The 86-year-old World War II veteran from Marietta spent about 15 minutes in the cockpit of a single-engine Robinson R44 on Saturday morning as a Father’s Day gift from his family.
Mathuss’ daughter, Jenny Willis of Kennesaw, said the idea to send her dad on the ride, which included flying over the heart of Marietta and up to Kennesaw Mountain, came up after her son won a helicopter ride from a radio station in Panama City, Fla.
“Dad said he’d never done it and always wanted to,” said Willis, an accounting manager for Southern Company.
She said there isn’t much the pilot, Shriner, Mason and original operator of the “Pink Pig” ride at the former Rich’s department store in downtown Atlanta hasn’t done.
He was also an Eagle Scout, “and earned every badge there is,” Willis said.
The trip was arranged through the Aviation Wing of the Marietta Museum of History near Dobbins Air Reserve Base. Helicopter rides are available there the first Saturday every month, and part of the proceeds fund the museum, according to Bob Williams, an IT manager with the city.
Saturday’s flight was piloted by Glyn Hilton of Blue Ridge Helicopters, while Williams assisted passengers boarding and exiting the helicopter. He also provides ground safety and site security around the takeoff and landing area.
“I really enjoy working the ride events because I get to meet people, and it is always fun talking with the adults and children after they have taken their first helicopter ride to see how they enjoyed the experience,” Williams said.
Flying near Dobbins, Mathuss commented the base looked different from the air. As for the overall trip, he said it was a good ride: “It’s a beautiful day, perfect for flying.” As the helicopter prepared to land, family members, including his wife of 65 years, Patsy, held a banner reading “We love you!”
Back on the ground, Mathuss talked about his military career.
He spent 28 years in the Air Force Reserve, working at what was then Dobbins Air Force Base, until he retired as a chief master sergeant in 1985. Before that, Mathuss was a second class petty officer in the Navy, where he served tours of duty aboard two destroyers in World War II and a communications ship in the Korean War. His job throughout his military service involved making sure the troops were paid.
Between the wars, he worked on the railroad as an inspector for Atlantic Coast Line, which is now CSX.
Mathuss told the story about when he got called back to serve in Korea. He’d been married for about a year when he received a letter from the Navy on Aug. 8, 1950.
“They said I had to come back,” Mathuss said. “I told my wife I’d probably be back after a few days” once he reported for duty in Macon. Fourteen months later, he was finally able to return home.
By that point, Mathuss had spent seven years in the Navy and said he “had enough.”
That’s when he switched to the Air Force Reserve, and his career took him to Dobbins.
Russell and Patsy Mathuss have lived in Marietta for more than 50 years and have three children. Patsy Mathuss worked for Rich’s for 20 years.
Mathuss has had “a pretty full life,” but hasn’t completely exhausted his bucket list. Still on the agenda is going for a ride in a hot air balloon, and parachuting from an airplane “on my terms,” meaning he’ll jump when he’s good and ready to, he said, and not as a last resort. He said he never had to bail out of a plane, but came close once.
When questioned about her husband’s desire to jump out of an airplane, Patsy Mathuss said “I probably won’t come to watch that one.”