Angels and aviation

Angel Flight, the not-for-profit organization that arranges free air transportation for those in need of medical care, relies on volunteer pilots to make the program work, but as aviation maintenance students at Clover Park Technical College near Tacoma, Wash., recently learned, you don’t necessarily need to have your wings to help the cause.

In February student Benjamin Watson learned about Angel Flight while attending the Northwest Aviation Conference in Puyallup, Wash. Angel Flight’s mission struck a chord with him.

“I am a single father, and the two greatest driving forces in my life, my two greatest passions, are my daughter and aviation, and when I learned about the work Angel Flight does, especially with children, I was immediately drawn to them,” Watson explained.

Front row, left to right: Jared Sacherer, Benjamin Watson, Mathew Ansley, Spencer Hartzell; top row, left to right: Kip Webster, Diego Reza, Jared Davis, Christine Yazzie, Matt Harper, Keri Turner, Charlie Mack. Missing from photo: Cary Gamil

In March, Watson founded the Aviation Maintenance Technician Honor Club. “The purpose of the club is to promote professionalism, networking, and integrity in the aviation industry,” said Watson. “We started with 40 members and $100 from the Associated Student Government. We used that money to put on hot dog sales, and we turned that in to $300.”

With the start of the new school year in September, Watson floated the idea of the club putting on a fundraiser to support Angel Flight.

“Clubs are supposed to do a fundraiser each year, and it occurred to me that instead of having a fundraiser for the club, we should raise money for Angel Flight, and the rest of the club agreed, ” he said, explaining they planned a fundraising raffle.

Clover Park Technical College has been training aviation mechanics and pilots since World War II, first at a campus in Lakewood, Wash., near Tacoma and, as of 2001, at a satellite facility located at Pierce County Airport, located in South Hill, a suburb of Puyallup. Because the aviation program is not on the main campus, said Watson, it was especially important to hold an event that would draw in a lot of people.

Watson was impressed by how quickly club members sprang into action. “By October we were getting donations,” he said.

Among the items put up for bid were a pair of tickets from Alaska Airlines to any place Alaska flies, a guided behind-the-scenes tour for 20 at King County International Airport/Boeing Field in Seattle, a vintage flight jacket, books, collectible models, aviation prints and even glass sculpture.

The club planned a silent auction for the evening of Dec. 6 in the hangar at the Clover Park South Hill campus. The club bought cookies to give the attendees something to munch on and Reflections, a new restaurant at nearby Tacoma Narrows Airport (TIW), donated five gallons of ice tea and lemonade.

Music for the event was provided by grammy-nominated jazz guitarist Charles Mack, who is also a flight student at Clover Park Tech.

A flight team and helicopter from Northwest Airlift, an air ambulance service, came for the event and Harold Smith, a local pilot and builder of a 3/4 scale-replica P-51 Mustang towed his airplane from its hangar on the west side of the airport to the Clover Park facility so that it could be shown off.

Christian Holtz, Angel Flight Western Washington Area Wing Leader (pictured left), gave a short presentation about the organization.

Approximately 40 people attended the event. In two hours the auction raised $2,326, which, according to Watson, made the event one of the top fundraisers done by a club at the college.

Watson credits the cohesiveness of the club members for the success of the event.

“There was this group of students that for those three months were my Black Sheep squadron; they showed up when they really didn’t have time to do this, but they made the time,” he said. “I can never truly express my gratefulness to those who volunteered so much time with no thought of self or payment. It would have never have happened with them.”

Watson was quick to note that on the day of the event the maintenance students and three pilot students who took part started their school day at 7 a.m. yet worked until 10 p.m. to make the auction happen.

“There are those who say and those who do. I am truly happy to have met and worked with the true doers,” Watson continued. “With their help, nothing was in our way and we moved mountains. It was awesome, but it was only the beginning. Wait to see what we do next!”

Holtz was impressed by the work ethic of the club. “When Ben told us about the auction last September and that Angel Flight West was to be the beneficiary, he said ‘Don’t worry. We’re doing everything. We just want you to be there.’ All of us with Angel Flight West are very grateful to them. I would also like to thank all those folks who came to the auction and purchased something.”

Fundraisers are particularly appreciated, notes Holtz, given the challenging economic conditions. According to Holtz, since the recession began, the number of Angel Flight Pilots in Washington state went from 209 to 137. About 20% of the pilots do 80% of the missions, he noted.

“Mission numbers have gone up as expected, partially because of more folks now in financial straits and also because of excellent outreach efforts to health care facilities by volunteers,” said Holtz. “Missions originate with the health care community and providers, social workers, nurses and doctors. I had feared that with fewer pilots this year, missions would have to be cancelled for lack of a pilot, but what I found truly astonishing is that, after averaging 350 missions a year for a couple of years now, 2011 is the first year that the Washington Wing of Angel Flight West has flown over 600 missions with verified mission numbers probably exceeding 650 by Dec. 31. These missions were flown by 65 of our command pilots. A couple of pilots flew in excess of 100 missions for the year, with most others flying between 1% and 10%. This is pretty remarkable.”

The money from the auction will go to materials and efforts to recruit more pilots and to continue outreach efforts to the health care community.

In addition to raising money for Angel Flight, the silent auction also got the attention of officials on the main Clover Park Technical College Campus.

“It was important to do something that brought credit to both the school and the aviation community,” said Watson, adding that the first auction was such a success the club plans to make it an annual event.

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  1. says

    HUGE kudos to Benjamin Watson and the Aviation Maintenance Technician Honor Club! I am sincerely impressed by the action you started and how it has taken off! My current quote at the bottom of each email states: “I must do something” always solves more problems than “Something must be done.” ~Author Unknown
     The  Aviation Maintenance Technician Honor emulates that quote to a “T”.

    Angel Flight is a wonderful organization and has helped a family I know personally so much over the last few years. Oxford Aviation is currently raising money for Angel Flight as well.  All you have to do is go to our Facebook page and “Like” us.  We are going to give $1 for every like through until December 31 – with our goal being 1000. If you would like to help us reach our goal, you can visit us at

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