I’m In An Airplane?

by Fay Jacobs on October 22, 2010

Boy, am I flying this morning. Literally. I’m sitting in the back seat of a single-engine Cessna, tagging along with Bob Derrickson and Rich Boyd, as they practice their instrument landings and prepare for tomorrow’s flight to Cooperstown, NY.

The pilots are part of a wonderful organization called Angel Flight, where pilots volunteer their time and their small aircraft to transport people with special medical needs to various cities. For these pilots, flying out of the Georgetown Airport, the flights are primarily in the northeast.

“The passengers need specialized treatment and for many of them, if it wasn’t for Angel Flight they could never receive it,” says Boyd, a retired air pollution consultant.

“They can’t afford the transportation and insurance certainly doesn’t pay for it,” says Derrickson, a Rehoboth Beach businessman. “You hear about these stories and think it would be a great thing to do.”

In addition to wanting to donate their time and airplane, the pilots admit they get to go places they’d never even considered in their flight plans.

They’ve  landed in Smoketon, PA, Elmira, VA and now Cooperstown.  Seventy five percent of the trips are to airports that are new to them.

But it’s the reward of helping the patients that really makes it worth the considerable expense in time, gas, airplane maintenance and much more.

“We went and picked up a young girl in PA and took her to Charlottesville. When the patients or their parents express their gratitude it’s really heartfelt. It’s a good day.” Derrickson says.

Angel Flight is a nationwide non-profit organization, created by a group of pilots who believe in the benefit of volunteering. They arrange free air transportation for any legitimate, charitable, medically related need. Patients are usually traveling for surgery, chemotherapy, dialysis, and other treatments.

Typically, the flight is a triangle – from the airport in Georgetown to a destination to pick up the patient, then on to the medical facility and then back to Georgetown.

Generally, the Angel Flight pilots are flying just one leg of a journey that may take a patient several stops to their destination. Sometimes, according to Derrickson, the trip could be three separate rides of several hours, making it a long day for the patient.

“It can really touch your heart,” Boyd says, recalling a young disabled boy, about three or four years old, with a sweet smile. “You know from the diagnosis that he may not live long, but it’s great to see them enjoying the flying. “

Angel Flight is financially supported primarily by pilots who fly the missions (by donating the use of their airplanes and operating expenses) and by contributions from individuals, service clubs, social and religious groups and corporations. There is never a fee of any kind, either to the patient or the health care provider for an Angel Flight. The costs are paid by the volunteer pilots.

One familiar pick-up spot is Tangier Island, where there is no hospital at all. Often, Angel Flight is called upon to take a resident to dialysis on the mainland in Virginia or to other places.

“It’s really a great win-win for everybody,” Boyd says. “We need to do a certain amount of flying to stay proficient and instead of just flying someplace for lunch, we can really help someone out.”

Like helping this roving reporter get over her fear of flying. I was seat-belted in the back seat, wearing headphones to  hear myself think and the pilots talk. I caught sight of Cape Henlopen, Seaford, the Roosevelt Canal, my house and a bird’s eye view of our county.  And I was able to eavesdrop on the two pilots, as they practiced  “touch and goes,” rehearsed instrument landings,  and eagerly explained their monthly volunteer flights.

Hats off to Bob Derrickson and Rich Boyd, two pilots delighted to participate in Angel Flights, helping those in need. Thanks, guys.

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