by Ken Dustin
There are a lot of great reasons to fly for a charity like Patient AirLift Services (PALS). Reasons can include anything from altruism to simply being part of an aviation community. One reason we don’t talk about as much is proficiency. After you are trained and certified, now what do you do? Some use their pilot’s license to increase their radius of day trips and vacations. Some to support their business endeavors. Others keep training, knocking out their commercial, CFI, multi-engine, sea-plane, etc. Most pilots will agree you need a reason to fly. Boring holes in the sky quickly becomes just that: boring. You need a mission.
A lack of mission leads to a lack of flying. That leads to a dangerous lack of proficiency. Almost ten years ago I helped a fellow flight instructor start IMC Clubs International. Our mission was to help instrument rated pilots maintain their proficiency. In the early days of IMC Clubs, we developed a schedule of local missions (approaches at local airports) that pilots could fly to achieve levels in the club. The intention was for pilots to fly those missions, shoot those approaches in various conditions then attend meetings where they could share their experience and learn from one another. As the organization grew and chapters were added across the country, the mission concept was dropped in favor of scenario-based education and group discussion. This preserved the sense of community and camaraderie while providing insightful education.
While IMC Clubs provides excellent education for pilots, the experience piece is missing. This is where a volunteer pilot organization like Patient AirLift Services provides the perfect pairing. PALS gives instrument rated pilots a reason to fly, a mission. Most PALS missions involve providing fast, free transportation for patients to and from their treatments. These treatments are often long distances from the patient’s home and would mean long, uncomfortable hours of commuting with traffic and other delays. One such patient flies over 400 miles from Owl’s Head, ME to Philadelphia, PA. When I think of her, I think of the hugs she has for everyone along the way. I even receive a hand written thank you card in the mail. Flying that mission is a privilege and an honor.
This perfect pairing of experience and education is on display every 2nd Wednesday at Norwood Memorial Airport in Massachusetts. Mark Hanson, a volunteer pilot and board member at PALS, hosts a group of PALS pilots from the area. We gather at Taso’s restaurant on the field at Norwood (best Gyros in Boston). There are always great stories, helpful tips exchanged and just plain good fun. After the meal, we head next door to KOWD’s terminal building and attend the IMC Club (IMC’s flagship chapter). During that meeting pilots are presented with a scenario, usually a difficult situation a pilot has found himself in (usually culled from a real experience). Then the fun begins. All the pilots in the room are invited to think their way out of this tight spot. The discussion is always spirited.
I truly believe the pairing of these two organizations is the fulfillment of what we envisioned long ago, providing pilots an important reason to fly and sharing all those lessons learned from each flight. I would encourage IMC Club chapters, local hangar flying groups, and any pilot-based club to combine their meetings with a charity like Patient Airlift Services to add a strong sense of mission to their passion for aviation.
If you would like more information on how to make this happen, contact Mark Hanson at:
If you would like to start an IMC Club at your airport visit:
About the Author
Ken Dustin is a Commercial Pilot and CFI and has been a PALS Pilot since 2016. He has a degree in business and a wide array of experience as a consultant. He has served as both a leader of projects and manager of people and resources. In roles as diverse as Flight Instructor to head of Sales and Marketing, Ken has met the challenges of understanding people, process and technology to meet client goals. Having unique experience as a founding member of a successful non-profit organization, Ken brings an understanding of challenges faced in this environment.