Nonprofit gives children with special needs a chance to fly
His hands on the controls in the small plane’s cockpit, the seven-year-old boy laughed in delight when his mom pointed out their home on the tree-lined streets of the hilly Central Texas suburb below. Ready to resume the controls if necessary, Paul Hansen, the pilot in command, smiled at the child’s joyous response. Although he has taken more than 500 kids on flights, he finds that the experience never grows old.
“The highlight is the actual flight,” explains Paul, executive director of Flying Vikings, a nonprofit that provides children facing chronic illnesses or physical disabilities the opportunity to fly a plane. “The child is not a passive passenger but has the chance to become the pilot. That’s when the fun begins. Sometimes a child will smile or start singing when they fly over scenic areas, such as lakes, landmarks, or even the house that they live in.”
The day of the flight begins with a short training session. The child is introduced to the basic instruments for altitude and airspeed, and then the child, accompanied by a family member, assists as the plane taxis on the runway for take-off. Once the plane has reached 2,000 feet, the child has the opportunity to take the controls, with oversight from the pilot in command. After the 30-minute flight, the child receives a First Flight Certificate.
“These flights help the children to experience the joys of flying,” Paul says. “They become ecstatic as they fly over Texas and point things out, like a lake or the clouds. Imagine a child who is bound to a wheelchair and now is free and gets a bird’s view of the land—who smiles for the first time, or sits up a little straighter, or even walks taller. They all become a new person, because they accomplished something that they may not have had the opportunity to before.”
Paul’s initial vision for Flying Vikings grew out of volunteer work with at-risk children. “I began taking these kids for plane rides, and I just knew that this was my calling,” explains the veteran financier, who worked for more than 15 years in banking and investments. “It soon metamorphosed into helping the special needs kids. I knew there was no turning back, so I decided to leave the corporate world [and venture] into the unknown, and that was 10 years ago.”
Paul’s Danish heritage inspired the name for the nonprofit, which relies on the volunteer efforts of local pilots and donations from the community. “My dad always said that Vikings are tough and that they overcome adversity,” he recalls. “I thought that this directly applies to the kids that we fly. They face adversity on a daily basis, whether it is a chronic illness, such as cancer, or a physical disability, like cerebral palsy.”
“With the Flying Vikings, we have a very simple mission,” Paul says, “to help these children to experience the joys of flight. All the flights are special, because with each one we are celebrating a truly special child.”
For more information about the Flying Vikings program, visit www.flyingvikings.org.
You can also call them at 254-458-7055 or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For an even closer look, you can watch this YouTube video from the interview: www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEdQrpZZ9Qs.