Hamilton

98-year-old gets wish, flies in WW II biplane he trained on 70 years ago

Over 70 years after he was training pilots in England in a Tiger Moth biplane during the Second World War, Donald Munroe was back in the skies over Hamilton today in that very same plane.

Donald Munroe took to the skies over Hamilton in a Tiger Moth biplane Wednesday

Donald Munroe, 98, is a former Royal Canadian Air Force pilot who served overseas in the Second World War. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Donald Munroe is living proof a 98-year-old can still look just like a kid on Christmas.

Munroe is a former Royal Canadian Air Force pilot who served overseas in the Second World War, and was deployed to England to train military pilots on the Tiger Moth biplane.

Over seven decades later, Munroe was back in the skies over Hamilton in that very same plane, thanks to the efforts of nonprofit organization Wish of a Lifetime and Chartwell Retirement Residences.

When sitting in the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum at the Hamilton airport Wednesday morning, Munroe heard the sound of his former plane taxiing on the runway outside and his face completely lit up.

"Do you recognize that sound?" his daughter, Lynn Robertson, asked with a smile. Munroe, who is from London, Ont. but now lives in Oshawa, beamed as he nodded, eagerly.

"It's just like when you first learn to ride a bicycle," Munroe told CBC News. "There seems to be a lot of freedom to it, you know?"

"You're away from everybody else. You're on your own."

Munroe enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942, and was sent overseas to England to serve as a pilot instructor. There, he spent over 1,500 hours instructing pilots on one specific plane — the Tiger Moth.

It's a tiny, two-seater biplane with a wingspan just under nine metres, and a maximum speed of 172 km/h.

To hear him tell it, the Munroe was able to coax some very slick manoeuvres out of the little biplane, after learning mid-air acrobatics at the tender age of 21.

"I have a lot of respect for the old girl," he said.

His flight was organized by Wish of a Lifetime, which encourages seniors to "keep dreaming and pursuing their passions." 

"We are changing the perception of aging — not just how we view our oldest citizens, but also how we see and value ourselves as we age," the organization's website says. Anyone can nominate a senior's wish to be reviewed by the organization's team.

Munroe spent over 1,500 hours instructing pilots on the Tiger Moth. (Adam Carter/CBC)

That her father is getting to relive his past glories in the sky is a huge deal right now in his retirement home, Robertson said.

"This is such an emotional high for him. He has such a passion for flying," she said. 

After the war, Munroe returned to Oshawa and civilian life. He raised a family and worked for an automotive parts company.

He retired just shy of 80-years-old — and remains living proof that seniors don't have to be viewed as delicate shells of their former selves, Robertson said. Munroe picked up computers on his own, she said — at 90.

"[Seniors] are capable of doing so much," she said. "He's never shied away from doing something new."

Munroe isn't as mobile as he once was, and now needs a walker to get around. But his wit remains untouched, and his daughter maintains his memory is better than hers.​ To that end, Munroe says that people's attitudes towards aging need to change.

"We are functional, capable, talented, and experienced."

adam.carter@cbc.ca

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Carter

Reporter

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

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