Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Doing Good With General Aviation

Utilize your aeronautical gifts through volunteer organizations that make the world a better place

Wings of Mercy
Aviation is the greatest science known to man simply because every other mental discipline comes into play each time an aircraft takes flight. Thermodynamics, geometry, trigonometry, energy management, mental discipline and, of course, courage are all called upon in the development of an accomplished pilot. Now, through several fantastic volunteer organizations, pilots can add compassion for their fellow man, or even beast, to an aviator's bag of tricks.

Wings of Mercy

Peter VandenBosch was a smart and driven businessman with a solid work ethic and a love of aviation. After years of keeping his nose to the grindstone, sacrifice and foresight, VandenBosch kicked back to retire. Retirement didn't suit him. He often said, "What was all that work for if I can't make the world a better place?"

VandenBosch already owned several aircraft in 1991 when he began flying low-income medical patients from his home state of Michigan to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. These flights granted patients access to doctors and specialists they otherwise didn't have the financial means to reach.

Typical of the generous spirit of the aviation community, when other pilots at his home base, Holland Airport, learned of what VandenBosch was doing, they all responded with a single sentence, "I'll take the next one." Twenty-one years later, 6,300 Wings of Mercy (WoM) flights have connected needy patients to medical care.

Requirements: Each Wings of Mercy run requires two current-in-make-and-model aircraft pilots sitting up front. To be a pilot in command with WoM, you're required to have a minimum of an instrument rating and 600 hours total time with 100 hours of that being instrument time. To fly second in command, you're required to have an instrument rating, 300 hours total time and 50 hours instrument time. The good news about that is WoM will put you to work even if you don't own an airplane; a pilot with growing skills will acquire logable SIC time.

Rewards: Wings of Mercy reimburses the owner of the aircraft for consumed fuel and oil. A couple of weeks ago, I flew a man named Steven to the Mayo Clinic. None of his previous cancer treatments have been effective, and he's nearing the end of his options. I found myself taken aback by his upbeat, dynamic attitude, especially in light of the life-or-death situation that had been thrust upon him. Meeting a man like that puts your whole life into perspective and makes the petty things bogging down your life seem, well, pretty petty.

Angel Flight

Angel Flight is an alliance of nine groups of volunteer pilots based all across the U.S. Their mission is free transportation of low-income medical patients and financially distressed people in other "time-critical" situations. Angel Flight primarily flies human passengers but has been known to transport blood and other Red Cross equipment when asked to do so.

Although there are multiple groups with the name "Angel Flight," they do their best to coordinate their flights to transfer multistate passengers. Angel Flight West alone has flown more than 50,000 missions in the last 28 years.

Requirements: Each Angel Flight organization has different pilot minimums. You'll have to contact your local chapter to learn its individual pilot requirements.

Rewards: One Angel Flight pilot was quoted as saying, "Angel flights allowed him to be both selfish and selfless all at the same time." Angel flights gave him the ability to combine his love of flying with a desire to help others.


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