For the past 93 years, Bill Paige has led a life full of adventure.
Get him talking about his experiences as a Navy gunner, an electronics tech for Cessna and his years as a pilot, and he can tell stories for hours.
He also managed a small airport in Eureka, Kan.
But he never piloted a sailplane, until he finally got this chance Saturday from Strother Field.
Paige, who has a terminal diagnosis and is on hospice care, told a hospice employee of his wish.
Pamela White of Kindred Hospice made contact with the Last Wish program to make that dream come true.
Pilot Dave Pauly, a member of the Kansas Soaring Association in Wichita, brought his sailplane to Strother Field last Saturday to take Paige soaring. Paige had only one question before the flight.
“Are you going to let me do a little bit of stick time?” he asked.
Pauly assured him that once they reached soaring altitude, he would allow him to take control of the aircraft. Paige was apparently hoping to have a little more hands-on than that.
“Well foo on that, what do you mean once we get up?” he asked. “Taking off and landing is the most dangerous part. You don’t know when a rabbit’s going to run across and break your propeller.”
When Pauly asked Paige how high he wanted to go, a family member laughed and said Paige was used to seeing hawks fly past him.
“Oh, I’ve got a hawk story you won’t believe, and you’ll declare I’m lying to you,” Paige said.
He described a day where his plane was approached by three hawks. He said one of them had a ground squirrel in its beak.
“It just politely launched up there and had a meal,” he said.
Pauly outlined exactly what they were going to do during their flight and then asked Paige if he was ready to go. He was more than ready.
“Let’s go experiment with this and see what it will do,” he declared.
Paige entered the Navy at age 19 and served on the USS Shangri-La. He was one of nine original crew members to serve on the ship when it was launched. He operated a 40 mm gun at the ships bow. He said he was good.
“When I drew a bead on that, you were in trouble.”
Paige said he prevented a lot of enemy aircraft from harming American soldiers. Some memories are difficult. He recalled bringing down an enemy plane that was making an attack run toward the ship.
“I hit his propeller and it broke off and ripped the engine right out of the fuselage,” he said. “I saw the guy in the cockpit go by, I don’t know if they got him out or not. I’d like to have known.”
Paige also remembers going ashore in Japan with several crew members. As they approached a building, they were advised by another crewman not to enter. They ignored the warning.
“There was a bunch of naked women on the stage performing things that I never dreamed,” he said. “He was right, we never should have went in.”
After the military, Paige spent more than 30 years working as an electronics tech for Cessna. He worked with several engineers to help develop much of the avionics equipment that is still in use today.
Lou Lowery, a long-term friend, said Paige was always working with electronics. When Paige was a teen, one of his electronic projects got him in trouble with the Federal Communications Commission. (FCC)
“He and a friend made two-way radios that used the AM broadcast band frequencies,” Lowery said. “They came to his house and told him what he was doing was illegal.”
Lowery said Paige’s father took all of his son’s radio equipment and buried it.
Paige also once tried to fly a kite and make electricity. The kite had a copper line on it and was hooked up to a battery.
“His dad came up and touched it and it shocked the devil out of him,” Lowery said. “He got in trouble for that.”
Lowery said that Paige and his friend Bennie Michaels were always in trouble at school. Both boys had the same mentality — always wanting to learn more and more and try new things.
“When he wants to do something, he goes into it full blast,” Lowery said.
White said on Monday that Paige was given the opportunity to take the controls during the flight, but not until they were at high altitude.
White said Bill had a great time and is ready to go again, and that his son is looking into making a reservation for his dad’s 94th birthday.
“Anytime I’m flying I’m great, I’m up for it,” Paige said. “I love flying.”