When Special Olympics athletes descend on the Princeton/Mercer County area of New Jersey for the 2014 games, some 800 of them will be arriving in Cessna Citation jets. The Seventh Citation Olympics Airlift was announced at last month’s NBAA Convention in Orlando, and the volunteer effort is expected to bring athletes from all 50 states to the games, which will run from June 14-21, 2014. The first Citation airlift was held in support of the 1987 Special Olympics in South Bend, Indiana. In the six airlifts to date, Cessna Citation owners and operators have transported more than 8,000 athletes and coaches, many of whom either would not have been able to afford to compete, or were unable to travel on airlines due to their conditions.
The first Citation operator to pony up for the 2014 games is Whelen Engineering of Chester, Connecticut. Famous for its exterior lighting systems for aircraft (it invented the rotating beacon in 1952) and later for emergency vehicles, Whelen relies on its Citation, but will donate its use to bring athletes to the games. Jim Olson, the company’s corporate vice president, said, “We love the idea of helping the special athletes. Our Citation is critical for our business. But making it available to these kids for Special Olympics events is icing on the cake.”
Founded by the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Special Olympics provides a stage for athletes to compete in 17 sporting events in front of some 60,000 spectators. Special Olympics North America president and managing director Bob Gobrecht said, “The generosity of Cessna, their industry partners and the Citation owners not only provides a much needed solution to the costs associated with transporting delegations, but also gives our athletes a once-in-a-lifetime aviation experience.”