John BillingsAngel Flight Mid-Atlantic
At age 91 with over 28,000 flight hours and over 30 years after he retired as an airline pilot, John Billings continues to fly one Angel Flight mission a week as the PIC with his co-pilot Nevin Showman. John has flown nearly 300 missions since joining Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic in 2005. John’s love of flying began early. “I like to tell people it was my father’s fault. When I was three years old he bought two tickets on a local airplane and we flew around the local area. That infected me. Later on, for my 15th birthday, he paid for my first flying lesson. That started my interest in flying that has yet to be sated.” John enlisted for WWII and requested the aviation cadet program. “I was lucky enough to be awarded that, and the rest is history. I haven’t gotten it out of my system yet.” He flew combat missions as first pilot in B24 Liberators in Europe and secret missions from Italy for the Office of Strategic Services. In 2012 he was especially pleased to transport a WWII Veteran, who had served as a weatherman advising General Eisenhower in England, to New York on the first leg of his return to Normandy for a D-day reunion. In 1982 John retired from Eastern Airlines as a DC-9 Captain. In 2006 he was awarded the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award by the FAA. He has been named Volunteer Pilot of the Year for AFMA four times. “The completion of an Angel Flight mission satisfies my love of flying and the rewards of transporting patients to serve their medical needs are priceless, beyond measure.”
Rick Durden started flying in junior high school. He holds ATP and CFII ratings, is an aviation attorney, senior editor at Aviation Consumer magazine and contributor to a number of aviation publications including AOPA Pilot, AVweb, Plane & Pilot and Aviation Safety magazines. Rick has been flying for conservation as a volunteer pilot with LightHawk for 25 years. He has contributed over 500 flights in support of protecting natural resources in the U.S. and in the countries of Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica and Panama. The flights have spanned the full spectrum of conservation flying over areas that people seek to preserve, are at risk environmentally or have been hit by a natural disaster. The passengers are scientists, photographers, videographers, politicians, media, community leaders, researchers, adjacent landowners, students and government officials.
Rick regularly gives presentations to groups about LightHawk and the importance of its work for conservation. He recruits pilots to fly for LightHawk as well as other volunteer pilot organizations. He tells them that no matter what they like about flying, there’s a need for them to do it as a volunteer pilot.
Because of his background and writing in flight safety, Rick has been an advisor to several public benefit flying organizations and was selected by the Air Care Alliance to work with the AOPA Air Safety Foundation on the public benefit flight safety online course. Rick is the author of The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual or, How to Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing It, Vol. I. It has been Amazon’s best seller in flight training several times over the last two years.
Steve PurelloAngel Flight Southeast
For 20 years Steve Purello has been a volunteer pilot flying with Air LifeLine, Angel Flight Northeast and currently Angel Flight Southeast. He brings his entrepreneurial and executive management experience to his current role as the Executive Director of Angel Flight Southeast while regularly contributing flights. The Board of Directors credits Steve with a turn-around of the charity, navigating it through some difficult times.
After seeing Air LifeLine and Angel Flight brochures in FBOs, Steve decided that there was more to flying than just to and from dinner. After his first mission he was hooked. That first volunteer flight was into Teterboro Airport. His passenger struggled with a high taxi fare to and from the city for her cancer treatment. This led Steve to start a volunteer ground transportation program with friends and family that became Auto-Pilots for Angel Flight Northeast. This program has continued and is a model for similar organizations around the country.
Steve often steps in to fly last minute trips or for extended distances. When organ donations suddenly become available or immediate care is required to prevent organ rejection, Steve is grateful to be in a position to give back with a flight that makes the difference.
“Many people’s lives are made so much better by volunteer pilots doing something they love to do anyway. They save people’s lives. There is no way a person can make a trip of hundreds of miles at 3 am to receive a transplant other than general aviation. That is incredibly empowering!”