In Depth: Dianna Stanger

“She’s flown a total of 3,816 women at iWOAW events over seven years, and in 2018, she flew 716 girls and women at the rate of about 20 an hour.” Courtesy Dianna Stanger

For so many reading this profile, “giving back” through some form of philanthropic flying is a big part of why we fly. To see the smile on a child’s face when a rescued puppy is delivered to its forever family, or taking a person up for their first taste of what our world of flight is like is one of the most rewarding experiences a pilot can enjoy.

While some of us have dreamed of filling our dream hangar with the proceeds from a winning Powerball ticket, that is not reality. Sometimes, though, people are very successful in business and can fill their dream hangar by manufacturing products people purchase in large quantities for a respectable profit. One of those people is Dianna Stanger—based in Texas and California—a very active pilot who has indeed filled her hangar(s) with an assortment of airplanes and rotorcraft.

If you’ve ever been to one of the Institute for Women of Aviation Worldwide events and watched a helicopter filled with girls and young women flying endless sorties out and back all day, that was Stanger in her Eurocopter EC135. She’s flown a total of 3,816 women at iWOAW events over seven years, and in 2018, she flew 716 girls and women at the rate of about 20 an hour. That marathon mission earned her the 2018 iWOAW title of “Most Dedicated Female Pilot Worldwide.”

When you run the numbers on that 2018 effort, she spent a total of $101,042 on that one event, and like all philanthropic pilots, she picked up all personal expenses, including fuel costs. Stanger was more than happy to pay about $141 per passenger, just so those girls and young women could get up in the air for a few glorious minutes.

“I’m able to fly so many girls because, in a helicopter, I do not have to taxi,” Stanger says. “Every day at these events, I fly as many trips as I can in the opposite direction of the airplanes flying the event. My trained crew can get four girls out and four new ones in very fast with the rotor turning, and I’m off on another flight. It’s intense flying, but I go into machine mode, and it’s a lot of fun for me as a pilot.”

Stanger has also flown patients for Angel Flight South Central for the past 17 years, an endeavor that gives her immense satisfaction. To date, she’s flown 231 patient missions for a total of 1,262 hours at a personal cost of an astounding $3.1 million. Of those AFSC flights, she says: “There’s never a bad flight flying patients to treatment. You just can’t help but walk away from these flights with the biggest smile on your face.”

And about that big smile we see in every photograph of Stanger: That’s not posing for the camera; she intends to make every day count. “With all the things I get to do with my airplanes and helicopter, I consider myself to be very, very lucky. No matter what life hands me, I always seem to get something out of it.”

With her EC135 helicopter, Stanger has given 3,816 girls the free gift of flight at numerous iWOAW events. Courtesy Dianna Stanger

Stanger focuses primarily on flying girls and young women because that’s where she believes the need is greatest. “The ratio of females to males in aviation is devastatingly low,” she says. “That 7 percent number has always blown me away, and this statistic was the driving force in the beginning when I started doing all the flights for girls. When airports became fenced, the ability to interact with pilots and aircraft for kids stopped. I think it’s the most wonderful thing in the world to expose a child or young adult to the magical influence of flight.”

The company Stanger is involved in—Connecticut-based Electro-Methods—machines and fabricates complex assemblies and components for the aerospace industry, including some of the largest jet-engine OEMs. In 1992, Stanger became primary stockholder, and while not involved in day-to-day operations, she frequently visits the facility. “We’ve got a seven-axis machine that does parts up to 60 inches now, and to me, that’s just fascinating. I love going up there so the crew can show me all of the processes that go into making our parts. Occasionally, they also give me TIG welding lessons, which I just love.”

Read More from Dan Pimentel: In Depth

The good fortune of owning a successful company has allowed Stanger to buy flying machines for many years to fulfill her pilot dreams. The collection’s “flagship” is a Beechcraft Premier 1A jet. She also has a Cessna 208 Caravan, a pair of Lancairs (a Legacy and a 390-mph Super Legacy) for racing at the Stihl National Championship Air Races (in Reno, Nevada), an EC135 helicopter, an Aero Vodochody L-39, and a L-19 Bird Dog warbird. While all make very fine platforms, two additional airplanes give her the most joy.

“My vintage 1942 Waco UPF-7 biplane was previously owned by my grandfather,” Stanger says, “and just flying that airplane and listening to the wind as it goes between the wings is amazing. You don’t really have to think too hard to fly it or worry about the avionics. It’s nice to go out and just enjoy flying as it was meant to be.”

The rarest ship in her collection is the only Aero Vodochody L-139 training jet in existence. “My late husband and I had a deal. He could only buy me gifts with an engine, and he bought me the 139 as a birthday present. It flies like a dream, but it does go fast,” Stanger says.

What often defines an aviator’s character is not what they flew but how they gave back. Each time Stanger flies a girl at an iWOAW event or delivers a patient many states away, she represents all of us. With each flight, she touches nonflying families and demonstrates in a big, bold way that general and business aviation can do positive things for all.

There is one thing about life that is inevitable: At some point, we aviators will all “go west” to fly forever with Lindbergh. When that day comes, each of us will leave behind a legacy that was forged by what we did during our time on this Earth. That legacy won’t be determined by the amount of hours in our logbooks or what was parked in our hangars. We will be remembered for what we did with our airplanes—and in some cases, helicopters.

Years from now, after Stanger has gone west, to enjoy flying to find the finest $100 hamburgers, she will be remembered for spending some of her wealth introducing complete strangers to aviation—because she could.

This story appeared in the Jan/Feb 2020 issue of Flying Magazine

Dan Pimentel is an instrument-rated private pilot and former airplane owner who has been flying since 1996. As an aviation journalist and photographer, he has covered all aspects of the general and business aviation communities for a long list of major aviation magazines, newspapers and websites. He has never met a flying machine that he didn’t like, and has written about his love of aviation for years on his Airplanista blog. For 10 years until 2019, he hosted the popular ‘Oshbash’ social media meetup events at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.

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