Charitable flight expedition

Three pilots look to circumnavigate Central and South America while raising $400,000 for Hope Air.

Contributed Dave McElroy.

The freedom of taking flight will be celebrated by a Kelowna pilot next year while helping support a flying service for financially disadvantaged Canadians in need of medical care.

Dave McElroy will be joined by two other pilot comrades from across Canada in the Give Hope Wings expedition, circumnavigating Central and South America in two high-performance home-built aircraft.

The journey, beginning Jan. 2, 2018, will see them cover 20,000 miles with stops at 50 airports in 20 different countries, the end goal being to raise $400,000 in support of Hope Air (www.hopeair.ca), which serves to eliminate a long and tedious drive for anyone requiring treatment for a serious illness.

Last year, Hope Air carried out 11,500 flights, with 1,417 originating from Kelowna’s airport.

“There is a huge implication locally by the number of flights that come out of YLW, and the money we want to raise will fund 2,000 flights,” said McElroy.

For McElroy, who moved to Kelowna from Scotland two years ago after retiring from a career in the lumber business, this is not his first grand flight adventure.

Two years ago from Scotland, McElroy flew a Piper Comanche aircraft around the world, raising more than $150,000 for two charities in the process—SickKids Foundation in Toronto and Scotland’s Air Ambulance of Perth service.

He says the challenge to take on the Give Hope Wings flight comes from a lifelong passion for flying that he shares with other pilots.

His fellow pilots on this journey will be Russ Airey, from Windsor, Ont., and Harold Fast, from Spiritwood, Sask.

McElroy’s intended co-pilot, Bob Vance of Victoria, had to back out so he is now offering the opportunity for anyone to fly with him on different legs of the trip in return for a sponsorship donation.

“The attraction there is to be part of a great adventure, whether you are a pilot or not. I had eight people fly on different legs of my round the world trip, four who were pilots and four who weren’t,” McElroy said.

“The rest of the time, about 15 per cent of it, I was flying on my own.”

The idea for the Central and South America trip was hatched originally when a group of pilots, including Airey and McElroy, were part of a six-plane, 6,000-mile trip across the Canadian Arctic and Alaska wilderness last year.

Combining the flight with charitable support of Hope Air was a natural fit, one that caught the attention of Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first female astronaut, who agreed to serve as honorary patron of the charity project.

“I have been a keen supporter and admirer of the Hope Air Mission for a number of years,” stated Bondar.

“When I head about this innovative journey by these Canadian retired pilots, I was happy to lend my name in support of its goal to publicize and raise money for this noble Canadian charity.”

McElroy, a member of the Kelowna Flying Club, said the allure of flight is something that grabbed his interest at age 19 and has carried on throughout his life.

He explains the feeling of flying his own plane is about experiencing a sense of freedom you don’t get on the ground.

“I love everything about flying. I love the visual views you see, just flying an airplane in itself, the smell of it…there is nothing else like it for me.”

He adds at age 69, flying keeps him young because “you have to keep your wits about you” and keep up-to-date on flying information and protocols.

“It’s not a hobby for someone who isn’t interested in learning and keeping sharp about new things all the time. It keeps me young.”

The safety aspect of flying half-way around the world in a single-engine plane is not something he worries about, saying flight planning and preparation, servicing the engine with the proper fluids and not taking weather risks curtail those concerns.

“To fly over the Pacific Ocean by yourself in a single-engine plane is something that can be a little disconcerting, but you get used to the idea.”

McElroy said he is looking forward to seeing several particular places along the South America route—Tierra del Fuego, the southern-most point in Chile; the Andes Mountains; the Iguaza Falls on the border of Brazil and Argentina; and the massive and mystifying geoglyphs known as Nasca Lines in the high desert region of Peru.

“The planes we’ll be flying are agile and fast, capable of a traveling airspeed of up to 150 knots (175 miles per hour). They are kind of like the sports cars of small airplanes,” he said.

“And unlike looking out of a small window of a larger airplane flying at 30,000 feet, we will experience everything with great visual sight lines while flying at 8,000 to 10,000 feet. We will be flying around and over some of the most spectacular geography on the planet.”

McElroy will be talking about his upcoming flight adventure at the national 2017 Canadian Owners and Pilots’ Association Convention and Trade Show (http://copaagm2017.ca), co-presented by the Kelowna International Airport and Kelowna Flying Club.

The convention will feature under-the-wing camping, exhibitor static display of aircraft, aviation trade show and a banquet dinner.

For the first time in airport history, up to 180 small private aircraft will converge on Kelowna, set up in a display at the southeast corner of the airport just off Old Vernon Road.

To learn more about the Give Hope Wings flight, check out the website www.givehopewings.ca

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