Flying through the air, a dream come true

Photos by Fran Burkhart
Photos by Fran Burkhart

It is never too late to take your dreams and soar with them.

Through Elmcroft Senior Living and Second Wind Dreams, one local Exeter Township senior was able to fly once again.

Theo “Ted” Hans Schmidt, a native of The Black Forest, Immendingen, Germany, is an avid fan of flying but has not flown in decades.

In December, Elmcroft Senior Living made Schimdt’s dream of being able to fly again come true. Schmidt took off at Reading Regional Airport in a Cessna 172 with the help of flight instructor Dave Kalbach from New Horizons Aviation. The instructor flew as the copilot for protocol, but it was Schmidt who was in control of the take-off, flight and even landing.

“It brought back memories when I used to fly by myself,” he said. Schmidt insisted that Fran M. Burkhart, of Elmcroft Senior Living, come along for the ride.

“I didn’t want to go,” Burkhart said, because she has never flown in a small plane before. But Burkhart was very impressed with Schmidt’s flying abilities.

“He landed so smoothly, so smoothly,” she said. After the flight, Schmidt pulled a photo of his son, Bob, out of his pocket and asked how he liked the ride.

“When you fly, it’s always a good experience, especially when you have an engine,” he said with a smile.

In Germany, Schmidt worked as a mechanic and was interested in flying airplanes. He joined a club in Germany that allowed him to fly once a day. Schmidt flew glider planes because “we couldn’t afford planes and we had no money for gas.” The glider would be propelled into the air from a winch and pull-cord.

“I would fly free,” Schmidt said. Most of the rides in the glider would only last around 15 to 20 minutes, but some could last for three to five hours depending on the weather patterns.

He once landed in a cornfield and the glider had to be pulled out. “That only happened once,” he said.

Schmidt came to the United States in 1956 to live with his mother’s sister, Anna Cook, after her husband passed away.

As a citizen of Nazi Germany, Schmidt faced discrimination when he came to America as he only spoke German. His aunt took the reigns in teaching him the English language.

“My aunt taught me English. She was strict,” he said. “I thank her for that.”

He stated that those who would be prejudice because of his Germany heritage were ignorant.

Living in the United States, Schmidt learned to fly solo when he was 21-years-old.

“I flew to Atlantic City, Harrisburg, Allentown, Newark all by myself,” he recalled. Schmidt used to pull off tricks like the vertical bank, where the plane is turns completely vertical in the air. The g-forces are extremely powerful against the human body, which hold you into place but also create a great amount of pressure.

He also enlisted in the U.S. Army as to not be drafted, where he worked as a mechanic. “I wanted to be patriotic,” he said of why he enlisted.

Schmidt remembers growing up in Nazi Germany, where instead of saying “Guten tag” (good morning) citizens were required to hail Hitler. In school, the students would be required to rise to attention and simultaneously hail Hitler.

“If you’d see a person on a street, you’d hail Hitler,” Schmidt said. He remembers propaganda being everywhere; on trash cans black signs read “The enemy listens in, watch what you say.”

With the Army, Schmidt went back to Germany where he saw Dachau, one of the first Nazi concentration camps, after it was closed. In the Army he repaired airplanes and helicopters. In jest, other army men would call Schmidt “sauerkraut and a head of cabbage” due to his German heritage.

In the States, Schmidt worked for 44 years as a section manager and machine repair man at Dana Holding Corporation, Pottstown.

He stopped flying when he married his wife, Dorothy, because “my aunt and wife thought it was dangerous.”

The couple was married for 40 years. “She was glad I didn’t fly and that I was responsible,” Schmidt said.

Second Wind Dreams were able to initiate the handoff to allow Schmidt to act as commander once again and literally soar with his dream.

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About the Author

Emily Thiel

Emily Thiel is the editor of The Southern Berks News and is the Community Engagement Editor for Berks-Mont Newspapers. Emily joined Berks-Mont in March 2013. She graduated from Kutztown University in 2011 with a degree in English with a concentration in Cultural and Media Studies. Emily is a native of Allentown, Pa. Reach the author at ethiel@berksmontnews.com or follow Emily on Twitter: @sthrnberksnews.