Patient transport flights: big airport experience and VIP service

January was a bit of a slow month of flying but I was able to get involved in two compassion flights with Angel Flight and PALS (Patient AirLift Services), both into and out of Boston Logan Airport. One motivation for getting the instrument rating was the ability to participate in these wonderful programs to assist medical patients in need of transport to the world-renowned medical facilities located in Boston. The need is big and the opportunity to experience large airport operations and help people out is compelling.

Patient
Helping people out is what this type of flying is all about.

All six flights were filed as IFR flights, though the weather was VMC for both missions. In the wintertime, even with de-ice boots, we felt it safer to fly in non-IMC conditions. Fortunately, the weather was severe clear with virtually no turbulence to speak of.

The first flight was arranged with my plane partner, who has many years of experience flying for both Angel Flight and PALs in his other-partnered Baron. The flight started out of Nashua, NH (ASH), which is a short hop to BOS. Departure from ASH is straightforward, with towered operations and fairly light traffic.

As we arrived into the Logan airport area we were kept high and far out, north of the field while the approach controller worked out a plan to fit us into their morning arrivals. As we flew past the distant approach end of the expected runway (both ATIS and the controller indicated 22L), we wondered aloud if we would be vectored back around, left, to the north to re-establish 22L. However, the approach controller handed us off to another controller, who vectored us right, to the south, and cleared us to land number two on runway 33R.

By that time, a fairly sharp turn to the right was necessary to line up for 33R—after we both confirmed that we had indeed identified the correct runway. Logan has 12 runways, so sorting out which one we should be headed for in that busy airspace of can be a bit stressful, but good cockpit communications and setting runway extensions on our tablets software makes confirming the correct runway fairly easy.

Logan
Get in line behind the big boys at Logan.

We picked up a patient and his wife at the FBO (Signature) after a bit of high alert taxiing and headed out to return them home to Bar Harbor. Taxiing around Logan can be very challenging but planning ahead and having a good geo-referenced map on board makes the task manageable. The FBO at Logan was very accommodating, waiving all fees, as expected, and providing support for the transfer of the patient. The flight up to Bar Harbor was uneventful other than the spectacular views of the Maine coast and the wonderful speed of the Baron, which routinely cruises at 200 KIAS. This flight provided a recovering chemo patient and his wife a short one-hour flight which would have been a five-hour drive.

A couple of weeks later I got my chance to pick up a rather light patient (two years old) from Westchester, New York (HPN), and deliver her with her mother to Logan with the expert help of another co-pilot friend—this time in my Warrior II. It was a truly wonderful experience helping this family and relieving them of the arduous 4-6-hour car drive to Boston. Due to the timing of the patient’s appointments, we had to depart FIT before sunrise, which ultimately led to a spectacular sunrise wing photo opportunity.

The RCO at FIT was out of service at the time, so for my first time, I had to call ATC directly from my phone. I didn’t really know how to do that, so I called 800WXBrief and they politely provided me the Boston Approach phone number. A quick call to them to pick up my clearance and we were off into the morning dawn.

The flight to KHPN was smooth but slow as I battled a fairly strong headwind—as expected. I knew that we would get that back on the way to Logan, especially up high, so I wasn’t too worried. We enjoyed a spectacular sunrise over the Atlantic ocean and even saw the sun-glint from the Freedom Tower in NYC nearly 100 miles ahead of us—that was a special treat!

We picked up our patient with her mom and buckled the car seat into the back of the Warrior with some effort and blasted off from the busy Westchester airport before the day got more busy. Climbing to 7000 feet, we enjoyed a strong 30-knot tailwind, which hastened are arrival into the Boston airspace.

Boston
Not a bad view for a Warrior.

During the approach to Logan, the controller put us in a very long left downwind to runway 22L and asked us to give “best forward speed,” which was a bit silly with the 115 KIAS Warrior, battling a 30-knot crosswind from the east. Eventually, we were routed to the east to take our place along the long conga line of airline traffic making their way home that morning. At about four miles out, on final, the controller asked if we could switch to 22R, which I readily accepted knowing that the taxi path from that runway provides a much cleaner route to the FBO.

