100-year-old British veteran Ron Holdsworth took a flight in a 1940s era biplane on Thursday for a flight over Bakersfield, California. The flight was organized by the non-profit organization Dream Flights.
Holdsworth’s flight was piloted by Molly Littlefield, departing from Bakersfield Jet Center at Meadows Field Airport, California. Holdsworth proved that age is just a number, giving Littlefield a thumbs up before she accelerated the aircraft down the runway and into the air. She was honored to be able to fly the former airman and hoped that the experience gave Holdsworth the time of his life.
She is no stranger to performing flights for combat veterans, having taken around 60 veterans on such experiences. “It’s been a privilege to provide these flights to members of the greatest generation,” Littlefield said.
She believes it’s crucial that we honor those who served in WWII, to discuss their stories, and to understand the difficulties and sacrifices they made, “Because pretty soon its gone.”
The aircraft used for the flight was a Boeing Stearman. This particular aircraft has been expertly restored into immaculate condition. The Stearman is a two-seater biplane that first flew in the 1930s. It saw widespread use during WWII as a trainer aircraft for the US Army Air Force. Over 10,000 were built in total. When the war ended thousands of Stearmans found themselves on the used market, becoming popular crop dusters and aerobatic aircraft.
In addition to his flight, Holdsworth was asked to sign the Stearman’s rudder, alongside the signatures of many veterans.
The non-profit organization that arranged the flight, Dream Flights, has completed many such flights before. The organization is “dedicated to honoring military veterans and seniors with the adventure of a lifetime.”
Flying with such extraordinary people means they are able to “collect, preserve and share those stories of how they survived through times of great strife to remind us of our shared humanity, our connection to each other and the value of listening.”
Dream Flights have carried out over 4,000 flights for seniors and veterans since 2011. Holdsworth’s flight was part of Operation September Freedom, which aims to honor as many WWII veterans as possible.
Although he loved the flight, Holdsworth is certainly no stranger to flying, completing 32 combat missions as a rear gunner in a bomber during WWII. The British-born veteran worked as an aircraft mechanic for three years before he became a bomber crewman in 1944.
“I left England in April ’41 and got back in January ’44,” Holdsworth said. “I spent time in South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Kenya, Madagascar, Egypt.”
He flew in the Royal Air Force (RAF) on a Handley Page Halifax, a British four-engined heavy bomber. The Halifax was a critical component of Bomber Command during WWII, serving alongside Avro Lancaster.
Holdsworth flew six missions over France and a further 26 over Germany, some of which were particularly eventful. On Christmas Eve in 1944, Holdsworth participated in a daylight mission to drop bombs on industrial targets in the Ruhr, a region in Germany.
“We were going to an airfield in the industrial Ruhr,” he said. “I believe we were flying over Duisburg when we got hit with the flak.”
“Me being at the back, and the only one that faces the other way, I didn’t know what had happened,” he added.
The flak shook the aircraft and burst an oxygen canister. “I felt the initial shock,” Holdsworth said of the hit. “At the time I thought I was going to be a guest of Adolf’s.”
Fortunately, the aircraft was able to make it back to England.
California’s State Junior Vice Commander Tim Bryant was present for Holdsworth’s magnificent flight. He stressed the importance of ensuring young Americans understand and value history.
“I have two young girls,” he said. “It’s important that they know what our veterans have done, and what our allies have done.”
Holdsworth was asked if he had any words of advice for other veterans who have the opportunity to partake in one of the Dream Flights; “Go for it,” he said. “I’d tell them to go for it.”