Dreams of blasting off the tarmac in a fighter jet donâ€™t fade with age as one Arizona senior taught Airmen here May 17.
When approached by the Bucket List Foundation, a non-profit much like the Make a Wish Foundation or Dream Factory, Wil Englund asked if he could fly an F-16 Fighting Falcon.
â€œOur goal is to grant wishes to terminally ill seniors,â€ said Kimberly Iverson, Bucket List founder and hospice nurse in Phoenix. â€œI want to give back more to our senior community, so we try to empower social workers and hospice nurses to ask the question, â€˜Is there anything you wanted to do during your life but didnâ€™t get the chance to do?â€™â€
Englund, a hospice patient from Phoenix, never forgot about his dream as a young man to fly with the U.S. Army Air Corps. Poor color vision kept him out of the cockpit at the time, so instead he enlisted in the Army in the mid-1940s and served with occupying forces in Japan after World War II.
Iverson didnâ€™t think an F-16 ride was outside the realm of possibility. She called around until she found Lt. Col. Scott Reinhold, an F-16 instructor pilot at Tucsonâ€™s 162nd Fighter Wing, who offered a simulator flight and an up-close look at the unitâ€™s fleet.
More than 65 years later, a trip to Tucson International Airport would get Englund as close to an after burner take off as possible.
â€œUnfortunately, we couldnâ€™t get Wil into the simulator cockpit once he was here,â€ said Reinhold. Despite concerted efforts by several Bucket List volunteers to assist Englund into the seat, the physical limitations were too great to overcome.
Unfazed by the disappointment, Englund enthusiastically agreed to watch the wingâ€™s F-16s take off from just a few hundred feet from the runway.
â€œItâ€™s fantastic,â€ Englund said.
â€œThis gentleman is amazing,â€ said Iverson. â€œHeâ€™s been so gracious and humble throughout this entire experience. Heâ€™s grateful for everything people do for him and the Air Guard has been great. I look at what you guys are doing and itâ€™s amazing. The base is immaculate. Everyone has been kind and respectful. I feel really honored to be here and I want to thank the 162nd Fighter Wing for helping us with our cause.â€