May 1, 2009
By Phil Scott
Five years ago Jeff Puckett got lucky on his checkride, you might say. The ancient Schweizer 300 sustained an engine failure in flight and he had to demonstrate an actual autorotation with the FAA examiner on board. “I passed the test,” he says. “That was fun.”
A fixed-wing pilot since 1988, Puckett wanted the helicopter ticket to check out oil and gas properties a three-and-a-half-hour drive from his home in Denver; the Bell JetRanger he bought sliced two hours off the trip. Then just more than two years ago a close friend’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. The friend was Rev. Tom Melton, the pastor of his church, and it was just before Christmas.
“Around Christmas pastors are kind of really nailed,” he says. “It’s a tough time. So I figure I’d pick him up, give him a ride, and get him out of the house, give him a different perspective of the world.” He flew Melton and two of his kids, and the experience lifted a big weight from the reverend’s shoulders. After they landed Melton suggested to Puckett that maybe he should do this for other pastors. That’s how Prayer One began.
To date Puckett has flown 1,500 passengers, shooting for 15 every Monday. He tries to mix them up—urban and suburban ministers, for instance, or ministers and Christian business people. “We introduce the parties so maybe they can find something they can do to help one another,” he says. They don’t even have to be Christians. “That’s the cool thing about it,” Puckett explains. “It’s the communication thing. One day we had an Islamic cleric with a rabbi and a priest on the same ride. They tend to pray when they get over Denver. It was never a requirement, but they just pray out loud. So we had the Muslim in his tongue, the Hebrew fellow spoke Hebrew, and the Catholic spoke English. It was a unique experience that day.” After a flight with an African missionary who happened to be in Denver, the huge, six-foot-five missionary was so moved that he lifted Puckett over his head and danced around the hangar.
Prayer One has been such a success that Puckett recently traded in the three-passenger JetRanger for a six-passenger Long-Ranger. Also he’s starting to take up members of rival gangs. “A lot of these gang kids, their world is about a five-block area,” he says. “My thing is we could fly these kids and show them that there’s more than the world they live in.” He says he’ll keep on flying these flights until old age or he loses his medical.
“I don’t know what it is, it just touches people,” Puckett says. “Flying above the ground at 400, 500 feet, it’s truly awesome.”
The Upwind Summer Scholarship Program, which gives high school students a chance to earn their private pilot certificate in the summer between their junior and senior year, is accepting applications for its 2015 scholarship.
If only one person had been helped, it all would have been worthwhile. But much more than that has been accomplished over the 25-year life of the National Gay Pilots Association, said its executive director.
A restaurant with a view of Los Angeles International Airport built as a tribute to aviation heroes is poised to land a new lease.
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