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Operation Thank You flight relay underwayOperation Thank You flight relay underway

GA pilots may volunteer for flight legs to honor everyday heroes

Medical professionals on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic are being celebrated by a 50-state general aviation flight relay that began September 24. Organizers said aviators can still join the five-week mission that stops at GA airfields to honor our health care heroes.

A general aviation flight relay honors health care professionals during a stop in Portland, Oregon. Photo courtesy of the Spirit of Liberty Foundation.

Volunteer pilots are celebrating health care heroes as they participate in brief, socially distanced ceremonies while transferring a special flag and a commemorative torch to others for the next flight leg.

California Aeronautical University participated in the opening segment from San Diego to Santa Ana, California, which brought national news coverage to the GA community effort. The next stop in Burbank elicited praise from Los Angeles Police Department Cmdr. Cory Palka, who was “extremely grateful” for the recognition, wrote Spirit of Liberty Foundation Chairman Richard Rovsek, who is organizing America’s Operation Thank You: The Relay in the Sky.

A mechanical problem and a flight delay that threatened to halt the effort instead turned into a positive when an Alaska Airlines commercial airline crew picked up the slack. “The entire Alaska Airlines crew came out to greet us on the runway and were thrilled and honored to be able to carry the Spirit of Liberty Torch,” wrote Rovsek.

Notable stops have included a flyover at Boeing Field/King County International Airport in Seattle; Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center staff traveled to the Signature Flight Support FBO for recognition during a McCarran International Airport ceremony; and a 98-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor “saluted” as the relay passed through Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

The Spirit of Liberty Foundation’s Dwight Wait encouraged pilots to join the coast-to-coast journey by signing up for flights in the Midwest and the Southeast as the mission zig zags through the nation’s breadbasket in short hops interspersed with a few longer legs.

The effort ends October 30 in Washington, D.C., with plans for a 15-foot-by-35-foot unity flag stitched from all 50 state flags to be marched from the U.S. Capitol along the National Mall to the White House.

David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-winning AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft and photography.
Topics: Public Benefit Flying

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