Patient transportation is an important mission for one family that's very passionate about General Aviation.
Life can sometimes be a wild ride, with more deviations and surprises than an IFR flight in IMC through the Northeast in the dead of winter. You are born, and at some point, you go west to fly forever with Lindy and Amelia. But it's what you do with your life in between your arrival and departure that is important.
Many of us do good deeds with our airplanes, and regardless of the type of work you and your airplane do to make the world a better place, it is all to be admired and celebrated. But there is one thing you can do with your airplane that might earn you extra credit when you're closing your life's flight plan.
Most likely every person reading this has lost a friend or family member to cancer. Many of us now need the fingers of both hands to count those who have succumbed to some form of the disease. Those who have left us fought hard to be survivors, and when that fight required several trips to a faraway city for treatment, the transportation may have been donated by generous members of the aviation family like David Fill II and his wife Brandi.
"We both love all aspects of aviation, whether it's just hanging out at the airport, flying or attending EAA meetings," said David Fill. "So the patient transport work is just a natural fit. It gives us a chance to do some real good and to help real people while we are enjoying our passion for aviation at the same time.
"I think that it's important to volunteer our aircraft, time and skills because, let's face it... the utility and convenience of GA cannot be matched. It certainly helps to dispel the stereotype that GA is just a bunch of old rich guys flying their toys, when [patients and their loved ones] see people like Brandi and I using our airplane for good."
The patient transportation flights that the Fills perform are flown in their light twin from their home base of Stafford Regional Airport (KRMN) in Stafford, Va. "We do a good deal of hard weather flying when flying for work or fun," Fill explained, "and this aircraft gives us that much more flexibility to navigate over the ocean or Great Lakes rather than having to hug the shoreline."
Fill continued, "For patient transports, it really is a fantastic airplane—patients love it because it seems more like a 'real' airplane to them. With two engines and a few more seats, it also keeps our options open for dealing with weather and mission requirements."
Those missions give the Fills a great deal of satisfaction, too. "Both Brandi and I love accomplishing the mission of getting a patient or family to where they need to go," Fill said, "but there is also the social aspect of flying patients and their families.
"It's impossible not to become emotionally involved once you learn their stories. There is no better feeling than getting a phone call or email from a patient after months of flights for treatment to say they are cancer-free."
I met David and Brandi at EAA's AirVenture Oshkosh in 2014, and like so many in the aviation family, they are pleasant, social people who are passionate about anything that involves airplanes and flying. In between planespotting and consuming incredibly good burgers at Ardy & Ed's Drive In, the couple worked together like a well-oiled machine when taking care of their infant son and toddler daughter while doing everything there is to do at Oshkosh.
In order to properly illustrate this couple's passion for aviation, and in particular, the Experimental Aircraft Association, you need only look at the level of importance they place on EAA membership—for their children.
"Our daughter Audra was just 10 weeks old when we signed her up as an EAA Lifetime Member at Oshkosh 2013," explained Fill. "At the time, according to the EAA staff, she was the youngest lifetime member ever.
"Our son, David Fill III, was born on June 2, 2014, and my wife called EAA while she was in the hospital bed in labor to sign him up as a lifetime member—making him the new youngest lifetime member per EAA staff.
"He attended his first EAA AirVenture convention this past summer at just about eight weeks old."
The teamwork the Fills demonstrate at Oshkosh is put to great use when flying cancer patients, too. "The patients we fly are amazingly grateful," Fill said. "They come from all walks of life and have amazing stories. Some have been on top of the world as successful business owners, CEOs... only to have their illness take everything from them.
"I have never met a single one that wasn't 100 percent grateful and joyful at the chance for a ride to their treatment. I think that in many ways, my wife's role riding in the back of the plane with the patients—helping them out and just talking to them—is even more important than the actual flying I'm doing up front. Sometimes they are just happy to talk to someone about something other than their illness!"
This is one "aviation family" that will be at the big party and reunion in Wisconsin each summer in the coming decades. "Oshkosh is an important event for our family," Fill said. "We literally plan our year around it to make sure we're available to attend for the entire week. This event is mainly about the people and the friendships you develop at Oshkosh, good friends we only see once a year at Camp Bacon or elsewhere on the grounds.
"This past year was busy with airplane shopping, spending time with the kids and putting out content for the Airplane Owners Podcast that I host," Fill explained.
David Fill is a former Air Force medical evacuation crew member and is currently an airplane broker. Brandi is a former airport manager for LAX, PDX and the Portland Air National Guard, and runs the family contracting business. Neither David nor Brandi have any plans to slow down their work or volunteering.
Perhaps, when it's the Fills' time to finally go west, they will again meet those patients who, despite a valiant effort, lost their battles. One thing is for certain: the hours this couple is spending as devoted patient transport volunteers in this life is the kind of legacy we all should like to achieve.
Dan Pimentel has worked in journalism and graphic design since 1979, and is the president and creative director of Celeste/Daniels Advertising and Design (celestedaniels.com). He's an instrument-rated private pilot and has been writing the Airplanista Aviation Blog (airplanista.com) since 2005. You can find him on Twitter as @Av8rdan. Send questions or comments to .
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