Weekend plane rides benefit Down Syndrome Indiana

The view from a rare 1943 T6 Texas aircraft that was used for pilot training during World War II. (WTHR/Matt McCutcheon)
Down Syndrome fly-in
Down Syndrome Indiana fundraiser
Flying to raise money for down syndrome

ZIONSVILLE, Ind. (WTHR) — A down syndrome diagnosis can be challenging and expensive for a family, as children need unique therapy programs and education programs that insurance sometimes doesn't cover.

With that in mind, the previous owners of the Indianapolis Executive Airport decided to open their private facility to the public once a year for a fly-in that would help families dealing with down syndrome.

In 12 years, they have raised more than $190,000. This year, they hope to raise $25,000, making it the charity's largest fundraiser.

"Some of the money that we raise is used for different therapy — whether it's speech therapy, or occupational therapy, or special schooling programs that kids with down syndrome need. All the programs are provided by Down Syndrome Indiana," said Corrie Bennett, Marketing Director for First Wing Jet Center.

She described the incredible feeling when the children visit the hangar.

"To especially see children experience the wonder of aviation for the first time; the smile on their faces and the activities that they get to be involved in. It's just a really fun day for everybody," Bennett said.

Seven different airplanes will be available for customizable flights on Saturday, June 22.

That includes a ride in a rare, 1943 T6 Texan.

"Most people in their lifetime don't get the opportunity to fly a WWII airplane. Most people will never have this experience, so for those few people who do come out and experience that, it becomes a lifelong memory for them," said pilot Laura Stants. "They get to fly a living piece of history. It's an amazing experience. I never have anyone come away and say, 'Boy I wish I hadn't done that.'"

The restored plane has a rich history. Pilots would learn to fly the plane before moving on to the fighter jets.

"I feel nothing but honored to be able to fly this aircraft. This is a living piece of history, and when you're sitting in the cockpit you can feel it and smell it and hear it — what the men and women before you lived through and worked with and to be able to fly that around and give other people that experience means the world to me," Stants said.

Getting to ride in the two-seater with Stants brought a personal connection to my late grandfather — who had a love for flying his own plane — who passed away before I was born.

Sunrise reporter Matt McCutcheon poses with a 1943 T6 Texan, a rare World War II aircraft he got to take a ride in, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (WTHR/Matt McCutcehon)
The view from a rare 1943 T6 Texas aircraft that was used for pilot training during World War II. (WTHR/Matt McCutcheon)
Sunrise reporter Matt McCutcheon got to take over some controls while riding in a rare World War II aircraft, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (WTHR/Matt McCutcheon)
The view from a rare 1943 T6 Texas aircraft that was used for pilot training during World War II. (WTHR/Matt McCutcheon)
The cockpit of a 1943 T6 Texan aircraft used to train pilots during World War II, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (WTHR/Matt McCutcheon)

The plane will reach speeds up to 205 mph. The event is free to the public and includes a lot of family-friendly events. Airplane rides start at $50. Click here for more information.

The Indianapolis Executive Airport is located at 11329 East State Road 32 in Zionsville.