Let George do it!
Air Facts Journal

I am a long time Angel Flight (AF) Pilot and this is a positive story about one of my frequent and favorite passengers.

I fly for AF Central (AFC) and do so because I get a chance to help real people in need and do it while flying.  Over the past 20+ years, I’ve met lots of people and visited many airports I would never have otherwise flown to.  Our AFC organization operates as part of the Air Charity Alliance in a 10-state Midwest area and we frequently coordinate with other AF Divisions, Life Line Pilots, and other aviation groups for longer missions.  This passenger was shared with AF Mid-Atlantic.

I fly a 2000 Mooney M20S Eagle that is fast and comfortable—ideally suited for AF missions. It’s a veteran!

mooney

My 2000 Mooney M20S Eagle is ideally suited for Angel Flights.

I got to know George fairly well, and over a multi-year period, I flew him at least a dozen times. George was a heating and air conditioning technician who was about 40 years old and a very positive, friendly gentleman from Southfield, Michigan, a Detroit suburb.  George had colon cancer and was travelling to the Cancer Treatment Center of America (now called City of Hope Hospitals) in Zion, Illinois for regular treatment, including surgery, chemo therapy and radiation.  A tough road, but I never once heard a complaint.  I learned a lot from George about a positive attitude and admired his approach to his personal health crisis.

My flights with George were always pleasant and always had one end in Waukegan, Illinois.  Sometimes, the other end was in Pontiac, Michigan, South Bend, Indiana, or some other intermediate point.  If conditions were VFR, we flew the beautiful Chicago Lakefront, and if IFR, we went west of O’Hare past Joliet and DuPage.  We flew along, but not across, Lake Michigan.

About our third trip, this time from Pontiac to Waukegan past South Bend and Gary, flying the shoreline, George told me that if he survived this experience, he’d love to learn to fly and maybe even make a living doing so.  He had fallen in love with aviation and wanted to really be part of it.

My response was, “Well, hey, no time like the present, are you ready?”  George was shocked that I’d let him fly, but recovered, and his ear-to-ear smile told me he was very willing.

We were on an instrument flight plan in semi-VFR conditions and, as a result, had some fairly strict limits on course and altitude.  I called ATC, who knew we were an AF and, as always, they were very willing to accommodate.  George was always under my close supervision.  I told ATC I had an aspiring AF student pilot in the right seat who wanted to hand-fly a while and asked for a vertical block of 2,000 feet and a horizontal path several miles wide.  ATC’s response was one of approval and they said they’d keep an eye on us and, besides, there was no other traffic in the part of southern Michigan nearby anyhow, so go for it!

I fly a lot, and virtually never experience any level of airsickness/discomfort.  Well, after 30 minutes of George’s rock solid grip on the yoke, I was feeling it.  Then, suddenly, he relaxed, got a bit of the feel for piloting and we smoothed out.  After that trip, every successive trip got smoother and George’s smiles just got bigger. (I did not, however, ever let him take off or land—that would have been way too exciting for both of us.)

george marshall

George (left) was the bright spot in everyone’s day.

On one trip, I took a potential future pilot grandson along and he was so enamored with the AF concept, and with George’s attitude, that he’s on the path to Aviation college this coming fall and a career as a Commercial Pilot. This is just one of George’s many positive impacts.

Anytime we hit turbulence, I would laughingly suggest it was his piloting skills, but by then, he knew about turbulence and figured out it wasn’t his problem. And he kept on smiling. I looked ahead and took his flights whenever I could.  Smiling passengers are a true benefit.  I actually had him fly an RNAV approach into Waukegan on a VFR day and only took over to land.  Flying certainly made his trips easier and enjoyable, and I loved doing that.

George was a bright spot in everyone’s day.  Toward the end, I had not seen his trips posted for a while and called his home and talked to his wife, only to find he was in a local Detroit hospital and deteriorating.  He was losing his battle, but never gave up trying or smiling.

George was a treasure, and I wish I could go flying with him again.

Think about making a positive contribution and flying for Angel Flight, Lifeline Pilots, Wings of Mercy, Pilots and Paws or any of the many Air Charity Alliance groups.  It gives your flying a very positive purpose, and you get to meet some wonderful people along the way, and they all become friends.

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