Russell Jalbert, 93, has always had a love of airplanes.
Even just as a boy, Jalbert knew he wanted to fly, and when World War II came around, he knew exactly what he wanted to do.
He enlisted in Naval Aviation in 1941, and flew 18 types of airplanes until he left the Navy in 1945.
Decades later, the Linden Ponds resident's flying days are largely behind him, yet he still had an itch to fly one last time - this time, in a helicopter.
The World War II veteran took one more stab at the pastime he adored, flying at Plymouth Airport with Rick Smith, president of New England Helicopter Academy.
In an interview with The Boston Globe, he recounts the experience, and proves to everybody who had a doubt that youíre never too old to accomplish your dreams.
BG: How did your interest in this start?
RJ: It started in 1927, I was 9-years-old. My mother sent me down to the corner variety store and I got there and there were some men at a table and they were very excited. I found out that Charles Lindbergh had flown across the Atlantic - the first man in history to do that.
He instantly became my hero and I began making model airplanes and started reading all about itÖand in those days there was a lot of variety, and people were trying to do new things with flying. Nine-years-old, I caught the bug.
I used to make airplanes out of balsa wood. Itís a very soft wood, easy to manipulate and you buy it in sheet. They are great for making model airplanes, so I made one of this kind of airplane and that kind of operation planes and passenger planes and all of that. I got to the point where making the airplanes out of balsa wood, I put a fuse on it, lit a match, and it caught on fire and crashed. And I thought that was great.
And I put myself in the Lindbergh seat. That was kind of my entry into the world of aircrafts...
BG: Now why did you always want to fly a helicopter?
RJ: When I was in the service in WWII, I flew airplanes and fell in love with the feeling of it. I flew all kinds of different aircrafts...
I left the service and became a commercial [flier]. I continued to fly on my own but I never flew in a helicopter. And it occurred to me - why not just get the feel of it? So I went out and found the helicopter academy down in Plymouth and took an introductory lesson. So I have that as one more experience.
BG: So this will make 19 total types of airplanes that youíve flown. Is that unique to pilots to fly that many different kinds of aircrafts?
RJ: Itís just about 19 different kinds from the Piper Cub up to the monsters. One of the types of planes that very few people have flown are amphibians. And Iíve flown in fighter planes, passenger planes, all sorts of things in the sky.
Itís all summed up in a poem I found written by [John Magee], and it starts ĎOh I have left the surley bounds of earth,í and it expresses my emotions about flying and space. The poem ends that I Ďtouched the face of god.í Itís an emotional connection hereÖ
I said Ö hey, maybe I can find a place around here that can teach you how to fly a helicopter, and sure enough I found the airport in Plymouth. And a phone call led to an interview and that led to an appointment and that lead to my experience.
BG: Now you havenít flown for 10 years. How did it feel to get there, to step into a cockpit after all that time?
RJ: It was fun. I found it more difficult than I had expected, but I found out that it was mostly because of my old age, I donít have the instant reflexes I used to have. But it was still Öthe feeling of having it go up and down instead of sideways, I got a kick out of it. I had a good instructor.
He sat me down first. I had a period of classroom instruction, and I knew a lot of the stuff. The aerodynamics are the same whether itís a helicopter or a winged aircraft. Then he took me up in a two seater and he had one set of controls and I was on the other, and showed me how to do this and thatÖthat was a lot of fun for me.
BG: How different is flying a heliocopter than a regular airplane?
RJ: Very different. The differences in my age from the time I flew them also made the difference.
BG: Now that youíve done this, what else is on your bucket list?
RJ: (Hearty laugh) I cant tell you how many people have asked me that question! I dream that the next step up would be a flight into space, but Iím not going to do that. I can live with that.
But my doctor says Iím in exceptionally good health for a man my age. Iím still 93, I canít do what I did when I was 25 or 75/80.
[During this flight, though,] I could get around, I could jockey the helicopter into maneuvers that gave me some experience with the breadth of response from the helicopter.
Thatís done and it was fun. It capped the interest Iíve had in aviation that Iíve had for so long.