Dallas, GA - A Suwanee boy battling cancer got a break Thursday, a chance to soar with eagles and, for a while, leave his life-threatening illness behind. At the Salute America 2013 Air Show at Paulding County/Northwest Atlanta Regional Airport in Dallas, 13-year old Cooper O’Brien’s dream is coming true.
Cooper’s cancer is so rare and so aggressive that he’s on experimental drugs, now his best hope for survival. But today, cancer is thunderstorm far away from the blue skies over Dallas. He’s a little nervous as he eyes the 1942 Boeing PT-17, painted brilliantly in red and white. This is the fulfillment of his dream to fly in an aerobatic airplane.
“I’m not going to get this opportunity much,” Cooper says with the practiced cool of a teenage boy about to do something edgy. “I might as well take advantage.”
The huge radial engine, equivalent to nine Kia Sodona engines, roars into life. Cooper, strapped into the front seat of the open cockpit biplane, is flying with air show performer Gary Rower in an open cockpit biplane.
Cooper’s dad, Kevin, says this is a dream come true for his cancer-ridden son.
“Does this help in the fight,” asks WSB’s Pete Combs.
“Absolutely,” Kevin says. “There’s no doubt about it.”
Cooper waves as the biplane taxis to Runway 13. Then, Rower pushes the throttle to the firewall and his beautiful biplane leaps into the sky.
For the better part of a half-hour, Rower, who is patient and kind to his young passenger, flies Cooper over the green hills of Paulding County. It is serene and exciting both as the wind whistles through the wires of the biplane, buffeting Cooper as he sits in the front seat and peers through the windshield.
As the Stearman touches down, its tires squelching on the 5500-foot runway, Cooper smiles and gives the thumbs-up to his parents. The plane taxis to a stop and Rower shuts the engine down. After hopping to the ground and shedding his parachute, Cooper says he even had a chance to fly the historic biplane.
“All for like, five seconds,” he chuckles. “Then I was like, ‘You take control.’”
After his ride in the vintage Stearman, Cooper is introduced to modern fighter technology, sitting in the cockpit of a Canadian Forces CF-18. He says this is a good day- a great day - something he’ll cherish as he continues his uphill battle against cancer.
(Salute America 2013 runs Saturday and Sunday at Paulding County/Northwest Atlanta Regional Airport in Dallas. Tickets are available at www.pauldingairshow.com.)