Santa needs lots of helpers at this time of year, and he really needs Ohio and Michigan pilots for a special mission on Saturday, Dec. 5.
At least 40 airplanes and pilots are needed to help make the holidays brighter for more than 4,000 children in foster care, group homes, and treatment. The mission: Join a group of volunteers to carry gifts to 16 airports in Michigan, where they will be distributed to the children’s homes. And you’d better bring a big red sack because this operation hopes to move more than 13,000 gifts this weekend.
Operation Good Cheer, profiled in the December 2008 AOPA Pilot, has grown over the years from its early beginnings in the 1960s. That’s when pilot Constantin Kortidis convinced Ford Motor Company co-workers to donate money they would otherwise spend on Christmas cards to send each other to help Michigan’s children in foster care. Kortidis remained involved in the project until his death in 2008. Now, people from all over the state purchase and wrap Christmas presents in the fall. They are delivered to Oakland County International Airport in Pontiac on the Friday before the annual event, and hundreds of volunteers spend the day inside a hangar donated by a local aviation company, sorting and prepping packages. On the day itself, volunteer pilots arrive in droves to be loaded with gifts and receive their assigned airports.
The 2008 event was weathered out, according to Jerry Drew, one of the organizers. The weather is looking better for Saturday—32 degrees and a few flurries, but a high cloud layer, “so that sounds good. Ice is always a problem in Michigan,” said Drew, a controller at the Pontiac Tower.
What concerns Drew most this year is not Michigan’s weather but the fact that Operation Good Cheer is in need of airplanes and pilots. “I’m down to about 130 volunteers this year,” and 200 would be much better, he said. What’s more, a Convair stretched 5800—a twin turboprop that can carry the equivalent of 40 to 45 Cessnas’ worth of gifts—has had to drop out this year. “He [normally] takes 2,000 gifts,” Drew said. He put out a call for help, and volunteer pilots began e-mailing, phoning, and using Twitter to pass the word along.
Twin-engine aircraft with deicing capability are especially needed, Drew said, but all aircraft and pilots are welcome.
If you can help out, plan to arrive at PTK on Saturday, Dec. 5, in the following order: 8 a.m. for pilots of twin-engine aircraft; 9:30 a.m. for those flying IFR qualified single-engine aircraft; 11 a.m. for VFR aircraft.