Pilots study long and hard for their "wings" so they can enjoy flying. But to those who have done it no reward surpasses the volunteer flight hours put in for Angel Flight. Angel flight arranges free air transportation for patients needing specialized medical care.
"We've had a pretty incredible journey," said Kathy Hiebert about all that surrounded her frequent Angel Flights with her daughter, Brooke.
Brooke's rare immune system disease required weekly and later monthly trips from Nacogdoches to Dallas for treatment. Angel Flight made it as convenient as possible.
"They have saved us so much time. They pick us up and fly us to Dallas in an hour," Hiebert recalled.
A bone marrow transplant from sister Haden got Brooke well. Soon, the entire process will be repeated for Brooke's twin brother, Brett. The four year old is already practicing for the flights as he pretends to be a pilot.
Brooke eases any of his anxiety about the trip or the necessary medical procedure all the time.
Mitch Engle is a retired American Airline pilot who likes flying for people such as the Hieberts.
"I don't like to go up and fly to just bore holes in the sky, so it gives me something to do. Taking people back and forth, which I did for 32 years, but also I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction out of being able to help somebody," said Engle before taking Brooke and her mom to Dallas for a check up.
Kathy is grateful to all the pilots, but always wondered something over and over again.
"There's none from Lufkin and Nacogdoches, and I know there are pilots in the Lufkin/Nacogdoches area who probably would be great Angel Flight pilots," said Hiebert.
Pilots with at least 200 hours total time, ready access to an aircraft, and valid liability insurance are eligible to participate. In exchange, they earn flight hours, a tax deduction, and the satisfaction of charitable flying.