As local pilot Tim Warren slides behind the controls of his Cessna Citation M2 at the Aurora State Airport, he experiences the familiar feelings of excitement and anticipation that come in the moments before liftoff.
But this is no joy ride. He has precious cargo: 7-year-old Berlynn Fraser, an energetic girl who needs a neurosurgical procedure to treat a Chiari malformation in the Bay Area — and Warren plans to make sure that she gets there. Berlynn’s parents, Brad and Melissa Fraser, and service animal, Dash the miniature golden doodle, are also along for the ride.
Warren is one of more than 100 Oregon-based command pilots for Angel Flight West, a nonprofit organization that arranges chartered flights for those who need to travel great distances for life-saving medical treatments or other humanitarian reasons, but because of financial, physical or emotional burdens are unable to take a commercial flight.
The pilots coordinate with “Earth Angels” who help arrange or provide details like ground transportation, food and lodging.
“It just seemed like the cool thing to do, to help somebody out who couldn’t afford a commercial flight,” says Warren, who first began flying missions for Angel Flight more than 30 years ago. “You get to help somebody out and have a little fun, so it’s a win-win.”
Pilots like Warren fly their own planes and pay all costs out of their own pockets, making the services completely free to the passengers, their families and the health care organizations with which Angel Flight partners.
Angel Flight West, which operates in 13 Western states, has flown from 92,000 missions and served over 20,000 passengers in the past four decades. In Oregon alone, Angel Flight pilots flew 189 missions to the tune of 585 flight hours in the year 2021.
“If you added up the volunteer dollars, I’m sure it would be in the billions,” Warren says.
Warren, a retired business owner and real estate developer, has a lifelong love of the skies. He started flying at age 15 and did his first solo flight before he got his driver’s license.
“I soloed on my 16th birthday after I had flunked my driver’s test that morning,” he says with a chuckle. “My mom had to drive me to the airport. So, I could fly an airplane by myself, but I couldn’t drive a car by myself.”
Volunteering with Angel Flight has long been a passion of his, and his retirement goal is to fly at least one mission a month. To him, the organization is a testament to something he has found to be true: Pilots tend to be a generous breed, eager to contribute to their communities and help those in need.
“I think one thing that people may not realize is that the airport is not just for the benefit of the guys with airplanes or the businesses at the airport,” he says. “The Aurora State Airport does support a lot of business, but it also helps support a lot of charitable efforts like what I’m doing. It has benefits for the whole community.”