By Kierra Pixler, Managing Editor
Flying Vikings was created to change the perception of children with special needs through the gift of flight. Paul Hansen, Founder of Flying Vikings, is committed to making a difference in the lives of children with special needs. As a former financier, Paul turned his passion of flying and helping children into a full time commitment. His flying experience extends over 20 years and more than 1,000 hours as pilot in command. The flight program is currently based here in Belton.
“Raised in New Jersey, was always infatuated with aviation at around the age of 8,” Hansen said. “My fathers was a Carrier pilot during Korean Conflict, so I couldn’t understand his flight manuals, but was engrossed with. My first flight was around the age 10 from Great Uncle Otto. He was an Aviation Inventor / Engineer and was a true pioneer in early aviation. Having a Grumman Tiger, he allowed me to take the controls and as the story says, my destiny was sealed. They were definitely great role models and positive influences.”
Having graduated from Norwich University in Vermont, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marines. He then embarked on a two decade career in banking and investments while pursing his passion for flying.
“I used to volunteer with the New Jersey National Guard Youth Mentor Program,” Hansen said. “Little did I know was that God had a better plan A than my Plan A. I decided to leave the safety and security of a corporate job and I found my true calling, ‘Helping People in Need and Flying.’ Through the “Power of Prayer,” the Flying Vikings was born.”
Having a passion for helping others is one of Hansen’s main inspirations. With plenty of faith, support and dedication, he was able to achieve that dream. He is all about the ‘bigger picture,’ and with the help of his wife and daughters, they were able to design everything together from what the logo looks like to what the events consist of.
“Flying Vikings is a 501 (c) (3) Non Profit with a very special mission, Hansen said. “We take children (6-18) for a free plane ride. Here, the child will not be a passenger, but get the opportunity to take the controls and become the pilot. The children that participate all have a chronic illnesses, or physical disabilities. The pilots are volunteers that come from many different backgrounds and truly believe in the mission of helping children and only want to see a smile as a return.”
The children that participate come from area hospitals, clinics, civic clubs and referrals. Many have flown several times. Each Fly Day is family oriented, but the child is the star of the show. With a family member in tow, each child gets to experience the ‘high’ is flying. Once in the air, the child will get the opportunity to take actual control of the place and fly. Once they’re back on solid ground, they are awarded with a ‘1st Flight’ certificate. Home Depot helps out with arts and crafts. There is always music playing and face painting. Numerous car clubs attend to give the children the chance to also experience some one of a kind vehicles. Lunch is usually provided by their generous partners, including Domino’s Pizza, Raising Cane’s, Chick-fil-A, Jersey Mike’s, and Sam’s Club. For the kids that need assistance, the Police or Fire Department are on hand.
“Being a Non Profit, we can only operate and continue our mission with generous donations,” Hansen said. “Being fiduciaries, we have not paid any salaries 10 years as this ensures that all the funds will get to the kids. We have flown thousands of children and look forward to many more years of life changing flights. We live, ‘It’s All About The Children.'”
Hansens’ passion is to make a difference to people’s lives and this he achieved to so many of his clients, friends and family as well as countless others through his charity work and will continue to do so. When asked why he does this, he smiled and said “Once you see the smiles and truly thankful families, you get hooked.”
This upcoming year is going to be very exciting for Hansen and his crew. They will start in Lufkin and College Station. On May 18, they will be having their 4th flight in Temple and on June 8, our 11th annual flight will be in Killeen at Central Texas College. Other airports in Texas this year will be Waco and the Baylor University Aviation Science Dept. They will also be in St. Louis, Memphis, Nashville, Atlanta, and Tampa to name a few. They also have an ongoing partnership with Hollywood of the South in Atlanta. Here, they will take the program nationally as they have approved airports from Florida to Boston, Chicago and California.
“We are seeking quality long term partnerships that truly believe in our mission,” Hansen said. “As I say, in 100 years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in or the kind of car I drove but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child. And I think you never really lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”