|By Carmelo Turdo|
The aircraft taxied to the Aero Charter apron from nearby Elite Aviation around 10:00A.M. and flights commenced shortly after the pilot briefing and group meeting in front of the hangar. Flying Vikings President/CEO Paul Hansen discussed the day's flight plan with the pilots and line crew while the flight rosters were finalized.
The children and accompanying adults were escorted to the aircraft by their pilot, with several line personnel present at all times to ensure the safety of everyone on the apron. The pilots introduced the aircraft to their riders by pointing out the major structural parts and explaining their use. The children were given the front seat so that they would have a chance to actually fly the aircraft. Their joy and feeling of accomplishment were evident from the positive responses upon their return. One of the riders was interviewed by KMOV St. Louis Channel 4 following her flight.
Flying Vikings President/CEO Paul Hansen explained the group's purpose and his passion for offering the gift of flight to those who may not otherwise experience it. "What we're doing is taking [the children] up in single-engine airplanes," Hansen told The Aero Experience. "But the key is when we're up at two thousand feet, we let them actually fly the planes. So these are kids - 7,8,9,10 years old - that are flying a real airplane." Hansen went on to explain how important it is for young people with disabilities or chronic conditions, who spend an inordinate amount of time in treatment or otherwise out of social contact, to come out to the airport and just "be a kid." He added, "The best part is that they are out with their families sharing some fun. We're using the airplane as our tool."
Although this is the second annual event in the area, the program has actually been operating for quite a while outside of St. Louis. Paul Hansen told us how he came up with the idea and why he has continued with it for fifteen years. Flying Vikings is a non-profit organization based out of Texas, and coordinates events all over the country.
"I was in the corporate world, doing investments for a living," Hansen said. "And one day God basically spoke to me and said, 'You're done, I have a different plan for you.' I ended up quitting my job...That was over fifteen years ago and I've never looked back." After seeing a man in Texas wearing a St. Louis Cardinals hat, he decided to contact Aero Charter for assistance. They said they would host the event, and so the program came to St. Louis.
"We're flying over a thousand kids a year," Hansen added. "The powerfulness of this is that they're flying. They may not be able to ride a bike or play on the football team, but they're flying a plane going 150 miles per hour around St. Louis. And to me that is an amazingly powerful thing...This gives them some actual bragging rights when they go back to school on Monday!"
These Flying Viking events are produced through the efforts of volunteers from Paul Hansen to local organizers, pilots and host airport staff. The only incentive is to bring joy to the children and families who participate in the flights. "What drives me is the smiles," Hansen said. "The kids are smiling...Just seeing the kids having a good time, a smile, a hug, a high-five. That's really what it's all about."
The Aero Experience thanks Paul Hansen and the Flying Vikings for the great work they do as they take their program all over the country each year, and we encourage you to assist them in their work during an event or by donating to their operations fund. We also thank Elite Aviation, Bud Cool, Aero Charter, and Spirit of St. Louis Airport for making the St. Louis event a great success!