Bob Grant waves from the backseat of a P-51 Mustang as his daughter-in-law Lois Grant and granddaughter Sara Kelly cheer him on. Grant's neighbor, Jim Holmes (left), and pilot Cowden Ward Jr. helped the World War II veteran into the plane before Ward took Grant on a 45-minute flight above the Highland Lakes on Oct. 29. The flight was a gift to celebrate Grant’s 95th birthday.
DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
BURNET — As Bob Grant stepped off the ladder leading down from a North American P-51 Mustang, he was smiling like an 8-year-old boy who finds a model airplane tucked under the tree on Christmas morning.
For Grant, a World War II veteran who celebrated his 95th birthday Oct. 30, flying in a P-51 Mustang over the Highland Lakes was not just a great way to celebrate his birthday.
“After 22,000 hours of flying, I finally got to fly a P-51,” he said with a smile.
Cowden Ward Jr., the owner and pilot of the Mustang, sat in the front seat with Grant riding behind him the modified cockpit. But the backseat also came with a stick to control the WWII vintage aircraft.
“He flew quite a bit himself. He did great,” Ward said. “He just flew it smooth as you can. It’s one of those things you don’t forget.”
Grant laughed a bit. He’s been flying since he was 19 including a stint as a flight instructor during the war. After serving, Grant eventually became a pilot for Exxon Aviation before managing the division. And while he instructed and flew planes, most of those were larger aircraft.
“This was like riding a wild colt compared to what I was in,” Grant said.
Grant’s daughter Nancy Davis orchestrated the flight through Freedom Flyers as a surprise for her father. She convinced her father that she was taking him to a restaurant in Burnet for lunch with his granddaughter, who was getting ready to return to the Dallas area. But when she turned the car into the Freedom Flyers parking lot, Grant became a bit concerned for his daughter.
“He knew where the restaurant was and when we turned, he knew it wasn’t the restaurant,” Davis said. “He thought I’d lost my mind.”
But when he stepped into the Freedom Flyers office and realized what he was about to do, Grant was a bit surprised. Along with Davis, Grant’s granddaughter Sara Kelly, daughter-in-law Lois Grant and friends and neighbors Jim and Joyce Holmes and Maryann Gray attended the flight.
Freedom Flyers is a nonprofit organization that offers many programs, including the opportunity for World War II veterans to fly in “Pecos Bill,” the P-51 Mustang. One of Ward’s personal missions through the organization is to fly as many WWII vets in his airplane as possible. Freedom Flyers offers regular flights on Wednesdays, but throughout the year, Ward takes “Pecos Bill” to numerous aircraft shows and events. Part of the reason is to show off the plane, but another is to see if he can get WWII vets up in it.
This, however, comes at a costs. Freedom Flyers is always looking for help to support is programs, including the vet flights. Go to www.freedom-flyers.org to help or for more information.
On Oct. 29, the day before his birthday, Grant settled into the backseat of the P-51 Mustang. With Ward at the controls, the two taxied onto the runway and then Ward throttled up the fighter plane. With its motor roaring, the P-51 accelerated down the runway, lifted off the ground and took to the sky. In the back seat, a soon-to-be 95-year-old veteran smiled, bigger than any 8-year-old boy could ever grin on Christmas morning.