When Ward Wages, 99, sat in the cockpit of the PBY Catalina stored on the tarmac at Superior's Richard I Bong Memorial Airport, it was the first time he had been in that type of plane since 1943.
Built in the days before pilots could control an aircraft with the help of electronics and hydraulics, the only thing connecting the controls in the cockpit to the wings and tail were cables running along pullies, making flying the two-engine seaplane a physical challenge.
"If you weren't strong, you didn't last long," said Wages, who served as a pilot in the U.S. Navy in World War II and the Korean War. "You needed a strong co-pilot — a really strong co-pilot sometimes."
Wages, of Coon Rapids, trained in the PBY in Corpus Christi, Texas. Saturday's tour of the plane brought back some memories of the early 1940s.
"I was scared to death I was going to kill my instructor," Wages said with a laugh. "No, it was a lot of fun in those days. I enjoyed it very much."
After completing training in 1943, Wages would go to serve in anti-submarine squadrons in the Caribbean during WWII and then in Alaska during the Korean War.
While Wages seldom shared stories from his service, he's been more open in recent years, said Jay Jacobson, his nephew that arranged the visit after he heard the type of plane his uncle trained in was being restored in Superior.
The Lake Superior Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force is restoring two PBYs in Superior — one to return to the sky and the other as a museum display.
Wages' visit gave them a chance to connect the person with the plane.
"This is exactly what we live for and why we're here," Brian Janssen, the development officer of the Lake Superior Squadron, said. "We're here to hear the story of somebody that served, we use that to educate and we're definitely here to honor him."
The experience was particularly moving to Richard Jacobson, Wages' nephew and Jay's brother.
"I will have that picture in my mind of him sitting up there with the window open and his face sticking out, smiling about it, joking about. … It does his heart good, my heart good, my brother's heart good," Richard said.
The brothers hired a videographer to capture the day and interview Wages about his experiences. They plan on putting the video on a USB drive as a way to preserve his stories for all of Wages' family, which includes many great-grandchildren.
"By the time (Wages' great grandchildren) get older, they're not going to remember, but because of technology you actually have moving color film and that really brings things alive," Jay said.
Having learned to fly in his father's small plane in Chippewa Falls before joining the Navy and serving in two wars, Wages has no shortage of stories.
For Wages, flying was all about "the thrill of being able to get off the ground — it's almost as big a thrill as getting back on the ground."