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Volunteer Flying

Need a reason to fly?

by Malcolm Dickinson, CFI

 I wish I flew my airplane more, but the "hundred dollar hamburger" rarely has enough draw to get me to drive to the airport.  I need a reason to fly.  If not for personal or business transportation, or training, then what?  The answer:   volunteer flying.  There are people out there who NEED you to fly your airplane, and some of them will pay for your fuel!  Here are a few of these organizations.


The Coast Guard and the Air Force both have established auxiliaries.  Civilians can join these non-profit groups without making any sort of military commitment.  Members of these auxiliaries, once qualified, can fly their own airplanes on approved missions and get reimbursed for fuel and maintenance expenses.  That's right, the government will pay you to fly their missions for them, based on the size of your engine!   Here is a sample of the current reimbursement rates:  $57/hour for 140-199hp, $67/hour for 200-235hp, and $72 an hour for 236-300hp.

In the case of the Air Force Auxiliary, called Civil Air Patrol, they do two distinct types of flying:  emergency services and cadet orientation flights.  The first involves searching for airplanes that have crashed, boats that have foundered, or missing persons.  The second involves giving flights to teenaged members of the program, who are usually highly motivated to learn how to fly.    You don't need to be a CFI to give a kid a ride, let them take the yoke for a few minutes, and really make their day!

In the case of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, they fly regularly scheduled safety patrols each weekday afternoon during the pleasure boating season.  This involves flying over the local pleasure boating area looking out the window for boats that might be in distress.  Less frequent missions include moving USCG VIPs from place to place; getting helicopter parts from one Air Station to another; and Marine Environmental Patrols (looking for oil spills, illegal dumping, etc.).

PROS: Besides reimbursable flying, there are other advantages to joining one of these organizations.  These include:

 Use of the PX / BX at military bases.

 Ability to take military correspondence courses for free (some of these carry credit towards associates, bachelors, and even masters degrees).

 Social functions.

 Wear of the uniform of the associated service (with slight alterations to designate you as a member of the auxiliary).

All expenses involved with your participation (uniforms, unreimbursed flights, dues, car) are tax deductible. See my page on tax deduction information for volunteer pilots

In the case of Civil Air Patrol, you can get checked out in their local Cessna 172, and then can rent it for recurrent training at a low hourly rate (about $40, a much lower rate than you can operate your own airplane for!).

CONS:  What's the catch?  Well, some significant time must be dedicated to the organization in order to get qualified.  Usually this involves:

Finding a local group.

Enrolling and paying dues (approx. $30/year).

Buying a uniform (a used NOMEX flight suit costs about $60).

You may want to install an antenna hookup for the special radio (CAP uses ham band, CG Aux uses marine band).

You may want to buy a handheld ham or marine band radio to use in your airplane (about $150).

Taking mandatory training, sometimes involving a swim test, annually.

Taking a checkride with one of the organization's instructor pilots.

You can be reimbursed only for flying the missions that they ask you to fly.

Your local unit may or may not be full of interesting, personable characters with whom you would enjoy spending time.  (There's only one way to find out - go check it out.)


Contact the auxiliary of the US Air Force, Civil Air Patrol, by calling 800-FLY-2338 or

Go to http://www.cap.af.mil and click on the "Join CAP" button for information about the unit nearest you.  Lots of information about the organization can be found on this informative web site.  It can show you the name and phone number of the unit nearest you.  

Check out my web page of information on Civil Air Patrol.


Call the U.S.  Coast Guard Auxiliary, at: 1-800-368-5647 (be sure to explain that you want information on the Auxiliary, not on the full-time Coast Guard!) 

Or check out their web site at http://www.cgaux.org/cgauxweb/public/pubframe.htm . You can find out the name of the flotilla nearest you before you call. When you call, you should be able to get the name and phone number of the person in charge of that flotilla.

Check out my web page of information on the Coast Guard Auxiliary.


