and so special to see, but the quiet reverence during the flight was an even better indicator of just how much the flight meant to him,” Tuttle said. “To experience that kind of freedom after so many years was priceless.”
John Sowell: 208-377-6423, @IDS_Sowell