Flight Training for a Good Cause

By Eric Sampson, EAA 1195867

When I revisited the idea to get my pilot certificate in November of 2016, I had no idea what was in store for me. I just knew I wanted to pick back up on a decades-old goal of mine to become a professional pilot. This was my goal out of college in 2002, but I wasn’t able to make good on those plans. Fifteen years later, things have once again changed, and at 39 years old, I was able to seriously consider a push for the career I really wanted when I was a younger man.

My involvement with animal-rescue flying started with the purchase of a 1973 Piper Cherokee 140. The seller was a woman from Sparta, New Jersey, who is an active animal rescuer and had participated in animal rescue flights for years. I thought that was quite noble and, as an animal lover myself, I told her that someday I would try to uphold that legacy of hers. I mean, who doesn’t get the warm fuzzies about the thought of helping animals? Little did I know how soon the opportunity would come to fulfill that promise.

I started lessons in my plane in January of 2017. The winter was rough with limited opportunities to actually get in the air. On top of that, the instructor I had started working with already had his walking papers to a Part 135 operation. February was brutal in New Jersey, so I went to Florida in March and rented a Cherokee like mine and managed to get a few more hours in. But just as I was starting to feel like I was making some progress, I came home to an instructional void. It was now April, and I was essentially stalled just as the weather was starting to improve. I had no instructor and couldn’t fly. Frustration started to set in. But then a glimmer of hope arrived.

In the beginning of May 2017, I got a request from the previous owner of my plane. She asked, “Can you bring three cats up to Rochester for a local rescue?” I said, “Let me see what I can do.” My friend and A&P said he would make the flight with me, but while it provided good experience, it wouldn’t count toward my training, which is what I desperately needed. Then, a couple of days later, my phone rang. The call was from an independent CFI that I had contacted via Craigslist of all places. He was flying a Pilatus part-time out of CDW and sympathized with my frustration. At this point, I hadn’t flown in nearly 2 months and was bummed and getting discouraged. I said, “I have this animal transport request to Rochester,” and he simply said, “Let’s do it.” Like that, I now had a new CFI and a cross-country flight to think about and plan.

That first flight, which was conducted under the auspices of an organization called Pilots N Paws, with these animals and my new instructor was sort of a magical experience. The mission of getting these animals to their new foster homes and adopters gave real context to the flight I was going to make. It provided real purpose to looking up weather conditions and planning a route. It got me excited to get back in the plane. On top of that, I had to coordinate with people on the ground for receiving the animals and dropping them off. It felt purposeful and I liked that. My new instructor and I completed the mission, logging 4.2 hours of cross-country time, and I learned a whole bunch in the process. We worked on basic VFR navigation, VOR navigation, how to fly distances to a visual point, and procedural and emergency flows, to name a few things, and started working on communications as well. The skills I learned that day at 10 hours still apply to flights I make today at more than 200 hours. It was a great experience and day.

My flight training continued with my new CFI and things were coming together and going great. I received my solo endorsement in June 2017 and was enjoying the growth and experience of that privilege when, once again, I was requested to help with a transport, this time from Rhode Island back to New Jersey. With several more months of training now under my belt, I was able to plan and execute this flight all on my own, all for a cute and cuddly kitten. It was another great experience and both I and the kitten got something from it. The kitten was saved from a hoarder and for me, aside from the great intrinsic reward of helping another creature, I gained more flight time and valuable experience toward my certificate. It was a win-win situation.

Several months and four rescheduled checkrides later, the weather finally cooperated and I earned my private pilot certificate. At 40 years old and 14 months after buying my own plane, on February 21 of 2018, I became a pilot. The next stage of learning was ready to commence. I was now free from the restraints of a student license and Pilots N Paws was there with open arms to provide opportunities to fly new places and gain new experiences. Pilots N Paws continues to provide a great reason to go fly and build time. I have flown numerous missions since and have built some great relationships in the process. And the joy I get when seeing the animals get adopted into a new home is hard to quantify. Flying these animals to their foster or forever homes definitely qualifies as paying it forward while adding to your good karma, if you believe in that sort of thing.

Pilots want to fly. It’s what we do. So why not let it mean something? Whether you’re a student pilot or a veteran of the sky, Pilots N Paws can be beneficial and rewarding while also helping to reduce your flying costs, as some of them may be tax deductible. For new pilots like myself, everything is an exciting growth experience full of reward. But maybe you’re a veteran flyer and bored. You want to go somewhere but you don’t know where. Pulling up the mission map provides all sorts of destinations and rendezvous points. You can get to a new place a day early and enjoy a new destination. Or maybe you just so happen to have a trip already planned. A quick glance at the mission-map may allow you to help some animals out along your route. If you fall into that “rusty pilot” category, you can shake the cobwebs out while perhaps introducing a new co-pilot to the benefits and rewards of animal-rescue flying. There is something for everyone when it comes to the benefits of being a volunteer with a group like Pilots N Paws. Not to mention, it is a great foundation if you plan to earn your instrument rating and volunteer to fly medical patients for organizations like Patient Airlift Services or Angel Flight. It takes an IFR rating and 350 hours to qualify to fly medical patients, whereas all it takes is a will and a way to fly animals. I have benefited from my involvement with Pilots N Paws and am grateful to be able to uphold the legacy of my plane’s previous owner. I hope you decide to check it out and that you also find value in it as I have.

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