Feb 8, 2016 – What it takes to complete an Angel Flight

Did an Angel Flight yesterday with 6 hours of flying and some weather challenges. I posted a picture on FB afterwards, and got lots of congrats and thank you notes. While I appreciate that, it made me feel a bit guilty about taking credit alone. So many others contribute to making this flight happen, I’d should point some of them out. Besides – it’s my hobby so I’m out there doing what I love to do.

As for the 5 flights that made up this mission (3 legs for me and 2 for the other pilot), it was rewarding in that all the weather and routing worked out as we had planned. The passengers ended up being energized and fun, and we got them where they needed to be in less time than commercial or car travel would have achieved.

I enjoyed working directly with another Angel Flight Pilot – Karl – to ensure we’d both be able to complete our connecting flights in both directions. Just that process in itself was engaging – each of our contributions to the discussion mattered. The issues facing us were forecasts of low clouds and freezing levels to the surface; precipitation along the east coast in the form of snow and mixed precipitation (neither airplane had ice protection); and moderate turbulence for the entire route. We planned and talked about exit strategies, and it all basically played out as we expected. We completed this safely with the help of ATC.

Here are some of the key players involved in getting this done

Sussex Aero: the skilled mechanics who keep my airplane running as it was intended to run. When those engines fire up on the first kick and all systems hum along – well – the experience is all the more enhanced. I would not do these flights if I didn’t trust the machine.

GED Airport Management: these folks responded to my recently broken hangar with professionalism. They responded when a passing storm damaged it and I needed snow cleared right away to get the airplane out safely. They’ll get my hangar repaired soon, I am sure.

GED FBO: Professionals that keep the airplane fueled and the accounting straight for me. The more fuel and tax credits I get – the more I can do these flights.  I trust them to fuel my airplane and to treat it gently.

33N Airport Management: these folks steeped up to help me out with a temporary (and very nice) hangar that got me inside for February. I write this in a warm man-cave, knowing my machine is out of the weather while it’s snowing outside. I’m on the list to get back to one of these hangars eventually, and will probably keep GED available too when it comes back. These are good people making an extra effort. Not having to de-ice an airplane sitting outside made life easier and got me out on time.

Angel Flight East: the experience I had from start to finish was exceedingly positive. Controllers in all areas working to optimize the passenger’s experience is a direct reflection on how they view the organization and the effort. My experience would have been different if the administration of the organization was haphazard or non-professional.  The other AFE pilots have been easy to work with and credible. Kudos on electronic record keeping – it works!

Passengers: Brayden & his Mom!: This is the 38th time they’ve flown on GA airplanes to take care of Brayden’s needs. I cannot imagine what they’ve been through up to now, but I can tell you it was an absolute pleasure to meet them both. I generally don’t take pictures of any passengers, but when Mom took one, I asked for a copy – shown below.

As it was, we beat the ice, turbulence, and winter yuck and I got to meet the nicest young man. Brayden was totally pumped to go flying with me this morning – and another Angel Flight East Mission is in the bag!
20160208 Brayden Angel Flight
This kid acted as if he was one of my grandchildren. I walked in the door at the airport; and he ran over and hugged me! Totally blew me away how outgoing he was. Made my entire day!!

Brayden has been cancer free 3 years now, and working on building his immune system. Can’t fly commercial, so I was blessed to get to fly him. He and his mom were two of my best passengers yet. Totally squared away.

What a positive experience. He could walk into my house on Christmas Eve and blend right in. I’m still thinking about him. Hugs matter.

ONE LAST THOUGHT I’d like to share from a conversation Brayden’s mom and I had on the flight back. While no one wishes this kind of adversity on a family – one of your children experiencing life threatening cancer – families that go through these experiences successfully do gain something. It could be that they grow stronger as a family as the battle rages. Individual values and perspectives change. Little disappointments stay that way – little. Appreciation for everyday blessings deepen. 

It takes less energy to be happy when you have perspective

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 9.36.33 AMATC Controllers outbound: The flight out to Greenville, SC started at 33N. Expected low ceilings did not develop by the time I was ready to leave, and I was able to climb for better winds up to 8000′. There was no frost to contend with either prior to departure, so it was a good start. The low northwest of Charlotte created lower clouds and a headwind, however, so I asked for 6000′  to keep up my pace.

Nearing Charlotte, a routing change headed me to the northwest over Barrett’s Mountain. There I ran into a 30 minute stretch of moderate turbulence over the rocks in snirga, but no ice. Winds on the nose of around 30 knots developed mechanical turbulence within 2000′ of the mountain tops. The ride was rather rough.

I gave a pirep and the controller asked if I’d like higher. He couldn’t give me any lower, so I told him not to worry. Lower would be worse anyway, and higher would get me further into snirga and icing temps above. I’d stay where I was and suck it up.

I asked for a tops report; planning for the route home; but none was available. After this exchange I ended up getting cleared direct destination, and could tell he was doing for me what he could.

Controllers-KGMU Tower, as well as Greer & Charlotte Approach: On the ground with the engines running and the passengers briefed, I received a clearance that would take me right back through the area of moderate turbulence I had just endured. Though I was expecting a climb to 9000′ that might be better, I KNEW the more easterly route toward Charlotte would be a smoother ride if I could get it. 

I read back the initial clearance to the tower controller at KGMU and then told him of my concerns. He could have blown me off, but instead started to ask questions about what I’d prefer. We talked back and forth as his time permitted, and he took it upon himself to dig further. After a few iterations on what I’d like versus what he thought possible, he cleared me to taxi while he got on the phone to negotiate on my behalf. What resulted was an almost direct route east at 5000′, just south of Charlotte. Bingo!

Holding short now, he informed me that he talked with Greer and Charlotte approach, and they collectively approved a clearance at 5000′ right through Charlotte airspace; just south of the airport over RICHE intersection. The ride ended up mostly smooth; clear of precipitation; and with a 20 kts tailwind. 

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 9.37.43 AMReaching RICHE intersection, you can see I was cleared direct destination from just south of Charlotte. I acknowledge it wasn’t terribly busy, but these guys didn’t put their feet up on the desk – they went to work for my passengers and me. That’s some pretty cool stuff to be happy about.  Somebody else had made my freakin’ day. Nobody does anything like this on their own – as an individual. There are so many people doing positive things out there that you just don’t see.

Last but not least….
Beverly: the wife who encourages and supports my flying. Her strength and generosity is reflected in my flying and in the giving of my time. Training and maintenance requires resources and commitment. Bev has never once complained, and only encourages the high standards I adhere to. She walks and talks like a professional aviator.

People are awesome.

Fly Safe!