Pilots bring presents to Michigan kids

 - January 26, 2007, 11:13 AM

In a project dubbed “Operation Good Cheer,” corporate and private pilots, aircraft owners, FBOs and other volunteers helped deliver more than 14,000 presents last month to nearly 5,000 children in foster care, group homes and residential treatment facilities across Michigan. More than 100 aircraft and 200 volunteers descended on the operation’s staging centers at Oakland County (Pontiac) International Airport (PTK), about 25 miles north of Detroit, on December 3 and 4 to receive, sort and load presents onto aircraft and trucks for distribution. Although most of the aircraft were piston singles and twins, several Learjets, Citations, Beechjets, a Convair 580 and a Falcon 20 also participated in the yearly airlift.

“We had 145 aircraft signed up this year,” said Jerry Drew, an air traffic controller at PTK who volunteers as Operation Good Cheer’s aircraft coordinator. “When the weather’s really bad, it can drop to only 40 aircraft as most of our aircraft are VFR-only.”

Fortunately, good weather in most of the state allowed pilots to make 114 flights from Pontiac to 16 Michigan airports as scheduled on December 4. Weather in the Upper Peninsula prevented some pilots from participating on Saturday, and two flights to Marquette had to be rescheduled for Thursday, December 9 due to the weather.

Pontiac Air Center (PAC), an FBO located on the southeast corner of the airport, donated its hangar as the aircraft staging area as dozens of trucks brought in more than 9,350 donated presents, which volunteers sorted based on the destination airport. Volunteers then used the PAC ramp to load the presents into aircraft for delivery.

“Pontiac Air Center hosted Operation Good Cheer well before I became involved with the FBO,” said Doug Kobe, who bought the FBO in 2003. “But I felt that it was important to continue supporting such a good cause.”

A Team Effort
Other aviation entities at Pontiac pitched in as well. Tradewinds Aviation, a flight school located directly off State Highway 59, was the staging area for 5,150 presents delivered to eight Detroit-area agencies by truck. Pentastar Aviation’s Fivestar Gourmet in-house catering department donated 100 box lunches for staging area volunteers and Million Air Pontiac donated 150 gallons of jet-A and 125 gallons of 100LL to pilot volunteers.

“All pilots donate their time, the use of their own aircraft and operating costs to fly these presents throughout Michigan,” said Kathy McCarthy, general manager at Million Air Pontiac. “Million Air donates fuel to these private pilots to help reduce their cost.” For the past three years, McCarthy and her children have also volunteered as aircraft loaders on distribution day.

Ford Motor Company employees started Operation Good Cheer in 1971 by giving gifts to 66 needy Detroit children. Since then, the annual program has grown to include 39 private nonprofit social service agencies, thousands of volunteers and presents for 4,841 children. Aircraft have played a pivotal role in Operation Good Cheer since 1981.

For more information on Operation Good Cheer, contact Child and Family Services of Michigan at (517) 349-6226 or visit www. cfsm.org/Operation GoodCheer.htm.