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Chris Hale
Logan and I in front of the C-47 named The Southern Cross

I am an aviation maintenance technician for American Airlines at DFW Airport in Dallas. Airplanes are not only my livelihood, but they’re also my passion. Ever since I was 7 years old and witnessed my brother receive his wings in a ceremony at Reese Air Force Base, I’ve had the love of airplanes and flying.

On more than one occasion, I listened to my father talk about his experiences while based on Guam during his service in the Navy. While there, he watched wave after wave of B-29s flying over the island returning to base. Some had engines out, while others had parts of their tails blown off or gaping holes in their fuselages.

His recollections added to my budding interest in aviation and my appreciation for those who served in World War II.

What was once the endless assembly of plastic model kits, predictably evolved into the maintaining and fixing of real aircraft over the course of the last 16 years, and I’ll freely admit to anyone who happens to ask that I love my job.

My family has benefited from the flight privileges that come with my chosen career. Those who have followed my previous articles know I’ve literally been around the world, but the most exhilarating flight I’ve ever taken was recently, and it only lasted 45 minutes.

Anyone who has seen the HBO special "Band of Brothers" would recognize an old Army Air Corps C-47 — the olive green color with a band of black and white stripes around the wings just outside the engines and aft fuselage. This was the plane that Easy Company trained on in Georgia for two years and then parachuted from during the allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day. The C-47 played a huge part in the successful campaign America fought during World War II.

Recently, Kim, Logan, and I got to fly on one named The Southern Cross.

We gathered at Fort Worth’s Meacham Field in the sweltering evening heat with a handful of like-minded passengers. Once securely in our seats, the two engines roared to life, blowing blue smoke out of the exhaust manifolds until they stabilized. We rolled down the runway and softly lifted into the air. We bounced and yawed, and at times even dropped a little, causing us to giggle and gasp while our stomachs dropped. We took as many pictures as possible as we circled Fort Worth at 1,200 feet and then over Arlington, where the Cowboys and Rangers play.

Several times during the flight, I imagined what American heroes like Lt. Richard Winters of Easy Company felt more than 65 years ago while waiting for the green light by the door to signal it was time to guide his men out of the airplane and jump into the unknown where they would be completely surrounded by the enemy.

I’ve long wanted to experience flight in some of the old military planes. I still want to fly on a B-17, like the Memphis Belle, or Fifi, the only airworthy B-29 still in existence. I plan to join the Commemorative Air Force soon just so I can volunteer to have the privilege to work on these historic planes. There are few things that would mean more to me than reaching across and bridging the gap with my father’s heroic generation.

I can’t wait for my next opportunity to fly in one of these surviving relics. I want to travel to Arizona and fly on the B-17 named Sentimental Journey.

Every summer, different nonprofit organizations fly their aircraft to shows around the country. The Collings Foundation, the Commemorative Air Force and Greatest Generation Aircraft are just a few of the organizations to check out online.

Whether it's a transport, bomber or fighter, the opportunity is there for anybody to experience these wonderful flying museums. But these war birds are rare. Just like the brave men who used them during the war and the industrious women who stayed behind to manufacture them, they are slowly disappearing. The Liberty Belle, a restored B-17, was lost in early June near Chicago because of an engine fire.

To my dad and the others who served in World War II, I say thank you for all you did. I understand just a little bit better now.

Chris Hale is an aviation maintenance technician for a major airline who has traveled extensively with his family. In his spare time he writes novels inspired by places he's been. Find out more about his books at www.Chrisahale.com