A Higher Calling

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GA's Year-Round Holiday Cheer -- Complete With Angels...

Part of the holiday season is geared toward helping those in need and many aviation charities step up -- every day -- to do just that. One such group is the Air Care Alliance, a nationwide league of humanitarian flying organizations whose volunteer pilots are dedicated to community service. This umbrella organization helps connect those patients suffering from serious illnesses with qualified pilots who can provide free air transportation to specialized treatment centers. Angel Flight is one of the groups connected with the Air Care Alliance and provides free transportation to medical treatment for people who cannot afford public transportation, or who cannot tolerate it for health reasons. But Angel Flight also flies missions in response to other compelling needs, which are dealt with on a case-by-case basis. The group flies over 1,800 annual mission nationwide and currently includes about 1,300 active members. About half are pilots, and the rest participate as co-pilots, mission coordinators, helping with outreach activities, or simply as supporters of the organization. Of the pilots, some own their own airplanes and some are renters. Maribeth Ventrice, one of Angel Flight's employees, told AVweb that the group sees a constant flow of activity throughout the year. Because of this, Ventrice tells us that Angel Flight is always looking for extra help in whatever form it may come.

...To Overcome Bodily Challenges...

While Angel Flight concentrates on medical transportation, Challenge Air -- through Challenge Air for Kids and Friends -- is setting its own mark. Through the group, seriously ill or physically or mentally challenged children are given thirty-minute airplane rides and some are allowed to "fly" the aircraft -- if they want to -- and talk with pilots who often faced physical challenges of their own. The group seeks to inspire children and young adults by providing the opportunity to fly in small airplanes piloted by both wheelchair and non-wheelchair aviators. They also have one of the cutest homepages we've seen in a while. The Texas-based organization joins with communities and families nationwide to host special motivational and inspirational programs for disabled children. Byron Laszlo, Challenge Air's Director Of Events, told AVweb, "We offer several large events across the country where these special kids can realize their dreams to fly."

...And Share A Higher View Of The Planet

"You just see the world differently from an airplane," says C. Rudy Engholm, president of Northern Wings, based in Portland, Maine. That perspective can make all the difference when the future of the landscape is at stake. "You don't see political boundaries -- you see rivers, lakes, towns, forests, coastlines. It's a very powerful thing," says Engholm. The volunteer pilots of Northern Wings share that view of the world with policymakers, reporters, major donors, TV crews, scientists, and photographers when wild places and open spaces in New England and New York need protection. "For a lot of these causes, winning hearts and minds is very important," Engholm says. And those hearts and minds can change with a little bit of altitude.

Northern Wings has been operating since 1992, and currently has a network of about 50 volunteer pilots who donate their time, fuel, and aircraft to the cause. When the paper companies in northern Maine started in recent years to sell off tens of thousands of acres of land, Northern Wings helped to reveal those remote forests to potential buyers. The pilots also monitor lands that have conservation status to be sure no improper changes occur. "We'll check that a piece of land designated as forever wild doesn't get logged, that a working farm doesn't turn into a shopping mall, that we don't see road-building and clear-cutting in New Hampshire forests where sustainable logging restrictions apply," says Engholm. By sharing their bird's-eye view, Northern Wings' volunteer pilots help to keep their corner of the world green and growing.

NOTE: For more information about Northern Wings, call 800-445-7951 or contact Rudy Engholm by e-mail at rengholm@gwi.net.