Back in 1949 Don Sly was a recent high school graduate and had what he thought was the opportunity of a lifetime.
“A friend had an uncle who owned an old biplane that he used to do airshows,” Sly, now 83, recalls. “Through my friend I got to ride in that biplane.”
That ride ignited a passion for aviation that stays with Sly to this day.
“I finally reached the point where I had enough money to get my pilot’s license,” he says. “As a schoolteacher, my pockets weren’t deep.”
He was never able to afford to buy a plane, but was able to rent one. His favorite to fly? The Piper Cherokee Warrior.
But like so many family men, Sly found that his wife wouldn’t fly in the airplane with him.
Since she “got nothing” out of his hobby, he hung up his wings and took the money he had been spending on flying and invested in a little cottage on a lake in Michigan. “She loved it,” he noted.
He jumped at the “second in a lifetime” chance.
Earlier this summer, he was able to go aloft in a Boeing-Stearman N2S-5 Kaydet with Alan Wright, who offers free rides to veterans through a program at the Kalamazoo Air Zoo.
The day of the flight was perfect — little to no wind and about 65°. After thanking him for their service, the volunteers who work with Wright helped outfit Sly in a vintage helmet and took some time to snap some photos. Then it was time for the flight.
While he was offered the chance to take the controls of the plane, he told Wright he hadn’t flown for 35 years and was “perfectly happy” just going along for the ride.
“Most of them were older than me, in their 90s,” he says. “It was fun to see their reactions when they took off. It looked like somebody had done something just wonderful.”
“I can’t say thank you enough to Alan,” Sly adds.