Willows Resident “Walks on Air” One More Time

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Man spends birthday up in the sky

In June, The Willows at Westborough Residents Bob and Karin Bleakney celebrated Bob’s birthday by enjoying his favorite hobby—flying.

Bob’s fascination with flying began when he was a boy and his father took him and his brother, Dick, to see American aviation pioneer Jimmy Doolittle in a racing plane in Springfield, Massachusetts. Both boys dreamed of becoming pilots; eventually, both did.

Although he never owned a plane, Bob leased Grummans and Pipers locally, logging 723.6 hours of flying time from 1979 to 1986. With Karin at his side most of the time, he piloted many short trips around New England as well as a long flight from Massachusetts to Florida.

Karin was never nervous flying with him. “He was a good pilot. He was cautious,” she states. “If there was bad weather, he wouldn’t fly.”

One of their five children, Amy Neil, says she has many cherished memories of her father’s piloting hobby, including being flown to college in Maine. “My father was an excellent teacher,” she recalls. “So as we were flying, he just naturally taught us about it. But mostly my memories are about being together as a family during the flights.”

Several months before his birthday, when Bob mentioned he wished he could go up in the air one more time, his wife and children (Kathy, Betsy, Rob, Linda and Amy) collaborated on making it happen. They arranged for a family “tailgate style” party on the lawn of Minute Man Air Field in Stow, Massachusetts, and a flight for Bob (who showed up wearing a leather bomber jacket and carrying his flight bag and flight log) through the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA).

The EAA offers “Young Eagles” programs throughout the country and internationally, allowing children ages 8-17 to take a free flight and learn about what pilots do on the ground and in the air. Although Bob surpassed the age and knowledge criteria, pilot Lee Cooperider graciously took him and Karin on a free flight above Massachusetts, where they spied the Boston skyline, Mt. Wachusett and Mt. Monadnock. “It was a thrill for old time’s sake,” raves Bob.

Celebrating a milestone anniversary of marriage to Karin in August, Bob credits her for helping him realize his dream. “She knew I wanted to fly one more time and she did everything she could to make it possible. Every fellow should have a wife like that.”

Lately, Bob’s been looking through his log book and reminiscing about where they went and what they did. “My log book records a total flying time of 723.6 hours,” he confirms. “And I walked on air every minute of it.”