The open cockpit surprise


How many times do you get to do something really special for another human being? George Beeson’s family accomplished this for him. Fortunately they could do exactly what he wanted for a huge birthday gift – an unusual plane ride.
George, a retired Union County farmer (that is, if any farmer ever really retires), just had his 90th birthday on April 4. He still lives on his farm on St. Route 31, but grew up in Vandalia, Ohio. He was born in 1928 and was one of 11 children. The farm he lived on was not far from the Vandalia airport, where as a child he watched planes arrive and take off all day long. He wanted to be a pilot and ride in an open cockpit plane. There was no money for pilot training so he decided to stick with the thing he knew well – farming.
George and Phyllis Beeson married in 1950 and had four children, three girls, Barb, Cathy, Chris, and a son, Dan, who passed away. Later, Phyllis would tell her children she was so nervous on her wedding day she forgot to take her pajamas off and wore her wedding dress over them. Even so, all has worked out well nearly 68 years later.
Eventually they moved to Union County and purchased 250 acres for a farm on Route 31. That has now grown to 3,000 acres, where they also have cattle. Now, it is farmed by son-in-law Larry Hobbs and grandson Matt Hobbs.
His three daughters knew of his love of planes, so they planned a surprise for his 90th birthday. Arriving in Lakeland, Florida where George and Phyllis spend the winter, they had over 90 birthday cards plus the announcement that he was going to fly in an open cockpit plane built in 1943.
Major excitement occurred. But just about three weeks before his scheduled flight, George had a mild stroke. It affected his left side and the family wasn’t sure he was going to be able to fly. But an OK from his doctor gave them the go-ahead.
he family contacted the pilot, Richard Packer, who has two open cockpit planes that were trainer planes during Word War II. They knew him from long ago when he was a crop-duster and treated crops on the Beeson farm. In fact, Richard’s wife, Sue, is also a pilot and they restore vintage World War II era airplanes, even to the original color.
Now for the ride: When George returned from Florida, he was so excited about seeing these planes. They spent three hours at the Radnor airport (in Delaware County) a few weeks before the ride, looking at planes. It was to be a very special event in his life.
Both open cockpit planes would be in use that day. George rode in the front seat of one two-seater with Richard flying behind him. He wore earphones and had a microphone so he could talk to Richard.
George said he was not afraid and the ride was smooth, just like a car. The hardest part was getting in the plane. He climbed on a stool, then onto the wing and was hoisted into the seat. All was good.
The second plane was flown by Packer’s son, Rich. George’s granddaughter, Cari Grome, was the official photographer riding in the front seat of that plane. The wing tips of the two planes were just about 30 feet apart in the air.
After they took off from the Radnor airport, the flight time was about 15 minutes to buzz George’s farm. Another surprise was waiting there for him. A family friend had mowed “GB 90” in a hayfield that he could see from the plane. Also, an 80-member family reunion was waiting for him that included two remaining brothers, Roscoe and Dick. Another brother, Ambrose was killed aboard a ship that collided with another one in the fog in 1942 during World War II.
So, one more check off the bucket list for George Beeson – to fulfill the hope, since childhood, of flying in one of those planes. He described it as a wonderful experience his family provided, but he said that he doesn’t have to do it again!
(Melanie Behrens –

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