Richard Perry enjoys flying as much as the next pilot, but many of his flights also serve an important purpose. Since 2009, Perry has been flying people in need of medical care to treatment facilities throughout New Mexico and Texas. He has also assisted in bringing children to adoption camps where they are given a chance to become part of a new family. Perry is a volunteer pilot for a non-profit organization called Angel Flight South Central.
Perry recently flew a combination mission for 9-year-old Joceline, 17-year-old Luis, and both of their mothers in his Piper Lance from Las Cruces, New Mexico to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Volunteer pilots of Angel Flight South Central have been flying Joceline for two years to help her receive regular treatments at the University of New Mexico, and this was Luis’s first experience in a small plane. According to Perry, “The northbound mission was great, with only occasional light turbulence and good visibility.”
Two days later, Perry was scheduled to fly Joceline and Luis back home after finishing their treatments in Albuquerque. However, the weather service was forecasting high winds, and this would have only been the second plane ride for Luis and his mother. “I elected to avoid the turbulence and drive both families home,” Perry said. Instead of leaving the families stranded, or forcing them find their own way back home, Richard drove the 3 ½ hours north, picked everyone up, and returned them safely to Las Cruces.
Upon their arrival, Joceline presented Richard with a drawing depicting both her love of flying and her gratitude for the help this Angel Flight pilot provided. For Perry, it’s “just one of the things that keep us coming back for more Angel Flight missions.”
Angel Flight South Central (AFSC) is based in Dallas and serves Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Since 1991, they have been arranging free air transportation through a network of volunteer pilots for people in need of specialized medical care that is not available to them locally. In the last year, volunteer pilots flew about 2,000 missions, and all of these trips were at no cost to the patient. “We want the patients to focus on getting better instead of worrying about the added cost of transportation to the medical facility,” Tim Dammon, the CEO of Angel Flight South Central, said.
This organization has succeeded in turning recreational pilots into motivated philanthropists by giving them a reason to fly. Angel Flight pilots cover all of the expenses, from fuel to airport fees, out of their own pocket. “It’s a win-win. Pilots like to fly and patients need a ride,” said Randy Richison, a volunteer pilot from Norman, Oklahoma. “To me, it’s meaningful. My mission, my purpose, is helping someone directly.”
Even air traffic controllers and fixed base operators find ways to support this charitable cause and give special treatment to pilots flying Angel Flight missions. When they are flying in or out of an airport, pilots are often given priority by the air traffic control towers. Many fixed base operators will offer fuel discounts or waive the airport landing fees to assist pilots with the expense of the flight. Phillips 66 has also implemented a fuel discount program for Angel Flight pilots.
There are currently 1,100 volunteer pilots who are part of the Angel Flight South Central organization. Because of the sacrifice and commitment of these volunteer pilots, people are able to receive critical medical care that would otherwise be unavailable to them. “I have gained far more than I have ever given during my time with Angel Flight,” said Wiley Blansett of Searcy, Arkansas.