KAY THOMAS/For the County News
Dr. Donald Dolan, at right, with Lin and Pam Oakley, owners of a Stearman bi-plane — the model Dolan used for training prior to World War II.
When memories take flight
Recalling a pleasing memory will bring a smile to your face. To actually get to re-live one is priceless.
Dansville resident Dr. Donald Dolan was an Army Air Forces flight instructor during World War II. He went aloft one more time in a Stearman Primary Trainer at the Dansville Municipal Airport, April 14.
It wasn’t any Stearman though. It was the exact trainer that he used teaching students at Primary Training School, Ocala, Fla. during World War II. Even the plane’s number had been changed from 75 back to the original 34.
The story of how Dolan was reunited with the plane is a tale in itself.
Taking advantage of the G.I. Bill of Rights after the war, Dolan went to the University of Buffalo to become a dentist. He settled in the Wayland area and had a practice for 39 years.
“Raising eight children kept me from buying a plane, but I did fly a lot with other people out of the local airport,” said Dolan.
After the war, thousands of surplus planes were sold on the market to private citizens. These bi-planes became dependable crop dusters, sports planes and for aerobatic and wing walking in air shows.
Their open cockpits and accommodation for two in front and back harkens to the day when Dolan and other instructors would sit in the rear seat behind the students.
About eight to ten years ago the PT-17 Stearman was purchased by Lin Oakley, Delta Airlines 747 captain from Kenly, NC. When reading over the plane’s records, he found the name of the first pilot. The reason being Donald Dolan’s name was listed on an accident report.
“Oakley was curious who the first man was to have flown the plane. He wasn’t satisfied to know me. He wanted to meet me,” said Dolan.
With further investigation, Oakley found Donald Dolan in Corning and called him. Interestingly enough, Oakley had connected with Dolan’s son, a dentist, too. He put Oakley in touch with his father, who by then was retired from his practice.
After several years of conversations back and forth, Oakley and his wife Pam, also a pilot flew to Dansville to give Dolan a flight.
Saturday’s weather at the airport lifted of rains and strong winds by the 4 p.m. flight. However, the visibility was low according to Dolan and it limited the flight to the immediate area.
The 89 year-old Dolan said he had no major problem getting in the plane. He felt like he vaulted in to his front seat fueled by excitement.
“It’s hard to explain what it’s like up there in the sky. Besides, the area is beautiful to fly over,” said Dolan. Leaning over the edge and seeing the shadows play on the ground below was part of the experience.
Oakley piloted the Stearman during the landing and take-off, and for the majority of the flight.
Dolan said that it was a choppy flight at an average speed of 80 mph. The plane glided off the runway at a normal take-off of 150 yards.
“I handled the controls briefly. I had no desire to land the plane,” said Dolan. He did remark at the cool breezes over his face.
Dolan said that he wanted to thank Tricia and Greg Molyneux and the Dansville Pilots Association. The plane was housed in the hanger overnight out of the elements. Pilots and friends gathered in the morning to look over a piece of the history.
“It brought back a lot of memories of earlier years. A lot of flying in the B-17 and the different bases I was stationed at during the war are part of me,” said Dolan.
Dolan hopes that Oakley will return for another flight around the valley in more ideal weather conditions. He would like to be in a spin or two, and climb a little higher. Hands on the throttle, feet on the rudder bar, he can feel himself aloft.