|By Carmelo Turdo|
In Part 1 of this series, we looked back on Dick Horowitz's retirement as Chief Pilot for the Wings of Hope Medical Relief and Air Transport Program (MAT) last November. Horowitz and other MAT volunteer pilots provide air transportation for patients needing specialized treatment in facilities around the Midwest within 600 miles of St. Louis. The MAT program served 218 patients and flew nearly 117,000 miles in 2019.
Soon after Dick Horowitz arrived at Wings of Hope on that November 30 flight, staff and volunteer technicians began the annual inspection and a major upgrade program designed to make the Piper Navajo a more valuable asset to the MAT program. As shown below, the Navajo is receiving a complete instrument panel upgrade that will replace vacuum system instruments with glass panel avionics. Also, the engines have been removed and sent to a specialty overhaul shop. When the process is complete, the aircraft will be able to fly farther and carry more people and supplies than the other aircraft in the fleet.
Dick Horowitz discussed his last MAT flight in the Navajo with The Aero Experience during our recent visit to Wings of Hope. After nine years as an MAT pilot, he stepped down from that role having reached the retirement age set by the Wings of Hope Board of Directors. The flight involved transporting a patient to a cancer center for a clinical trial that may lead to a new treatment. He considers it a privilege to be able to provide efficient transportation, food and lodging for those suffering from a life-threatening condition.
"It's very inspiring, it's really a privilege to be able to help the people that we help," Horowitz said, reflecting on the years he served in the MAT program. "I've been doing this, training and administratively managing the pilot group for about nine years now, and it's time for me to step down from doing that." He was offered the opportunity to continue on as Chief Pilot without flying actual MAT missions, but Horowitz turned that down because he believes that leading a flight department involves being scheduled along with the other pilots and medical crews. Dick Horowitz will continue to do training flights and check rides for pilots in the MAT program, and he will be a positive force at Wings of Hope for years to come.
The typical MAT flight is scheduled several weeks in advance, and pilots volunteer for the flight. One pilot is in charge of the flight planning process, and an instrument flight plan is filed. Closer to the flight, details such as weather are rechecked and the flight crew arrives at Wings of Hope or the designated airport at least an hour in advance of scheduled takeoff. Safety is the paramount concern, and the final flight go/no go call is made. "We cancel very few trips because of weather," Horowitz said, "because we have really competent pilots and really good airplanes with good equipment." Flights are canceled, though, when icing conditions are present.
Following a thorough pre-flight inspection of the aircraft, the crew aims to take off at or before the scheduled time. "We go through the checklist, item by item, to make sure everybody is on the same page," Horowitz explained. "With a two-person crew [or three if a flight medical crew member is present], they are an interactive system and everybody has to know everything that is going on in the airplane for it to be an efficient and safe system." Wings of Hope flight operations adhere to conservative crew flight time rules, and typical flights are less than four hours per leg with few flights long enough to require overnight stays.
The MAT program is essential for patients needing continuing care for a serious health condition at a facility located ten or twelve hours away by car. It is not just the driving time, but the whole logistics trail of food, housing and the return trip over weeks, months or years of treatment. Wings of hope provides the support these families need to care for their loved one, including the flight, food and lodging, while seeking treatment in other cities.
Dick Horowitz sees the practical results of what he and his MAT crews have achieved. "Just being able to subtract out the food and the transportation issue for them is an enormous help to allow them the resources to deal with the main problem, which is the child's medical situation, and keeping their life together and putting food on the table and a roof over their head. The families that we serve really, really need our help and really benefit."
The Aero Experience thanks Dick Horowitz for sharing some insights from his service in the Wings of Hope MAT Program. In Part 3 of this series, we will take a look at the aviation career of Dick Horowitz as told by the man himself!