|By Carmelo Turdo|
|Brad Rafferty of AIAA St. Louis|
The AIAA was created through the merger of the American Rocket Society and Institute of the Aerospace Sciences in 1963 to "Ignite and celebrate aerospace ingenuity and collaboration...to be your lifelong link to the aerospace community and a champion for its achievements." AIAA serves a diverse community in the aerospace field, providing a means for professional information exchange, archival references, publishing, industry advocacy and related services. Members and community groups are recognized annually through a prestigious awards program offered at the national and local levels. The Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum received the 2013 Civic Service Award from AIAA St. Louis Section (Museum President Mark Nankivil accepting left below), and Dr. Frederick Roos received the Section Service Award (below right).
Wings of Hope is a global humanitarian charity that serves as an aviation non-profit organization. The mission statement contains the objectives of delivering humanitarian programs to the poor and assisting communities in gaining self-sufficiency. Using aircraft to reach remote places is the logical method.
Starting in 1959, various Catholic ministries started providing humanitarian air services in Kenya. Not unlike Charles Lindbergh's preparations for the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, Bishop Houlihan approached St. Louis businessmen Bill Edwards, Joe Fabick, Paul Rodgers and George Haddaway to listen to his needs and provide the seed money for the first Cessna U206 used by the newly-minted United Missionary Air Training and Transport. As news of this first successful aircraft service spread, more aircraft were needed. Wings of Hope incorporated in 1967, and has since provided humanitarian and development services around the world and in the U.S. through an inter-faith approach to serving the needs of all mankind.
The original mission of providing humanitarian aid to people in developing countries using aircraft continues, and includes significant investment in programs that address health, education, economic opportunity and food security. Basic preventative health care services are accomplished through traveling clinics on a regular basis. Examples include flying medical clinics in Tanzania, the use of a Cessna 172 aircraft for emergency transport and preventive dental services in Nicaragua and the use of donated buses for medical clinics in Myanmar.Education programs include a significant effort in Cambodia that provides after school education in English and computer classes to improve the job prospects for the students. Also, university scholarships and training programs help to equip students to mentor others and lift up whole communities.
Economic development programs include a microfinance program for women to develop businesses in Kenya and work centers in India to assist in the creation of new businesses. Both methods provide opportunities for women to participate in gaining self-sufficiency for their families. Food security programs, like the chicken farming initiative in Ecuador, strive to equip the women of their communities with a means to sustain food production beyond the initial donations of eight chicks.
In the U.S., Wings of Hope continues to provide the Medical Relief and Air Transport (MAT) Program from its base in St. Louis. The program was established in 2003 to provide access to life-saving health care within the Midwest to those who are unable to obtain or sustain transportation to specialty care facilities. This is accomplished using corporately-owned aircraft and volunteer pilots and medical staff. 200-300 flights are made each year within a range of 600 miles from St. Louis. Options are being studied to increase the effectiveness of this program by serving more patients and covering more of the country.
The guest speaker for the meeting was Bret Heinrich, President and CEO of Wings of Hope. He gave some insights into the operations of the organization. One difference between Wings of Hope and other humanitarian aviation groups is that the aircraft are corporately owned, while the pilots and most of the maintenance personnel are volunteers. "We are unique in that we fly our own aircraft," he told the AIAA members attending the dinner meeting. He mentioned that there are currently 56 aircraft in the fleet, though not all of them are being used directly in the field. About 20 aircraft are donated to Wings of Hope each year. "When a plane comes through that door into our hangar, one of two things happens to that plane," he continued. "It either gets put into the mission field somewhere around the world to serve humanity or it's sold for program revenue." The hangar was full of aircraft, some used for the MAT Program (seen above), others undergoing maintenance for future missions work, and others being refurbished for sale or raffle to raise funds for on-going operations. Heinrich said that Wings of Hope is able to allocate ninety cents of every dollar, significantly higher than expected by charity rating organizations, to perform the missions described above. Wings of Hope has been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize, and no doubt will be nominated again in the future.
Following the Bret Heinrich's talk and the presentation of an AIAA challenge coin, the AIAA St. Louis Section members and guests were given a tour of the facility. Dr. Jessica Watson led the group through the lobby and hall exhibits, and Bob Zbylut, pilot and volunteer A&P mechanic, conducted the hangar tour.
The Aero Experience commends the cooperative effort between AIAA St. Louis Section and Wings of Hope Young Ambassadors. We thank Wings of Hope President and CEO Bret Heinrich, Dr. Jessica Watson, Brad Rafferty, Adam Kruger and all who contributed to the March Dinner Meeting and the joint work throughout the year.