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 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.
LIGA (The Flying Doctors Of Mercy)
LIGA, meaning “league” in Spanish, was conceived in 1934 by Dr. Iner Sheld Ritchie of Loma Linda as he traveled through Sonora by train to Mexico City to treat then president of Mexico, Abelardo Rodriguez. Ritchie was saddened by the lack of healthcare available for the Yaqui Indians. He made a promise to return the next year to help those who couldn’t financially afford his services.
Today, that promise has grown to a roster of some 1,000 physicians, dentists, nurses, optometrists, audiologists, pharmacists, chiropractors, assistants, technicians and, of course, volunteer pilots.
On the first Friday of each month from October through June, volunteer pilots from America in their own private aircraft fly dozens of dentists, audiologists, physicians, surgeons, anesthetists and nurses to El Fuerte in the State of Sinaloa, Mexico. An area that’s only 700 nm south of Los Angeles, so impoverished that without LIGA, the indigenous people living there would never receive the benefits of modern medical equipment or medical professionals.
Requirements: To be a pilot in command with LIGA, you’ll be required to have a minimum of 400 hours in your logbook if you have an IFR rating or a minimum of 600 hours if you’re a VFR-only pilot.
Rewards: The primary reward is watching lives transformed as financially challenged patients receive medical care that they would not have received if you, as a LIGA pilot, had not volunteered your time and skills. After that, the medical professionals/passengers each contribute to their own pilot/aircraft owner to help reimburse the pilot for his or her fuel expenses. That contribution will be between $200 and $260, depending on where the flight originated.
Civil Air Patrol (U.S. Air Force Auxiliary)
The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) has three primary missions: aerospace education, cadet programs and emergency services. Thousands of young people have been introduced to aviation through CAP’s cadet 16-step program. It includes aerospace education, leadership training, physical fitness and character development. Cadets compete for academic scholarships to further their studies in fields such as engineering, science, aircraft mechanics and aerospace medicine.
Most CAP flight missions are focused on Search and Rescue, Disaster Relief, Humanitarian Service, Air Force Support and Counter Drug missions. With 550 aircraft in their fleet, the CAP is one of the largest single-engine air forces in the world. They fly over 112,000 hours annually and conduct 90% of the in-land search-and-rescue operations tasked by the USAF rescue coordination center. In the process, they save an average of 80 lives per year.
Requirements: To fly rescue missions as PIC, you’re required to have 175 hours of PIC time with a minimum of 50 hours cross-country time. Additionally, you’ll be required to pass a written examine and flight checkrides.
Rewards: Most of us make the mistake of thinking that the Civil Air Patrol are those kids you see marching in formation at airports across the country. They’re much more than that. By flying for the CAP, you’ll get to participate in real Air Force missions and log free flight time in their aircraft while doing so. More than that, you receive the satisfaction of being part of the team that finds a lost camper or downed airman. When the police nail the drug smugglers, you walk away with the knowledge that the information you obtained by reporting suspicious activities helped make America stronger. Those cadets who earn Cadet Officer status may enter the Air Force as an E3 (Airman First Class) rather than an E1 (Airman Basic).
The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary
Of the 30,000 members of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, all of whom are “always ready,” more than 250 are pilots volunteering with their own personal aircraft. Volunteer Coast Guard pilots are needed 365 days a year. Their missions cover search and rescue; environmental protection; aids-to-navigation (ATON) flights, meaning looking for buoys and making sure they’re in the right place; ice patrols and Coast Guard logistics (i.e., flying parts and equipment for aircraft, or even helicopter crews, back and forth between bases before those pilots can “duty time” out ).
Requirements: The Coast Guard requires a minimum of a private pilot rating and 200 hours pilot-in-command time before being considered for the auxiliary. Then a recruit has to be nominated by an active member and pass a criminal background check. This level of security is needed because auxiliary pilots do, at times, fly “sensitive” missions.
Rewards: The primary benefit to joining the Coast Guard Auxiliary is that you’d be a member of an active and functioning stateside U.S. military unit, with all the camaraderie and zest of completing real missions for Uncle Sam, all without having to complete a boot camp (for someone like myself with 48-year-old knees, that’s very appealing). In addition, the Coast Guard will reimburse an aircraft owner for fuel and oil consumed while on duty with an extra “engine stipend” based on the horsepower of your aircraft. For example, a person who volunteers with a 160 hp aircraft will receive an additional $38 per flight hour.
Since 1992, EAA members have given more than 1,680,000 young people their first ride in an aircraft and a personalized introduction to the fraternity of aviation. The original goal of Young Eagles was to give one million young people their first fight before the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight. Anyone familiar with the EAA knows that when their membership likes an idea, they get motivated! More than 42,000 pilots participated, and the one million mark was passed with time to spare. That works out to just under one out of every 10 pilots in America have performed Young Eagles flights.
