By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – Larry and Jan Gillentine wanted to give their granddaughter, Kelsey Gillentine, a surprise for her 18th birthday.
In the past, they’ve picked her up in a limo and taken her on a trip.
Wanting to throw her another surprise, they took Kelsey to the Tupelo Regional Airport for a biplane ride on Wednesday.
“She didn’t know what we were doing until we got there,” Jan said.
Larry and Kelsey rode in the front passenger seat of a 1929 New Standard Model D-25 biplane during the 15-minute thrill ride.
“It was exciting,” said a smiling Kelsey. “It was really fun to see Tupelo from the air.”
They were 1,000 feet in the air, to be exact, as pilot and owner Ted Davis circled the city. Over rural tracts, he dipped to 600-700 feet.
Davis, along with David Mars, are members of the American Barnstormers Tour selling rides Wednesday. They’ll be back at the airport today from noon until about 6 p.m.
Mars flies a Travel Air 4000. Both aircraft were built in 1929 and have been fully restored.
Larry Gillentine also enjoyed the quick flight in an open cockpit, but it wasn’t exactly a new experience.
He flew helicopters while serving in the military.
“Still, it was neat to see all over Tupelo and down to Verona,” he said.
By mid-afternoon, a dozen people had paid $70 each for a flight in one of the planes.
There is no age limit, but riders must sign a waiver. Also, headphones and goggles are provided.
And here’s a warning – it’s loud and windy. But that shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
Chuck Wallace found the flight to be particularly memorable. His father used to ride in biplanes in the early 20th century, and Wallace felt a bit of nostalgia after being one of Davis’ first passengers Wednesday.
And Gillentine wasn’t the only person celebrating a birthday.
Dr. Eldridge Fleming rode in the passenger bench behind the Gillentines.
“My wife gave it to me as a birthday present,” said Fleming, who was marking his 77th birthday. “It was a very good experience.”
For more information about Mars and Davis, visit www.americanbarnstormerstour.com or www.biplaneridesofamerica.com