Once pilots complete the first flight, says Roger D'Entremont, "they're hooked." While many join just because they love to fly, "you cannot do this and not be affected by the people you're helping," he adds. Often pilots develop a bond with the patients they transport, calling them afterward to see how their treatments went or to offer encouragement. Some have even visited patients in the hospital. Likewise, some patients like to request a certain pilot whenever they fly.
"I flew in the Air Force," D'Entremont says, "and like all those guys I believed I was a god, that I was never gonna get hurt, that I was gonna live forever. But here the people you're helping are all ages, come from all walks of life, and you just realize how fortunate you are to have your health, to fly, and to have the resources to do it.
"It's such a simple thing," he adds "You're giving someone a ride. But it can mean so much to them."
"Go ahead, take the controls."
Donna Voisine shoots me a look that says, "You've got to be kidding."
"Don't worry," I say. "I won't let anything happen. The plane will practically fly itself." I let go of the yoke to prove my point.
Nervously, she grabs the controls. The plane dips a bit, and Voisine lets go, thinking she's done something horribly wrong. With one finger on the yoke, I correct the plane's attitude and say, "That's okay, don't fight it. Just sort of coax it. Go ahead."
She grasps the controls again.
"That's it. Relax."
Her grip lightens, and after a bit the plane gently steadies under her command. I point to a landmark on the horizon and tell her to just head for it.