Airlifts spread holiday cheer to children

December 3, 2008

Airlifts spread holiday cheer to children Photos courtesy of Operation Good Cheer

Many children this holiday season will be looking to the skies—not for a sleigh with a man in a bright red suit and eight tiny reindeer, but for a pilot in a small airplane.

Pilots nationwide are helping organizations to collect and deliver presents that will find their way to grateful children.

On Nov. 15, nearly 30 pilots from Arizona’s Sierra Vista Municipal and Deer Valley airports flew 13 aircraft filled with toys and food to the Navajo Nation near the New Mexico border as part of the twenty-fourth Annual Christmas Airlift, reports the Herald/Review.

Wings of Faith Ministries, based in Tustin, Calif., has been using general aviation airplanes to deliver toys since 1976, one year after the group formed. The first airlift started with one airplane filled with toys for 50 children in a Mexican orphanage and 30 children on an American Indian reservation. Now, 12 to 14 volunteer pilots deliver to 15 locations, including a warehouse in Yuma, Ariz., where 30 missionaries stationed in Mexico come to pick up the toys and deliver them to their communities. They also fly to 10 American Indian tribes, two children hospitals, a school, and a children’s rehabilitation center.

Airlifts spread holiday cheer to childrenThe group flies supplies to these locations throughout the year, but “the toys are a fringe benefit at the end of the year,” said Dale Whinery, founder and president of the organization. Airlifts begin the first week of December and continue up to Christmas Eve. Toys that aren’t delivered by then will be flown after Christmas. Whinery said that they fly to high-elevation areas in Arizona and New Mexico, and the weather determines when they can make the deliveries. The organization owns a Cessna 140, Cessna 182, and Cessna 206, but volunteer pilots also donate their time and aircraft to make the trips.

More than 4,000 infants, children, teenagers, and adults with disabilities receive gifts each year through the Child & Family Services of Michigan Operation Good Cheer based out of Oakland County International in Pontiac. The project, which started in the 1980s, will deliver 15,000 toys this year. About 300 pilots intend to fly each year, but some are weathered out. See related story from December 2008 issue of  AOPA Pilot.

Katie Williams, program coordinator, works on the project year round. Children throughout the state complete wish lists, which Williams then sends to donors in October. Toys are collected, loaded onto semi trucks, then sorted by the destination, packed onto smaller vans that will drive out to the aircraft for pilots to load. Aircraft include a Beechcraft Bonanza, Piper Pacer, Baron 88, and Convair. The Convair, Williams said, will deliver all of the gifts destined for Saginaw.

This year, about 15,000 toys will be flown to 17 airports on Dec. 6, where social agencies and workers will meet the pilots, unload the aircraft, and deliver the toys.

Airlifts spread holiday cheer to childrenGet involved

As AOPA previously reported, the Barnes-Westfield Airport in Westfield, Mass., is holding its Sixth Annual Toys for Tots Fly-In on Dec. 6, and the Virginia Chapter of the Ninety-Nines is hosting a toy airlift through Dec. 13. Pilots are encouraged to put donation boxes at their airports. Volunteers will then fly all the new toys to Chesterfield County Airport on Dec. 13, where they will be collected by the National Guard for distribution to the families of military personnel and wounded veterans.

To find out if an airlift is happening in your area, search AOPA’s online calendar of events. If you have a holiday-related event happening at your airport, submit it to our calendar for other pilots to see online.