A passion for flying leads to a path of life-changing missions for people in need.
Whether it’s a honeymoon to Belize or a family vacation to Disneyland, booking flight travel can be exciting and fun. You plan for it. You save for it. You look forward to it. Now, imagine having to make flight arrangements for yourself or a family member to travel elsewhere to receive life-saving medical care. Maybe it’s a one-time need, a weekly treatment, monthly or every three months. Not only are you dealing with a serious illness, but also the cost and logistics of flight travel can quickly add up and become overwhelming. How do you handle it? Who can help?
Enter Angel Flight Central, an organization that provides free flights for people in need. Chip Gentry, an attorney and founding member of Call & Gentry Law Group, has been one of three mid-Missouri AFC volunteer pilots for the past four years. In that time, the mid-Missouri pilots have been responsible for 24 Angel flights.
“It is remarkable to me that I can help alleviate the stress, anxiety and expense so someone can focus on just getting healthy,” Gentry says. “It’s a blessing to be able to do that.”
Angel flights not only help people dealing with medical issues, but they’ve also flown domestic abuse victims to safe havens, transported children with medical issues to special camps, provided disaster response flights and have flown service members and their families trying to reconnect when commercial flights were not available.
Gentry began taking flying lessons in 2008, and within the first two hours he knew he’d be doing it for a long time and that he wanted to incorporate flying into his business. “I had a growing need for efficient travel to serve clients in my expanding national law practice,” he says.
But his passion for flying soon combined with his passion for helping people; while up in Oshkosh, Wis., for an annual Airventure aviation celebration, he learned about Angel Flight Central.
“As soon as I reached the AFC pilot requirements, I applied as a volunteer pilot,” he says. “I get to help people, and it’s another excuse to fly.”
AFC’s 10-state region is divided up into Wings (chapters). Missouri has two Wings — one based in Kansas City and one in St. Louis — for a total of 50 pilots in Missouri. AFC has a total of 385 pilots in the organization. This spring, AFC will reach its 20,000th mission, which brings the total to more than 8 million nautical miles flown, equaling $1.7 million in service value. Volunteer opportunities also include administrative support, outreach events and activities, special events and in-kind donations.
AFC flights occur within the continental United States, and the organization tries to divide up longer trips into 250-mile legs. If the flight is longer and goes to an area not covered by the organization, AFC works with other volunteer flying associations to ensure the passengers get where they need to go without incurring any flying costs.
Sometimes Gentry flies longer trips himself. He once picked up a couple in Joplin and flew them to Texas and back in his Cherokee Piper Archer III four-seat plane. Other flights transported kids from a youth summer camp for disadvantaged children with medical issues.
Little did Gentry know that crossing “learning to fly” off his bucket list would so drastically impact his life. His wife, Pam, and kids, Alex and Grace, love that he’s earned his pilot license because it means he’s home more often. “Because I travel so much for work, having 5,000 airports at my disposal and my own schedule means I miss far less family events,” he says. “It’s much more efficient and fun than flying commercial.”
Gentry is also involved in Cherokees to Oshkosh, a formation flying group, and has recently started Wings Over Missouri, a general aviation flying club.
When asked about his passion for flying, Gentry laughs and says he’ll find any excuse to get in the air, but Angel flights are something special.
“I’ve met the most amazing and inspiring people who are dealing with life-changing situations,” he says. “It’s a great experience to get to share in someone’s life by helping take away the cost and stress of travel.”
For more information on Angel Flight Central and how to apply for flights or to volunteer, visit angelflightcentral.org.