Air Force veteran, 90, takes one more trip down runway
POPLAR GROVE, Ill. — Leonard Ihrke looked down the length of the airplane, a four-seater Beechcraft Bonanza.
“She’s a beauty,” he said. “But a little smaller than I’m used to.”
A former Air Force flight instructor, Ihrke earned his wings in the massive B-17 bomber during World War II. After the war, that flight training helped him during a long career as an aircraft mechanic.
Now at age 90 and a hospice patient, it’d been many years since Ihrke’s last flight. But in his memory, he still felt the call of the open sky and the rumble of the engine below his feet.
Sept. 7, Ihrke donned his headset for takeoff at Poplar Grove Air Motive in Poplar Grove.
“Ready,” he said, nodding to flight instructor Craig Bailey, who donated his time and airplane for the special trip.
The flight’s scenery was sunset over Lake Michigan — a little more tranquil than his own days as a pilot — but the feeling was the same. The two men, strangers until that evening, bonded quickly over their shared passion for flight.
“We had a lot of fun,” Bailey said. “I’m glad he made it out.”
Ihrke landed 30 minutes later with a wide grin.
“What a night,” he said.
Ihrke’s flight was organized by Passages Hospice Dreams, a non-profit organization dedicated to fulfilling unmet wishes and improving quality of life among hospice patients.
For more about Passages, call (630) 940-9863, or visit Passages Hospice on the web at www.passageshospice.com.
From the Sept. 14-20, 2011, issue
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