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  Curing The $100 Hamburger Syndrome

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Paul Reed is a retired Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve and is retired from the Central Intelligence Agency. He has a Private Pilots License, Airplane Single and Multi-engine Land with Instrument Privileges. He owns and flies a 1965 Beech Debonair and is also current in the T-34 and Cessna 182. When not flying volunteer medical missions, he is a Mission Pilot and Check Pilot for the Civil Air Patrol.

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     Curing The $100
   Hamburger Syndrome

     Paul Reed

Here it is, Saturday morning, and you are trying to decide what to do with yourself and your airplane. You and the plane need the exercise and the greasy spoon at your airport has lost its appeal. Well, one way to avoid this problem is to get involved in an organization that is charitable and allows you to fly.

Lots of folks around the country simply have no idea that there are groups that combine charity and flying. I didn't know about most of them until I had retired and was looking for things to fill my spare time. Now I know that there are more organizations than I can belong to and my wife gripes that I am the busiest retired guy she knows. Hey, it works for me. I get to pursue my love of flying, exercise my Debonair and help some folks who are a lot less fortunate than I.

Let me describe a couple of these organizations and give you some leads which you can pursue when the clouds have your plane in the hangar and you at home, feeling let down.

I happen to live on the West Coast and the two that I will tell you about are located in this neck of the woods. There are tons of others that are spread across the country. The first is a group called Los Medicos Voladores or the Flying Doctors. LMV is headquartered in the SF Bay Area of California and consists of over 300 medical professionals, pilots, and volunteers whose focus is on providing FREE medical care to a number of remote villages in Baja California, Mexico. Trips are planned for one long weekend a month, usually departing on Thursday morning and returning Sunday evening. A typical trip will have a medical professional, a pilot, an interpreter/translator and a volunteer in a single engine airplane. Most of the destinations are about 5 to 6 flying hours from the Bay Area, so it is an easy one day trip. Remember: there is no VFR flying in Mexico after dark, so that is a restriction. Arriving at the village by dark allows the medical team to set up and get prepared for the next two days of intensive work. Peter Pilot becomes a flunky once the intrepid machine is safely on the ground. I have fitted glasses, scrubbed dental instruments, repaired balky compressors and a host of other menial jobs. There is absolutely no room for egos on these trips. By late Saturday afternoon, most of the medical work grinds to a halt and the team packs up and heads for some reasonably nice Mexican destination for a little fun and relaxation. By Sunday noon, it is usually time to head North and the idea is to get everyone home in time to be ready for Monday morning. Those of us who are retired get ready to clean up the aluminum steed or whatever else we do in retirement. The gratification is immense: these folks do not get much more than rudimentary medical care from their government and they certainly can't afford to pay for care on their own. They thank you for coming until it almost gets embarrassing and the looks on their faces are incredible. Everyone on the plane contributes $200 toward airplane expenses and each person is responsible for their own meals and lodging(neither of which is ever much). The pilot can claim the $200 as a deductible expense, as well as certain other expenses. Beyond the charity aspect for taxes, this is an incredible experience. For more information visit the Flying Doctors web site. There are other groups with similar names: Flying Physicians, Aeromedicos, and several more. You can find many of them .

The second group of charitable organizations are also medical related. The nationwide umbrella organization is called the AirCareAlliance and their email is The toll-free number to phone them is (888)662-6794. The purpose of Air Care and its member organizations is to provide free transportation for medical patients within the U.S. For those of you who don't have easy access to Mexico or who prefer to give your time and money at home, this may be just the ticket. I happen to belong to one of the larger of the groups, AirLifeLine, headquartered in Sacramento, California. AirLifeLine is featured about once a year in Ann Landers column in the nations newspapers, so it has gained a certain amount of notoriety. AirLifeLines website is The toll-free number is (800) 446-1231. Angel Flight is another group that has national coverage and reputation.

The drill with AirLifeLine is that you are providing FREE air transportation for medical patients. Typically, the folks that you carry have some sort of unusual disease and need to go to a large medical facility for diagnosis, treatment, consultation, etc. They have to be certified as not having the resources to pay for their own transportation and this has to be accomplished by a social services agency, their doctor or a hospital. When I get the call to fly someone, I am assured that the individual has been screened and is needy. Remember, when you agree to do this, YOU PAY THE BILLS for this flight. It is a charitable donation, if that is important to you. Flights are typically 2-3 hours in length and are usually one way: this is, you are taking the patient to a medical center or you are taking them home from one. The patients must be ambulatory: no litters. Quite frankly, I have one or two who were barely able to walk and that is very sad. I have been doing this for 5 or 6 years, usually 6 to 8 times a year and I just simply feel good after I cover up the Debonair after one of these flights. If feeling good about yourself and your flying is important to you, these flights will certainly do it.

As I say, if your fancy is tickled by either of these two ideas for using your pilots license for something besides a ticket for a hamburger, contact one of these groups. It isn't for everyone, but it sure beats droning around the pattern at the local flying patch and it makes you smile in a real neat way.

Paul Reed


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