Pilots & Bold Pilots
Kathleen Corey Rahme
There must be something in
the air that makes people like Sara Payne Hayden, WWII
WASP; Jim Baker, Marine and retired Delta pilot; Sam
DiNoto, WWII B-17 flight
engineer and top turret gunner; and Luther McIlwain,
Tuskegee Airman all seem so young. Or is it something
about taking a trip to the Lawrence Airport to see their
beloved planes that brought about this transformation? On
August 18 during the EAA (Experimental Aviation Aircraft)
sponsored air show, we planned a rendezvous.
The featured attractions were the B-17 Flying Fortress,
Aluminum Overcast and James Bakers vintage WWII
1944 AT-6 plane. I was lucky enough to be there.
A few weeks ago when the Methuen VFW hosted a motorcycle
rally to raise money for a new roof, Hayden along with
her contemporary Mary Habib were on hand to announce
ladies and gentlemen; start your engines.
During the playing of the National Anthem, the AT-6 did a
fly by. Baker made his way back to the VFW to meet Hayden
who flew his plane during WWII while serving in the
Womens Airforce Service Pilots. Of course they
traded stories and anecdotes about the plane and that is
what led Baker to invite Hayden to take a ride.
When I heard the B-17 Aluminum Overcast, the heavy bomber
was coming to Lawrence on August 17-19; the only thing I
had to do was worry about the weather. We all committed
to meeting up on one of those days to participate in the
EAA outing. See www.EAA106.org.
Baker, 75 of Boxford, a sergeant during the Korean War
who served as a Radar Navigator in Miami wanted Sara to
go flying with him. He asked her if that was a
possibility and she told him in no uncertain terms she
never flew the AT-6 from the back seat. It
was priceless. The wind was so great that Hayden, 88,
declined the invitation to fly. But not only did she sit
in the cockpit to revisit her familiar home, she took a
There was so much excitement among the crowd when they
saw Sara return to the seat in the plane she flew over 63
years ago. What they talked about, I cannot even begin to
share because it was so far out of my realm of knowledge.
Hayden played with all the buttons and pushed on the
rudder for the crowd. She remembered where most of the
instruments were located. Baker said of the experience,
I got goose bumps when she sat in the cockpit and
asked where the backup hydraulic pump was. He
acknowledged how great it was to have this volunteer WWII
female pilot sit in his plane.
Luther McIlwain, soon to be 86, and a great friend of
Hayden accompanied us to the airport that day and he took
his turn sitting in the cock-pit. The Tuskegee Airman is
tripled rated as a bombardier, radar navigator and pilot.
Upon hearing this gentleman is a Congressional Gold Medal
of Honor recipient, the crowd went wild with jubilation
There to capture this remarkable reunion between pilot
and plane was Al Grant of Methuen and MCTV, producer of
the series Old Pilots and Bold Pilots and
Call to Serve. I learned the origin of
the title from Baker. He quipped, There are old
pilots and bold pilots but very few old, bold
pilots. Grant recorded commentary about the
memories that were resurrected during this wonderful
The B-17 has the acclaim of being one of the fiercest
fighting machines of WWII not only because of her
mechanical capabilities but because of her crewmen like
Sam DiNoto, 83 of Methuen. Being with DiNoto, you can
truly appreciate the admiration for the B-17 shared by
the numerous men who visited the airport that day donning
their Mighty 8th Airforce caps covered with
flare from ruptured ducks to Purple Hearts.
What makes these old
veterans pilgrimage to see the B-17 is no mystery. They
come to these EAA air shows to pay tribute to the bird
that they have loved and respected for over six decades.
While my husband and I were just hanging around taking
all of this in, Tom Hatem of Methuen was there to take a
ride in the B-17. He encouraged us to join him and with
very little coaxing, we did. All I can say is that I am
grateful that I didnt let this once in a lifetime
opportunity slip by. We were given a series of pre-flight
instructions and then we took off in the magnificent
bird. What a thrill!
It was very windy and of course there was no on-board
service. We were able experience a small glimpse in 45
minutes what our brave men did for several hours, every
day in WWII. One needs to magnify the experience with
increased elevation and cold temperatures as well as the
stress of combat that occurred in the original flights.
I was able to spend of time in the nose turret and it was
so amazing that when it was my turn, we were just
approaching the Atlantic over Ipswich. The nose turret is
covered by Plexiglas from ceiling to floor. Sitting
on a bicycle seat with a 180 degree vantage point is what
I call a front row seat! It is not for the faint of
heart. It is an experience I will never forget.
Baker and co-pilot Maureen Monroe of Atkinson, NH went up
in the AT-6 and flew over a couple of times to entertain
the crowd. At one point Baker tipped the wings in a
gesture to say hello. Baker told me that this was the
best time he has had in years because he had the pleasure
of being in the company of a bunch of old pilots.
Special thanks to the Lawrence Municipal Airport for
hosting this event. It serves the community in so many
Kathleen Corey Rahme is the former Central District
Councilor in Methuen and was elected as a city councilor
at large in 2005. She is also the vice chair
of the city council and founder of the Methuen Youth
Corps. Kathleen is a candidate for mayor of Methuen. She
also hosts Call to Serve. You can email her
at kcoreyrahme @comcast.net
*Send your questions comments to ValleyPatriot@aol.com
The September 2007
Edition of the Valley Patriot
The Valley Patriot is a Monthly
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