CHESTER -- An eye injury kept Lewis Vannoy out of the Air Force, the place he'd hoped to become a pilot.
But the 49-year-old construction worker from Mocksville, N.C., navigated the skies last week, satisfying his longtime cockpit ambition in a World War II-era plane at the Chester airport.
"Just wanted to try to live it," said Vannoy, a history buff and fan of documentary maker Ken Burns. "It's not a thrill-seeking adventure to me. It's living the past in the current."
Vannoy's hour-long trip came via History Flight, a nonprofit Florida organization that allows regular folks to fly restored WWII planes with a flight instructor.
The main focus of the organization is to find the remains of those missing in action from WWII. The group funds yearly trips to search for lost servicemen abroad. History Flight's other goals include teaching the public about the history of American military aviation.
The traveling air expedition arrived at the Chester airport last week. Flights will be offered there Thursday through Monday and cost anywhere from $225 to $675, depending mostly on the length of the flight.
The people who take these sky tours do so for a variety of reasons. The trips can be a wife's gift to her husband or a veteran's reminder of service to his country.
On Friday, Vannoy brought longtime buddy Gene Wagoner, a 74-year-old retired music teacher from Yadkinville, N.C.
"He suggested it, and I thought it would be one of the most wonderful things I have ever done," Wagoner said after spending an hour soaring through an azure morning in a T-6 Texan. "And it was."
Wagoner taught music in public schools for 35 years. He can play more than a dozen instruments and said he's the "worst one in the choir" on Sundays. And he's no stranger to airplanes, having traveled to Israel, Egypt, Greece and Germany, not to mention playing music across the United States.
But he'd never experienced aerial combat maneuvers.
"It was like riding a roller coaster," he said. "And even better."
Another guy getting his first chance to man a plane was 44-year-old Mark Rowland, a Charlotte police officer who drove down Friday morning to enjoy the Christmas present he gave himself.
Rowland's flight lasted about 30 minutes under the instruction of a pilot called Tiny.
Tiny was "calm as a cucumber" in the air, Rowland said, a trait that allowed the cop to relax and enjoy the aerial twists.
"When Tiny gets excited," he thought, "then I'll get excited."
Rowland is accustomed to remaining cool under pressure on the job. He works the downtown beat.
When asked which is more nerve wracking -- flying a small military plane or working a police shift -- Rowland said the air seemed safer.
"I felt a little more at ease up there to tell you the truth," he said. "As crazy as that sounds, I don't feel like I'm gonna get shot at up there."
WANT TO GO?
History Flight offers introductory flight sessions that allow participants to fly restored World War II aircraft under the supervision of a certified flight instructor.
The planes used in the program are a Stearman Biplane and a T-6 Texan. The cost of the flight packages ranges from $225 for a 15-minute flight in the Stearman to $675 for an hour in the T-6 Texan.
The traveling organization will offer flights Thursday through Monday at the Chester airport near Lowrys.
To schedule a flight, call 1-888- 743-3311.