Tuesday, March 8, 2016

2016 Year In Aviation Service: Retired Airline Pilot Provides a Lift to Others With Angel Flights

By Carmelo Turdo
The Aero Experience continues our 2016 Year In Aviation Service series with another story of how aviation serves others in the aeromedical field.  While on a recent visit to our sponsor, Air Associates, we were privileged to meet pilot Gary Shreiner, a retired airline pilot and Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) who volunteers his time and aircraft for Angel Flight.  Through his service, patients can obtain air transportation for treatment at specialty health centers across the Midwest without incurring the long commutes or additional expense and restricted access of commercial airline service.

"It's a way to give back to the community,"  Shreiner told The Aero Experience during our afternoon visit at Spirit of St. Louis Airport where his plane is hangared.  He checks the Angel Flight request listing regularly, and picks those that fit his availability and the range of his twin-engine Cessna 310.  "I try to schedule one per month.  Right now the plane is getting some maintenance and updates done, and I have not flown an Angel Flight in a while.  They are wondering where I have been and when I can do another flight!" he added with a grin.

Gary Shreiner (R), patient (center) and copilot Michael
Matthews (L) with Shreiner's Cessna 310 
(Gary Shreiner photo)
Through Angel Flight, Gary Shreiner and a copilot fly an ambulatory patient to an airport near a medical facility without charge to the patient.  Flights usually (but not always) begin or end at Spirit of St. Louis Airport, and are from 250-300 miles (1.5-2 hours) in duration.  Typical flights carry an adult patient or a child and parent, and light baggage for a short stay at a treatment facility is acceptable.  Emphasis is on light baggage, not only to accommodate more weight elsewhere for passengers and incidentals, but also there will likely be another aircraft type used for the return trip with unknown baggage capacity.  Occasionally there will be a second leg connecting flight or another patient returning to St. Louis with the aircraft, but more likely Shreiner returns with the aircraft or pursues other flying activities after delivering the patient.  Once the flight is accepted from Angel Flight, the pilot is responsible for ensuring that the flight is carried out according to current FAA regulations and incurs the costs associated with the flight.
Tulsa, OK-based Angel Flight serves the Midwest states of Missouri, Arkansas and Kansas as well as Oklahoma and Texas as part of the Air Care Alliance group providing similar services throughout the U.S.  Services include the Angel Flight as described above, along with patient connecting flights through the region to other parts of the country and transport of emergency medical supplies to areas of need.  Donated funds are used for operational support activities.  There are strict criteria governing the pilot proficiency and patient requirements for Angel Flights to ensure a successful flight for all involved.  Angel Flight Central, based at Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport in Kansas City, coordinates MO-based flights. 
Gary Shreiner sees his participation in Angel Flight as demonstration of how general aviation serves the community.  "It's the very focus of general aviation,"  he continued, referring to the power of aviation to positively influence the lives of not only those directly involved but those who benefit from related activities.  "A general aviation airport is a great asset to a community."  A thriving general aviation airport provides the economic resources for local and regional growth and, as demonstrated in this instance, supports Angel Flights provided through the generosity of the volunteer pilots.
Gary Shreiner checks the weather in the pilot services center at Air Associates
Shreiner brings a rich history of flying experience to Angel Flight, including thousands of hours in the air and his instrument, multi-engine, commercial and CFI ratings.  He received his private pilot certificate at age 20 partly to make the family travels between Ohio and Michigan more convenient.  He had 800 hours flying time before joining the U.S. Army in 1966 after completing dental school, and served until 1968 at Fort Bragg, NC.   Although not an Army pilot, her flew the aircraft in the base aero club and gained another 1,000 hours as a CFI flying there.  Following discharge from the U.S. Army, he was able to arrange an interview with Trans World Airlines (TWA) in Kansas City, and was accepted to training with the airline shortly thereafter.  In his 30-year career with TWA, Shreiner flew the latest jet airliners on international and domestic routes while enduring the bane of airline flying - he was furloughed three times, relying on his dentistry practice and later charter flying work to fill in the gaps while working back up the seniority list for recall and promotion.
Shreiner served as 2nd Officer (Flight Engineer) on Boeing 707, 727 and Convair 880 jets in the 1970s, and moved into the 1st Officer (Copilot) seat in the Boeing 767 and McDonnell Douglas DC-9/MD-80 series.  He served as Captain of DC-9 and MD-80 jets and was an FAA Designated Line Check Pilot.  Much of the conversion training was done in simulators, whose flight characteristics were so realistic that the simulator training was considered adequate before checkout flights were made.  The simulators included realistic training in ground movements and other non-flying activities as well.  Of all the benefits to promotion, one practical one stands out.  As one moved up the crew chain, a larger number of outside pre-flight inspections were delegated!        
Shreiner is patiently waiting for his plane to be available for his next Angel Flight and for multi-engine pilot training.  He teaches one student at a time, and proudly mentions that several are currently pursuing corporate and regional airline careers.  We know that he will continue to be involved in the best of general aviation, and The Aero Experience will check back with him soon when he is back in the air!
The Aero Experience thanks Gary Shreiner and Air Associates for their contributions to this 2016 Year In Aviation Service story.   

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