After landing, we were instructed to turn right onto runway 33R and contact ground point nine. Reading the NOTAMs helped here. One of them indicated that runway 33R/15L was closed for landing and departing, but open for taxiing. This is a big help, as the FBO is located just off the west end of 33R.

The FBO provided a “follow me” truck and they parked us up close to the front door. Still, they brought out their courtesy van to transport our young patient and mom into the FBO. Again fees were waived, we said our goodbyes, grabbed a snack and drink and headed back out to the ramp. When I called clearance delivery they responded with a simple, “we have your clearance” and asked when we were ready to go, which we were.

As part of the departure clearance, the Logan Two departure was included. I was ready for this, but still wanted to double check the instructions. When I said standby to double check the DP, the controller simply stated that we need to remain below 3000 feet and because they a provided radar vector to the west, it wouldn’t let us follow the 140 degrees turn out to sea that the DP indicated.

Pilots
Always good to have a co-pilot along in busy airspace.

Taxiing around Logan was much more comfortable this time. We even got to hear the ground controller tell a Southwest 737 to “give way to the Warrior on Bravo,” a fun highlight. At the hand-off to tower, the controller instructed us to line up and wait on runway 22R. I never like doing this as it puts my back to the approach end of the runway. This time was even more challenging as there was clearly a large airliner bearing down on approach. I hesitated a minute, then realized that they were on the 22L approach and we would not become a speedbump.

Tower then asked if we could maintain our own obstacle clearance, which we could (easy in VMC). He asked us to make a turn to the west as soon as practical, which we did as soon as we knew we’d clear the control tower in the turn. The flight back to FIT was smooth and straightforward. After leaving the Bravo, we downgraded from IFR to flight following and eventually transferred to CTAF for a quiet arrival into Fitchburg.

Flying for PALS or Angel Flight is a rewarding way to get out and fly. It provides VIP access to large airports with waived fees and sometimes reduced fuel prices, in exchange for helping people get the medical services they require in what must be a difficult time for them. I highly recommend signing up. You’ll be impressed with the level of logistical support and the professional support team.

5 Comments

  • I fly for Angel Flight East and completely agree with your comments about the experience.
    One suggestion, when I have patients that want to got to Boston, ask them if it would be OK to go to Norwood (KOWD) just SE of the city. Nice Class D airport, friendly FBO, easy In/Out, minimal struggles with ATC. Great time saver, less stress.

  • I did many flights in and out of BOS 5-10 years ago in a Mooney. Always loved the excitement and courtesy and appreciation we received from all the ATC and FBO folk. IF I remember correctly, when ceilings were reasonably high, there was a great approach which I believe was ILS 33L circle over river to visual 22L. They were always very careful to explain it and I remember being pretty scared the first time I got the clearance although executing it was pretty easy as it turned out. Loved all my Angel Flight and PALS flights… and sadly miss it all now.

  • I gave up flying when I turned 70. One of the things I miss most was flying for LifeLine Pilots, an Illinois volunteer pilot organization. Because I was based at Chicago Midway for 25 years, busy airports weren’t unfamiliar. What I really enjoyed were the flights between out-of-the-way places like Paducah, KY, to Iowa City, IA, where there was a facility that specialized in nonsurgical treatment of clubfoot. I also reveled in flying in and out of Chicago’s Meigs Field which Mayor Daley damned as being for “carpet-baggers”. It was rewarding to transport those for whom an airline flight would have been awkward – a baby born with part of her intestine hanging out or a teen who needed supplemental oxygen. It was fun letting kids ride in the copilot seat, but I had to remember to disable their mic for a sterile cockpit. Having a turbine twin, I wound up getting called on for flights that could have been difficult for typical GA aircraft such as Moline, IL, to Allegheny County in light to moderate icing. I was also equipped for longer flights such as Pascagoula, MS, to Gary, IN, after Hurricane Katrina. I still hear from a teen who had leukemia as an infant and had to be treated at St. Jude in Memphis. I wish I had done more.

  • I have considered flying for a charitable organization, but have been hesitant due to owing a Grumman Tiger and possible difficulty loading folks. Reading your story using a Cherokee makes me reconsider.

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