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Former Navy Flight Instructor Pilots Acrobatic Flight for 93rd Birthday

November 18, 2015

A veteran of two wars, Russell Langelle took the controls of the same model plane he flew some 70 years ago

(Ashburn, Virginia) – When Ashby Ponds resident Russell Langelle turned 93 years young in October, his daughter and son-in-law presented him with an unforgettable gift.  Langelle was given the gift of flight in the very same aircraft model he flew during WWII as a Navy pilot and primary flight instructor.  With the oversight of a copilot, he spent nearly an hour in the air performing acrobatics he had learned over 70 years ago.

Arriving at the Warrenton–Fauquier Airport, Langelle saw a shiny, newly rebuilt Stearman biplane, with which he first became familiar during the 1940s.

"I climbed into the cockpit, tightened the seat belts, and familiarized myself with the controls," said Langelle.  "The pilot taxied out, made the take-off, and turned the controls over to me, saying 'climb to altitude and let's see what you can do'."

Langelle performed loops, spins, slow rolls, Immelman turns, and even a "falling leaf," which requires pulling the aircraft straight up, entering into a deliberate stall, and diving straight to the ground at approximately 200 mph to recover and pull up before leveling out. 

"I have a heart full of memories which will be relived countless times," said Langelle.

This experience was a repeat of the birthday present he received 20 years ago in 1995; that was the last time Langelle had piloted an aircraft prior to his flight in October. 

Langelle served in the Navy during both WWII and the Korean War, for which he was recalled to active duty.  He retired with the rank of Commander after 20 years of service.  Following his Naval service, Langelle spent his career as a foreign service security officer, working in that capacity both nationally and internationally.  The job inherently came with its risks. While serving as the security chief at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Langelle was kidnapped by the KGB and accused of espionage; they attempted to recruit him, but failed.  He was then expelled from the Soviet Union. 

Langelle was born in St. Louis and spent 20 years there prior to his Naval service.  During his service, he made Arlington, Virginia his home base, and has lived in the northern Virginia area since that time.  Now, he lives at Ashby Ponds retirement community in Ashburn.

About Ashby Ponds: Ashby Ponds, one of 18 retirement communities managed by Erickson Living, is situated on a scenic 132-acre campus in Ashburn, Virginia (approximately 30 miles west of Washington, D.C.).  The community is home to over 1000 residents and more than 140 resident-run and resident-driven clubs and groups, an indoor pool, a fitness club, transportation services, 24-hour security, and flexible dining options. More information about Ashby Ponds can be found at

Photos courtesy of Russell Langelle:1) Photos taken while Russell Langelle piloted the Steadman biplane for his 93rd birthday.2) Photo taken during the 1940s while Russell Langelle was a Navy pilot and primary flight instructor.3)  Photo of a newspaper printed in St. Louis, Langelle's hometown, describing his kidnapping in Moscow.