Three pilots—including one from Kelowna—are “giving hope wings.”
The trio, flying two small experimental aircraft, took off from Kelowna’s airport Tuesday morning on the first leg of a 20,000-mile, two-month journey that will take them to 20 countries in North, Central and South America.
The journey is a fundraiser for Hope Air, a Canadian charity that provides medical flights for financially challenged Canadians who need medical care far from their homes.
Dave McElroy, who is also president of the Kelowna Flying Club, is one of three pilots making the trip. He said he felt lucky to be part of the trip.
“This all started as a great adventure,” he said. “Then when we saw it would help others, we couldn’t think of a better thing to do.”
On the trip, McElroy will fly his small Vans RV 6 plan, while fellow pilots Russ Airy of Ontario and Harold Fast of Saskatchewan will fly alongside in Airy’s Vans RV 9A plane.
McElroy said the original goal was to raise $500,000 for Hope Air, but moments before take off, he told a gathering of about 50 people at the airport that the trio had already raised $480,000.
While the journey will be the biggest for the three retirees, they are no strangers to this kind of long-distance flight.
The three met during a multi-stop flight around Alaska a few years ago.
Airy, who built his plane himself, said he was looking forward to the trip, not just for the experience he will get, but also for the good it will do raising money and awareness for Hope Air.
Last year Hope Air provided 11,500 free flights across Canada for those in need and this year it expects to see that number rise to 12,500. More than 1,400 of the flights originated in Kelowna, said YLW director Sam Samaddar, who along with Mayor Colin Basran was at the airport to see the trio off Tuesday morning.
Basran said he was happy to see the pilots embark on their epic journey from Kelowna, calling it fitting that a project aimed at helping others was starting in a city that has shown time and time again it’s willing to help those in need.
After talking to the crowd, the trio squeezed into the cockpits of their small aircraft and took off from a very snowy YLW runway, headed for Washington State, where they were to clear customs for entrance into the U.S.
It will be a procedure they will do 19 more times on the trip, as the journey will take them to 20 different countries. Over the next 60 days, they will make 50 individual flights.
Their progress can be tracked in real time on the GiveHopeWings.ca website.