Flying for fun, and flying with a mission

The day started off just as any Saturday when I have a mission to fly. Get up early, get dressed, very little to eat or drink, and head to the Tuscaloosa Municipal Airport (TCL). It took a few minutes to wake up good. I don’t sleep well the night before a mission, kind of like kids do on Christmas Eve anticipating their packages, only my package was a patient (and what the day will be like).

Today I was extra-excited to be flying Madeline (Mattie), age five as of last week, and her father, Chris, probably 30. Their brother/son, Drew (age two), had been in Children’s Hospital in Birmingham for a month undergoing therapy for a stroke he’d had when he was eight hours, yes eight hours, old. Mom, Lori, had been with him the entire time and Chris and Mattie had visited every other weekend.

Angel Flight
It’s fun to fly on a beautiful day, but it’s even more fun when you’re helping someone in need.

It was wheels off TCL at 7:30, just as planned, and I arrived at Mercury Air in Birmingham (BHM) 20 minutes later. And there they were: Mom, Dad, brother and sister. I was hooked from the start. Mattie and Drew were the sweetest kids I could have imagined seeing. After introductions, we decided which luggage I would take in my Piper Cherokee PA28-235 and which we’d leave for the second airplane. I was to fly Dad and Mattie to Poplar Bluff, Missouri, then Grant, the second leg pilot, was to take them on to St. Paul, Minnesota, in his C210 with brother David riding right seat.

After loading 8501N with their luggage, we took a little time and let the kids play around some since there was nothing happening on the ramp at the time.   I was surprised at how well Drew was getting around with the brace on his leg.   Mom had told me the therapy was working well. He was using his right hand and arm some and hadn’t before the therapy. The therapy is very expensive and as of this writing their insurance will not cover the expense. Thus, they set up his website to educate people on his condition and to ask for help in the costs associated with this therapy.

We then took a few pictures of the group and saw the second plane coming in to pick Drew and Lori up. After they shut down, we all did the introduction thing again and they loaded the second plane with the remaining luggage. We all went inside for the infamous last chance at the restroom and then we strapped Mattie into her car seat, closed the door, called Clearance Delivery, Ground, taxied, and took off on Runway 22.

After a slight right turnout to our on-course heading of 320, I activated the autopilot and climbed up to 6500, our cruising altitude. After 30 minutes of a 40 knot headwind, we descended to 4500 and picked up 10 knots. I knew it was going to be a three-hour instead of a 2:15 flight but we had four hours of fuel on board (I had left the tip tanks empty to pick up 170 more pounds of payload) so no worrying about fuel except to switch tanks at the regular times.

About an hour into the flight, Mattie started crying and Dad consoled her until she finally fell asleep. She really missed her mother and brother after seeing them get into the other plane. The flight was just a little bumpy but not too bad, and no real clouds as expected and we landed at POF at 12:10 pm three hours after leaving BHM. We knew we had maybe 45 minutes before Grant would arrive so we decided to take the courtesy car and get a burger. Mattie really liked riding to get the burger and enjoyed the fries more than anything. Dad limited her liquid intake to small sips. I got a call from Ward just as we were finishing. We returned to find Ward and his brother, David, finishing their lunchbox meal.

Cherokee 235
A fun way to see the world, but today there’s a real mission to complete.

We moved the luggage from my plane to Ward’s and I challenged Mattie to a couple of races on the ramp (not busy) to maybe get her tired enough to sleep most of the way home and, by George, she beat me every time! After another series of photos, Ward took off to STP. I bought a Poplar Bluff newspaper to take back with me and read when I got home. I also bought one for my parents since I was born there and lived there the first 4 months of my life. This was only the second time I’d been back since I was born, so it was somewhat of a short, two-hour homecoming.

The way back was filled with thoughts of the day’s events.   I did run into moderate turbulence the first 30 minutes and had to climb up to 11000’ to stay above the broken cloud layer, but the same wind I’d run into going to POF now was propelling me back home with the same, reverse, intensity. My groundspeed was about as high as I’ve seen it at 160 kts @ 65%. I stayed as high as long as I could and finally descended into Shelby County (EET) Airport to meet my A&P and change my oil.

After doing so, I flew the remaining 50 nm home, put the plane up, stopped by and picked up some supper and pulled into my garage 11 hours after I’d left it that morning. All in all, I flew 6.3 hours in the air, the most I’d flown in a day. I was tired, but I sure felt good, as many of you who will read this know. There’s nothing better than flying your airplane on a pretty day unless you get to do it and help someone at the same time. It doesn’t get much better than that!

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