Requirements: First, you have to be a current EAA member in good standing. Then you’re required to have a pilot certificate with 90-day currency and a current flight review appropriate to the aircraft you’ll be flying, since Young Eagles receive their flights in everything from balloons to helicopters. After that, you’ll have to provide proof of valid passenger liability insurance.
Rewards: If you believe that children are the future of America and think that kids hooked on aviation while they’re young will stay with aviation their whole lives and become focused, driven young adults, there’s no better opportunity than the Young Eagles program.
Pilots N Paws
Pilots N Paws
Pilots N Paws (PNP) was created out of necessity. In the fall of 2007, Debi Boies’ heart was finally healing enough to adopt a rescue doberman after the painful loss of her 12-year-old doberman to cancer. Boies lives in South Carolina. Her new four-legged companion lived in Florida. A compassionate pilot named Jon Wehrenberg stepped in to transport her rescue dog to her by air. That was the first Pilots N Paws flight. Although there are several fantastic volunteer organizations already performing animal transportation, most were land based. The “passenger” was transferred from car to car all the way across the country, which is quite hard on the animal. Although not a pilot herself, Boies jumped into the aviation community and was rewarded with animal lovers at every turn.
That was a half a decade ago. Now, through the help of corporate sponsors (Subaru of America, Inc. and Petmate Products), Pilots N Paws has grown to over 2,600 pilots volunteering their time and aircraft and over 11,000 animal lovers utilizing the network to keep informed of animals in need all across the country. PNP has moved beyond transfering animals from “kill shelters” to “no-kill” shelters or rescues. Pilots N Paws now provides canine medical flights. PNP volunteers have also taken on the task of transporting former military dogs that returning soldiers have adopted. After the oil spill in the gulf, 51 PNP pilots flew 171 dogs out of danger.
Boies sees the role of PNP as more than just a network for pilots, shelters and animal lovers to connect in order to provide safe transportation. She also sees PNP as an opportunity to educate the public that euthanasia isn’t the only answer for animals in shelters.
There are two pilots of note: Aviator Jeff Bennett is approaching 1,000 animals rescued, and he’s not even the record holder. Aviator Scott Messinger has already broken the 1,000-animals-rescued mark. My personal record is 18. I fit 18 puppies into my Columbia 350 for one mission. Two of my personal dogs are Pilot N Paws rescues delivered to me by other PNP members.
Requirements: Pilots N Paws permits anyone with a current pilot certificate, including student-rated pilots. If you’re looking to do your required long cross-countries and would like to write part of those fees off on your taxes as a donation through Pilots N Paws’ 501c3 status, check the Pilots N Paws forum board to see if there are any transport requests in your area. If you have higher ratings and are in the mood to fly and have a desire to make the world a better place for animals, the same forum board will have more information. More than likely, there are needs in your area.
Rewards: Money spent on Pilots N Paws flights is eligible in part for a tax deduction. One-hundred percent of plane rentals can be deducted as a donation. However, the biggest reward is the knowledge that you’ve made the world a better place and given the opportunity for life to a deserving animal. Ask any working pilot, and he/she will tell you that Pilots N Paws pilots are the highest-compensated aviators in the aviation game.
Joy Covey, a Lighthawk volunteer pilot from Woodside, Calif., donated a flight in her Pilatus PC-12 to transport two orphaned and injured mountain lion cubs to the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Founded in 1979, LightHawk is a volunteer-based environmental aviation organization that provides donated flights to environmental-conservation groups. LightHawk partners have found that their work has been greatly enhanced with the ability to take to the sky. Donated aircraft and flight time give them the ability to gain information and images that would have been otherwise impossible. LightHawk is built on a platform of service. The entirety of their work is done in collaboration with over 200 conservation groups annually. In 2011, some 90 LightHawk pilots flew 1,450 mission hours in the U.S., Canada and Mesoamerica. Pilots also enjoyed the opportunity to transport 70 aplomado falcons and orphaned wildlife that included two cougar cubs and one grizzly cub.
Requirements: LightHawk pilots are required to have a current private pilot certificate and a minimum of 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time, as well as valid passenger liability insurance.
Rewards: There’s no better way to combine your love for nature and the environment with a passion for flying. LightHawk’s goal is to enhance the ability of other conservation groups to get the job done. Money spent on LightHawk flights are tax deductible.
The primary reward for flying for any of these organizations is the opportunity to utilize your aeronautical gifts to make the world a better place. I had one Wings of Mercy passenger who spent eight hours in an ambulance with lights and sirens blaring to go from Luddington, Mich., to Madison, Wis., to receive his double transplants. I returned him to his family postsurgery in 53 minutes. Life just doesn’t get better than that. No matter who you are, there’s an organization out there that’s providing aeronautical services in an area of one of your passions. To find other groups that could also put your flying skills to good use, visit www.aircareall.org.