With a flight helmet pulled tightly over his ears, Charles Norton, 78, snapped a crisp salute to the crowd gathered around a World War II Stearman biplane at Tracy Municipal Airport.
He waved from the front seat as the biplane’s engine roared to life, belching smoke, and the pilot taxied to the runway.
Norton was one of eight veterans and seniors who were honored Friday morning for their sacrifices and service to the community as the Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation made its fourth visit to Tracy Airport.
Each of them was taken aloft in the Stearman trainer for short flights over Tracy, organized by Astoria Senior Living & Memory Care.
Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation, a nonprofit, has four pilots who travel across the United States to give rides to veterans of all branches of the military and seniors in long-term care centers.
Darryl Fisher, a Dream Flights pilot, said it was a privilege to fly them over Tracy.
“We love honoring our veterans and seniors,” Fisher said. “Our mission is to give back to those who have given so much. This is a way to say thank you in a unique way.”
On Friday, family and friends gathered to watch the eight guests take to the skies. Students from the West High Community Leaders of America Club waved signs and cheered.
Norton, a Marine Corps veteran, was the first. The biplane climbed into a light drizzle as people applauded.
Back on the ground, he said it was the first time he had been in a light aircraft since 1975, and his first time ever flying above the expanse of the city.
“It’s exhilarating — the smoothest ride. It seemed like we were just floating,” Norton said. “You see the roads, the way things curve. It was really a great experience.”
The flights continued throughout the day. Each guest posed for pictures with Fisher and the plane and received a hat autographed by the pilot.