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After a successful launch that exceeded expectations, the ambitious Give Hope Wings campaign has increased its fundraising goal to $500,000.
The project, which will see two pilots and one co-pilot circumnavigate Central and South America for charity, has brought in about $290,000 in its first seven months. That’s close to its original goal of raising $400,000 for Hope Air, an organization that arranges free flights to healthcare appointments for Canadians in financial need.
Pilots Dave McElroy and Russ Airey, along with Airey’s co-pilot Harold Fast, will fly more than 32,000 kilometres through 20 countries on the journey, beginning Jan. 2, 2018.
“Hope Air is not only incredibly effective with the work they do, they are extraordinarily efficient,” McElroy told Skies during a recent interview.
Eighty-eight cents of every dollar given to Hope Air goes to providing flights. “Only 12 per cent goes to administration; that’s almost unheard of for charities,” he added.
Anyone who donates $1,000 or more, whether a company, a group or an individual, will have their name added to the outside of McElroy or Airey’s aircraft, as well as receiving online recognition. Hope Air will also issue tax receipts to donors.
Come January, McElroy will launch from Kelowna, B.C., in a Van’s RV-6 powered by a 180-horsepower Lycoming engine, and Airey will depart from Windsor, Ont., with Fast as his co-pilot, in his homebuilt Van’s RV-9A.
The pilots will meet in San Diego, Calif., and will continue from there in formation on Jan. 8.
“We start in San Diego; there’s a lot of detail to it, but very basically we follow the coast,” said Airey. “As Dave [McElroy] keeps saying, we keep the blue part on the right and the brown part on the left. We are going to fly south across Mexico and Central America, then all the way down the west coast of South America to the tip, then we’ll turn north and fly up the east side crossing Argentina, Brazil, Guyana and then across the Caribbean to Florida.
“One of the advantages of this trip [is] having two airplanes,” added Airey. “That is the biggest safety thing that we could ever do flying through foreign hostile terrain. In addition to talking to air traffic controllers and having flight plans on file, we’ll be talking to each other constantly on the radio. Having two airplanes in constant radio and visual contact is the most safety-oriented thing I can think of.”
Airey said one of the biggest challenges the trio will face is getting through customs in 20 countries.
“Each will have different requirements, and at one stretch we will fly across four different borders on four consecutive days,” he said. “Each of these customs clearances could easily take two to three hours, whereas we are used to much simpler crossings between Canada and the U.S.”
The public is being offered an opportunity to fly a leg of the epic journey with McElroy in exchange for a suggested donation of $30,000. The crew has divided the 32,000-kilometre flight into eight segments, four of which have already been filled. The full schedule can be found online.
“We are flexible on the remaining legs,” said McElroy. So if someone were to come along and say they wanted to fly a shorter leg for, say, $15,000, well … let’s talk. We’re pretty flexible.”
The trio will continue fundraising efforts until June 30, 2018, even after the flying phase is complete.
“It’s an 18-month commitment from the three of us for Hope Air,” said McElroy. “We will be taking lots of pictures and videos and writing journals with lots of stories along the way, and publishing all that on our social media including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.”
Supporters are encouraged to track the journey in real-time on the website www.givehopewings.ca.
“After we get back in early March, we intend to continue to make presentations to groups, raising funds for Hope Air,” continued McElroy.
“We think we’ve got an inspiring story for young people, and that, too, its part of our mission.”