No one can call Vera Selfridge chicken hearted.
On Wednesday afternoon, the 86-year-old waved good-bye to her family, then turned and climbed into the open cockpit of a vintage biplane in Richland.
"Don't forget where I put my will," she called, giving them a thumbs-up as the plane's engine revved for takeoff.
The Boeing Stearman belongs to Darryl Fisher of Carson City, Nev., president of the Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation. He and his wife, Carol, established the nonprofit last year after Fisher took a cross-country biplane trip with his father.
"I asked him if he'd mind if we offered plane rides to veterans and seniors in retirement homes in towns we stopped in for gas. He was all for it," Fisher said.
One of his first riders was Lloyd Lathim of Jasper, Ala. After returning to Nevada, Fisher sent Lathim an autographed photo of two of them and the plane.
"I called the senior home later and they told me, for weeks, he never left his room without that photo. When he died shortly afterwards, that photo was the one they displayed on his coffin. Hearing that choked me up," Fisher said.
Giving those first airplane rides was such a rich experience for him that Fisher decided to find a way to repeat it. Donations from friends and corporate sponsors helped pay for the foundation.
"I donate my time and the plane. Money from the foundation covers gas for the plane and travel costs," he said.
Last summer, he gave 60 free rides in 24 states. So far this summer, he has given 17 rides. Wednesday was Selfridge's turn, along with her friend, Margaret Walker, 90, who also lives at Riverton Retirement & Assisted Living in Richland.
Both women sported smiles as they touched down at the Richland Airport. Asked if they would do it again, neither hesitated, saying, "Sure."
Growing up with four older brothers taught Selfridge to be brave and take chances.
"If they did something, they'd tease me until I did it too. I learned to be tough," she said. "I can hardly wait to call my daredevil brother Chuck and tell him what I did. He served in the Navy six years during World War II, but he was aboard a ship. He never flew in an open airplane. I think I have one dare ahead of him now."
Walker, a Pasco native, remembers seeing a similar plane at the Pasco Naval Base during World War II.
"I was a member of the USO and on base frequently. These planes were the trainers for the pilots," she said. "Flying today brought back memories of my flying in one back in the 1940s."
Fisher said giving seniors and veterans free plane rides is one way of giving back to those who served and those who supported them.
"It's a way to make a difference in their lives. To give them an experience they'll talk about the rest of their lives," he said.
For more information about the Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation, go to www.agelessaviationdreams.org. To watch a video of Wednesday's flight, go to tricityherald.com.
-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; email@example.com