Saturday morning, a fleet of Doves will engage for the eighth time. The mission? To provide swift, efficient, comfortable, and careful transport to teams of athletes poised to compete in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Florida, from June 5 through 12.
They’re called Doves for the callsign they’ll use in flight.
The aircraft comprising the Special Olympics Airlift (SOA) fleet has been orchestrated by Textron Aviation, and it consists of Cessna Citations, Beechcraft King Airs, Premiers, and Beechjets, and Hawkers and the crews that volunteer their time to fly the athletes and their supporters from airports across the U.S.
Starting first thing in the morning on June 4, those jets (and King Airs) will land at Orlando Executive Airport (KORL) at a rate of up to one every two minutes. The games attract roughly 4,000 competitors for 20 different sports, this year to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort.
And on June 12, after the games have concluded, the airlift fleet arrives again, in sequence, to take the athletes home.
Coca-Cola Consolidated Inc.—the largest bottler of Coca-Cola products in the U.S.—is scheduled to fly in the first aircraft, a Cessna Citation XLS+, taking the coveted callsign “Dove 1.” “Athletes like Kelsey [a runner from North Carolina who will fly in on Dove 1] deserve to have the experience of a lifetime,” said Kimberly Kuo, senior vice president of public affairs, communications, and sustainability for Coca-Cola Consolidated. “They just need a ride.”
The corporations, private individuals, and flight crews who donate their time and equipment to the SOA do so over and over again because it’s such a rewarding experience. Many of the athletes are riding on an airplane for the first time, and to have that ride be in a bizjet or King Air is a big treat—but one they have worked hard to earn.
The desire to participate again is one I know well—this will be my third time flying in the SOA—and my fourth supporting the event as a volunteer. For 2022, I have the honor of joining the Dove 135 crew as co-pilot for the trip to pick up athletes after the games on June 12.
Though I’ve flown into Orlando Exec a handful of times before, I know there will be no time like this one. Watch this space to follow along with our journey.