By Mark Hanson, EAA Lifetime 1094142
Until receiving a phone call from the Boston Celtics during a busy week of volunteering in the EAA Spirit of Aviation Mobile Experience trailer at SUN ’n FUN International Fly-In & Expo I would not have thought of myself, or our community of passionate volunteer pilots, as heroes. But the Boston Celtics, Massachusetts State Lottery, and NBA all appear to think we are.
Do we fly to inspire others?
During game five of the first round of this year’s NBA playoffs the Boston Celtics presented me with a Heroes Among Us award.
How did this happen?
I received the award based on the publicity around one of my more than 115 volunteer flights for Patient Airlift Services (PALS), a nonprofit organization that facilitates free transportation for those needing specialized medical treatment far from home.
About 40 percent of PALS flights are for children whose families are facing significant financial and logistical challenges with little to no support from traditional caregiver services. PALS has a wonderful and active community of more than 600 volunteers who donate all costs of using their general aviation planes and/or ground support, complemented by several commercial airline partnerships. There have be an impressive 12,500 missions since PALS was founded in 2010.
The PALS mission transporting Piper Jae Paddock moved all of us involved quite literally beyond words. Piper Jae is an 8-month-old whose parents had been enduring seven-hour car drives between Rochester, New York, and Boston. Piper Jae needed to get a seventh heart surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Children’s Heart Foundation referred the family to PALS.
I was fortunate to be the first one called. I like to fly children and veterans, and especially look for those with special needs.
Upon landing at Norwood airport near Boston, quite to my surprise, our flight was greeted by three TV ground crews and two TV helicopters. The media coverage for baby Piper Jae and the Paddock family has greatly boosted awareness for these type of specialized medical services and the means for any family to gain access to them.
I am also a volunteer pilot for PALS for Patriots missions, a program sponsored by MLB.com. Wounded veterans from Walter Reed and other areas are flown by a PALS volunteer pilot to morale-boosting events like MLB games where veterans get VIP treatment including going onto the field, meeting the players, great game seats and a return flight back the next day.
Do I feel like a hero?
I certainly don’t feel like a hero. I am just a member of a hero class of aviation volunteers.
I am humbled and inspired by those marshalling through tough times. Hero organizations like PALS and EAA who facilitate aviation volunteers deserve the credit. Pilots are but one member of a diverse committed team. Each flight touches every aspect of general aviation including small airports, FBOs, air traffic control, local governments, and aviation safety teams like EAA IMC Clubs. I can only hope that our patients and passengers feel even a fraction of the inspiration and rewards that our volunteer community experience.
How do we celebrate progress and build awareness?
If we diligently share our passion and services across the healthcare communities, awareness and growth should follow. Let’s also then be deliberate at celebrating our accomplishments.
Congratulations to all of you in the general aviation volunteer community that share the Heroes Among Us award with me and thank you for the privilege to fly with you.
For more information about becoming a volunteer pilot please see the Patient Airlift Services website or e-mail PALS.
Mark can be reached at Mark.Hanson@palservices.org.