Angel flight from New Haven to Philadelphia, 1999

There are hundreds of people across the country who need to get to hospitals for medical treatment, and you can help.  They usually come to one of the following groups either because they can't afford an airline ticket, or because they live hours from the nearest airport with commercial service.  I have flown two patients, both with no outward symptoms, on 2-hour flights and both have been thoroughly enjoyable experiences.  The people have always been very grateful and helping them on their way left me with a good feeling.  These organizations help coordinate the flights, and of course you fly for them only when the schedule of the patient happens to coincide with your schedule.  I have found that it's rare to be called by any one organization more than once or twice a year, so I've signed up with several.

CONS:  These groups do not provide any kind of reimbursement for the flying you do; however, they do provide a charitable thank you letter, which allows you to deduct the fuel and oil you used from your taxes as a charitable contribution.

The Air Care Alliance (This is an umbrella organization that most volunteer medical flying agencies belong to) 888-662-6794 lists all its member agencies at http://aircareall.org/listings.htm

National Patient Air Transport Helpline (NPATH)
800-296-1217 http://www.npath.org

Angel Flight Northeast [Includes NJ, NY, and New England]
Lawrence Municipal Apt
492 Sutton St
North Andover MA 01845-1505
fax 978-794-8779

Angel Flight East
600 W Germantown Pike Ste 400
Plymouth Meeting PA 19462-1046
fax 610-635-0969

Angel Flight West

Volunteer Pilots Association [Pittsburgh area]
Larry Chome, President
PO Box 95
Hickory PA 15340-0095
tel & fax: 724-356-4007
Kevin Sell, Vice President: 412-221-1374 or 412-221-7596

Wings for Children [Pittsburgh area]
2000 Smallman St
Pittsburgh PA 15222412-471-1267
fax 412-471-9550

AirLifeLine [nationwide]
6133 Freeport Blvd
Sacramento CA 95822
916-429-2500 or 800-446-1231, M-F 7:30-4:30 PT
fax 916-429-2166  aprill@airlifeline.org


I know of two groups which use privately-owned aircraft to fly scientists, environmentalists, and legislators over areas of protected wildlife and/or forest.  When you call and say you have a Lake Amphibian, they are tickled, since you can go so many places where their other pilots can't.  I'm sure there are more groups like this in other areas - call these two and ask.

PROS:  You know you are making a difference.  Flights are typically over beautiful wooded areas.  You may get to do water landings depending on the need of the flight.  If you fly for LightHawk, they will reimburse you for fuel & oil.

CONS:  There aren't a huge number of missions, so you don't get called very often.  Also, there may not be any missions in your area.

Northern Wings [Environmental Preservation; New England and upstate NY]
C.  Rudy Engholm, President
RR2, 2084A Gurnet Rd
Brunswick ME 04011
tel 800-445-795 or 207 729-9678
Fax: 207 721-0228   rengholm@gwi.net

LightHawk [Environmental preservation; mostly in the Rockies, the Pacific northwest, CA, and Alaska]
The Presidio Bldg 1007
PO Box 29231
San Francisco CA 94129-0231  
415-561-6256    sfo@lighthawk.org


The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) has a program where members of local EAA chapters fly children in their aircraft to give them a sense of the wonder of flight.  This is a real "ambassador" program where we turn on the next generation of pilots.  There are dozens of tales of private pilots or airline pilots who first got inspired to fly when they were kids, through the kindness of an older aviator.

PROS:  Easy to do.  Depending on your area, the local chapter may have lots of activity / lots of opportunities to fly kids.  The smiles on the faces of the kids are a great reward.  No uniforms are required.

CONS:  You have to join EAA (about $30/year).  No reimbursement.  

Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA)
PO Box 3086
Oshkosh WI 54903-3086


There are probably other volunteer flying opportunities in your local area.  Try one and see if you like it.  If it turns out to be "not for you," chances are that another one of these groups will more likely fit the bill.


Please email me if you have additional information that should be included on this page.