By Halley Harrell
Several children had their spirits lifted at a vintage plane and car show Sept. 14 at the Draughton-Miller Central Texas Regional Airport.
The show was hosted by Flying Vikings, an organization whose mission is to touch lives through aviation. At each event, chronically ill or physical disabled children go up in planes, but not as passengers. Through Flying Vikings, these kids get to fly the planes.
“They’re used to going from hospital, clinic, home; hospital, clinic, home. We’re changing the rules,” founder Paul Hansen said.
This year’s event was the first of what Flying Vikings hopes will become a central Texas staple. The fundraiser included concessions, face painting, a live performance by The GTOs band and booths from several businesses. All proceeds went toward the kids.
Director of Operations Keith George first heard about the Flying Vikings from his son. George was inspired by Hansen’s ministry and joined forces by utilizing his photography company.
“Paul’s special. He’s one of those guys who walks the walk,” George said. “He doesn’t take any money from this organization … His hard work and dedication, I’m loyal to him to the end no matter what happens.”
George takes pictures and captures video from inside the cockpit at each event. He posts links to the footage as free downloads for the families.
To accommodate the event, dozens of volunteers brought their personal aircraft and automobiles to participate in the show.
Paul Mitton had his 1959 Cesna 150 on display. Mitton credits Disney’s ‘Planes’ for inspiring him to outfit the plane with a pair of eyes and bright yellow smile.
“All the planes in the Disney movie have eyes, you know, and mouths. I thought that would be neat to do,” Mitton said. “I took my grandson to see it about a week ago, and I thought maybe the kids would enjoy it.”
The Central Texas College flight team was also present. They brought several planes and copiloted with the children throughout the air show.
For the car show, Flying Vikings wanted to bring in a variety of models. Cars ranged from the 1920s to 2013. Owners drove in from several counties.
One Austin-based car club called Sweet Rides of Central Texas brought about 40 vehicles. Co-founders Shawn Jones and Jason White enjoy giving back to the community.
At the Flying Vikings event, the club had ties to one girl in particular. Sweet Rides met six-year-old Winter last February when they hosted a car show to raise money for her rare spinal fusion surgery.
“She just happened to show up for (the air show),” White said. “They were like, ‘Oh, Winter’s going to be there.’ We were like ‘Winter, we know Winter!”
Over the years, Hansen and George have met many children and their families through the Flying Vikings. Some of the kids overcome their illnesses; others fight hard to the finish line. Through the good times and the bad, Flying Vikings is grateful to be part of each child’s life and to minister to the families.
“I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” George said.
For George, every flight means seeing a child’s face fill with joy.
“You’re going to see children who haven’t laughed in a year. Some of these children understand that their illnesses … are terminal. That moment of joy for them is really what starts them really having a great time,” he said. “We flew a young man here a year ago, and when he got off the plane his parents busted into tears. It’s the first time they’d seen him smile in nine months.”
As awareness for the Flying Vikings mission grows, George hopes people will invest in the children’s lives.
“I don’t want your money, I want your heart,” he said. “Once I have your heart, you’re not donating money; you’re donating much, much more than that.”
Plans for the next Flying Vikings fundraiser are already in the works, said Hansen. “We want to make this better every single year.”
For more information on the Flying Vikings, visit their website: http://www.theflyingvikings.com.