By Matt Ruder, EAA 565390.
On July 15, 2023, a very special thing happened due to the most gracious group of pilots.
Backstory: Gene “Stick” Ruder, EAA 75002 and Vintage 35, was a pilot by every definition. Born in 1929, he was in love with flight at an early age. He became a fighter pilot with the Air Force and flew combat missions in Korea. After active duty with the Air Force, he continued to fly fighters for the Air National Guard for a total of 23 years of military service. He also flew for United Airlines for 34 years, retiring on the DC-10 in 1989. In 1968, he bought a farm in northern Illinois and created a grass runway. An airport was born… 59IL on the charts. On “The Farm” he had a Cub, Navion, Cessna 150/150, and others while renting hangar space to many aircraft owners throughout the decades. He received the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award. He even turned down the space program because he didn’t want to be “bounced around.” Sadly, a classmate of his, Gus Grissom, perished in the space program. Indeed, Stick was a pilot. Stick was my dad.
Stick suffered a stroke in April 2022. Although he was still current to fly at age 92, he was now wheelchair-bound with limited speech. He had care throughout the day from AWESOME nurses. After about a year in that state, he said that he wanted to go for “One last ride…” When I heard that, well, I was going to move Heaven and Earth to make it happen.
I reached out on a couple of social media pages associated with the Navion. The Navion was his favorite personal airplane. Of course, the Navion…