Dream Flights teamed up with the Arkansas-based assisted living facility Elmcroft of Mountain Home to grant Bob Cwiak a gift he could have never imagined. In celebration of his big day Monday, Cwiak was flown in a WWII biplane at the Baxter Regional Airport in Midway, Arkansas.
The veteran explained to Fox News that he was "taken aback" by the 22-minute experience, saying it brought back memories of his days throughout WWII. It was his first time back in the sky since 1963. Although, 1945 was the last time he flew bombardier for the U.S. Air Force while placed in Spinazzola, Italy. The bombardier stood or knelt down at the nose of the plane and was in command of releasing the bombs.
Quick, who ultimately became a 1st Lieutenant, and his crew principally flew missions over Nazi-occupied central Europe. "The acceleration of being back in the air was great…the wind in my hair," Cwiak announced of Monday's flight. "I would like to be up there again."
It's a wish that will be granted for his birthday every year. The nonprofit "actually told him when he came down that since he is turning a century old, he gets to go up every year," Katie Hammet, healthy lifestyles director for Elmcroft of Mountain Home, told Fox News.
Dream Flights, established in 2011, honors "military veterans and seniors with the adventure of a lifetime: a flight in a Boeing Stearman biplane." It's the very aircraft that was used to teach military aviators in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Having lived 99 years you can imagine he’s full of stories. Like when the mechanism he operated opened the Bombay doors, but the bombs didn’t release and fall. He left his station in the nose of the plane and crept back to the cargo area, now wide open, and manually released the bombs. The plane was at 27,000 feet altitude and he had no oxygen mask. He passed out and was rescued before falling out of the plane when a crew member dragged him back into the oxygenated area, a very close call.
Retired to Mountain Home, he spends most of his days on the ground. Dream Flights gifted Cwiak with a free flight, to thank him for all he’s done. And to no surprise, Cwiak knew exactly what aircraft.
Dreams Flights works to provide free flights to 90-year-old veterans to praise them for their service. This summer they have been concentrating on World War II veterans to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
”Being a Dreams Flight pilot is the best way I’ve ever found to say thank you to the men and women who have provided the life that I get to live every day,” announced James Sims. “ My favorite part of flying with them is the moment we land and I jump out of my cockpit and swing up to the front because nobody has gotten to see their reaction yet and they’re always excited and ecstatic.
A crowd of about 25 people gathered at the airport Monday to watch Cwiak take his ride aboard the biplane. Those numbers included some fellow Elmcroft residents, military veterans, and others.