March 1, 2013
By Jill W. Tallman
It isn’t easy to find a philanthropic mission for which a Socata TBM is the perfect airplane. But that hasn’t stopped Mel Rushton and Tom Polgreen. They have flown medical patients for Angel Flight Central and Angel Flight West, and carried LIGA International volunteers to Sinaloa, Mexico. They have transported falcon chicks from Idaho to Texas for LightHawk. In 2005, Rushton and Polgreen raised the stakes by organizing a flight of six TBM 700s to carry medicine to Mali, an impoverished country in West Africa.
In 2004, the pair visited Morocco and Mali (the former Sudanese Republic) on a cultural trip through Polgreen’s alma mater, Carleton College. At about the same time, members of the TBM Owners and Pilots Association had approached them about organizing an around-the-world trip. “Instead of just flying around the world and burning jet fuel,” Rushton says, they proposed a flight that would be coordinated with the nonprofit Medicine for Mali—a group that brings in medical supplies and services with the goal of improving residents’ health, economies, and education.
“Tom put it all together; we put it out to the whole [TBM Owners] membership. We didn’t know if we’d get 20 [airplanes] or two, and we got six—which was the perfect number,” Rushton says. The owners raised $30,000 and were able to leverage discounts to purchase $300,000 worth of medicine and supplies. “Those airplanes were full,” Rushton recalls. He credits Medicine for Mali volunteers as “absolutely essential” to make sure the supplies were delivered to the medical clinic, and adds that Socata, headquartered in Tarbes, France, not only contributed funds to the mission but also was ready to dispatch assistance at any time.
Rushton and Polgreen, life partners who are retired technical consultants, praise the range and efficiency of the 850—their second TBM, purchased in 2008. “We’ve crossed the Atlantic 13 times, and we don’t even think twice about it,” Rushton says.
Rushton, who learned to fly as a grad student at the University of Illinois where they met, put 5,000 hours in his logbook renting airplanes to fly to his software consulting gigs. He and Polgreen purchased a Piper Comanche before moving up to a Malibu and, eventually, the TBMs. They have flown 825 hours in the second one and use it extensively for personal travel, splitting time between homes in Dallas, and Vancouver, British Columbia.
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.
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