- Associated Press - Friday, October 3, 2014

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) - Case Bonebrake started flying when he was 21 for the U.S. Army Air Corp. But that was in 1942, when he enlisted in the military for World War II.

Bonebrake, a retired mechanical engineer and Kansas State University alumnus who lives in Manhattan, turned 93 earlier this month. He recently flew a plane and jumped out of another one at 10,000 feet, The Mercury reported (https://bit.ly/YA1Z0Q ).

He made the jump and the flight at the Abilene airport. The flight in a Pitts S2-B was a birthday present from his daughter, Cynthia Walters, and his son-inlaw, Don Walters of Monterey, Calif., another licensed pilot and Army veteran who skydived with him.

Bonebrake got the opportunity to jump as a part of the K-State Gerontology Club, for which he is a mentor who partners with a college-aged mentee.

The group created a bucket list last year with skydiving as one activity to accomplish. Bonebrake decided he would jump after 93-yearold Ruth Wells, another member of the gerontology club, skydived in April with her mentee and the K-State Parachute Club.

“I got to thinking about it, and I hadn’t really considered it before,” Bonebrake said. “The more I thought about it the more I thought, ‘Hell, I’m 93 years old. I got nothin’ to lose.”

He said before he knew it, he was signed up to skydive.

When Bonebrake was asked the day before his tandem jump if he was excited about it and the flight, he said, ‘Well, yeah. Define excited.’

The question was adjusted to whether he was terrified.

‘No, not at all,’ he said.

His daughter Cynthia said because he’d been in the war, ‘everything else is downhill.’

The pilot, who still has his flight log books, has flown 2,413 hours in his lifetime. After the war, he flew in a flight club as a hobby. The last time he flew a plane was about 1995, he said.

Having gone overseas during World War II in October 1944, Bonebrake had his share of unsafe situations during some of the 21 missions he completed before he went back home in May of 1945.

Stationed in Toretta, Italy, Bonebrake was copilot for the 15th Air Force 461st Bomb Group 765th Squadron.

His crew’s mission was to drop bombs on oil fields and refineries from their B-24 aircraft, cutting off supply.

‘We flew in rather tight formations for protection against fighters,’ he said.

But in one incident, Bonebrake said the crew was hit by German anti-aircraft.

‘I saw the shell before it broke, and it was right at the top of its trajectory, and I saw it out here, and it exploded,’ he said.

A piece of shrapnel put the crew in danger.

‘A piece of shrapnel went through nose and severed the communications and the oxygen supply to the bombardier and the nose gunner.’

‘I called for our flight engineer to take a walkaround oxygen bottle to the nose of the plane because we were above 20,000 feet,’ he said.

‘We had a substitute navigator who thought I wanted the oxygen, so he disconnected my intercom and my oxygen connection, so I was really fighting him off and getting my connections back away from him so I could reconnect so I could contact with the people still there,’ Bonebrake said.

‘We had to abandon the formation and go down to at least 15,000 feet in order to have enough oxygen to survive.’

That was ‘the kiss of death,’ Don Walters said.

‘So we were alone and exposed, and a lone ship was a prime target for the German fighters so I called for an escort cover,’ Bonebrake said.

They were covered by the 99th Fighter Group - the Red Tails - above, below and on each wing of the B-24. The Red Tails were the first black flying squadron of World War II and the first to deploy overseas.

Bonebrake didn’t get an answer from the Red Tails until his third call, but they came.

‘We had four Red Tails for our escort,” he said. “Never saw a German fighter.’

No one was wounded in the incident. Bonebrake said the Red Tails never lost an aircraft they escorted.

Bonebrake skydived with tandem instructor David Poland of the K-State Parachute Club from a Cessna 182 Skylane.

Ruth Wells came to Abilene to watch and support him, though she wasn’t skydiving this time.

“I understand it was about 120 miles per hour,” Bonebrake said of his fall through the air. “I thought I was having fun.”

About an hour after his 10,000-foot dive, Bonebrake got in the front seat of a twoperson Pitts S2-B with pilot Steve O’Berg of Kansas City, Mo.

The two pilots flew for about 15 minutes doing a few spins and a figure-eight maneuver called the Cuban Eight in the air.

“I’ve wanted to fly in a Pitts for years,” Bonebrake said to O’Berg. “Ever since they’ve had the Pitts. Skydiving, I’ve been interested in that only for a couple months.”

He said the experience was everything he’d expected.

When Bonebrake and O’Berg landed, Don Walters said, “Case, you’re 95 and 100th birthday.” ”We’ll do it again,” Cynthia Walters finished.

“We’ll see,” Bonebrake said.


Information from: The Manhattan (Kan.) Mercury, https://www.themercury.com

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