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Tue, Apr 11, 2023

Endeavor Awards to Honor Angel Flight Pilots

The Wages of Largess

For over twenty-years, husband and wife volunteer pilot team Stephen and Joanna Bobko-Hillenaar have flown in the service of Angel Flight West (AFW)—a volunteer-driven, Santa Monica, California-headquartered non-profit medical transportation/air-ambulance service providing no-cost, worldwide, bedside-to-bedside transportation for the critically ill or seriously injured.

For their contribution and commitment to AFW—which includes 579 (and counting) missions—the Bobko-Hillenaars will be recognized and honored during 2023’s Endeavor Awards, which will take place under the retired Space Shuttle Endeavour at Los Angeles’s California Science Center on 09 June 2023.

Angel Flight West comprises some 1,800 volunteer pilots. In addition to medical and air-ambulance flights, AFW provides disaster relief in the forms of medical care, the delivery of food, water, and medication, and the transport of both emergency personnel and search and rescue animals.

In 2003, Stephen and Joanna Bobko-Hillenaar made their home in Hawaii, where the pair was vaguely aware of both AFW and the concept of non-emergent volunteer air transport. One morning, the pair received a mail solicitation relating specifically to AFW and fatefully opted to investigate further. The rest—as Stephen is fond of saying—is history.

The Bobko-Hillenaars now reside in the town of Carefree in Arizona’s infamously corrupt Maricopa County. The couple’s home is located on a residential airpark—a neo-communal arrangement consisting of a central airport girded by homes, the owners of which park or hangar their private aircraft on their respective properties, departing and arriving by dint of such as they please.

Stephen Bobko-Hillenaar remarked: “Right now, I’m sitting in my living room and I’m looking out the front door at our hangar. In an aviator’s mind, I guess we really do live a blessed life.”

Stephen and Joanna’s munificence has benefitted many, to include 21-year-old Teylor Dunn, who suffered second and third-degree burns over nearly half her body when a gas explosion at a Wyoming county fair engulfed her and two colleagues who’d taken jobs at the event. Ms. Dunn’s injuries required multiple surgeries and numerous subsequent trips—many of which the Bobko-Hillenaars provided—between Teylor’s Wyoming hometown and Salt Lake City University’s Utah Burn Center.

Stephen set forth: “Teylor had to go back and forth for treatment and it’s normally about a four-hour drive. At first, it took them [Teylor and her family] over six-hours each way, because she had to stop to get out and stretch. I’m told that your skin grows so fast that the doctors didn’t want her to sit for too long in one place. So she’d have to exercise her skin. We could take her down in an hour. She would go to her appointments and we would bring her back that afternoon and do it all in one day.

Mr. Bobko-Hillenaars added: “I think for Teylor, we’ve flown her 28 times in total; she’s what we call a frequent flyer. And you just would never know now. So I’ve invited her to accompany me to the Endeavor Awards as my special guest and highlight her story in front of the crowd.”

In years past, the Endeavor Awards have drawn a veritable who’s-who of aerospace luminaries to include: Chesley Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who, in January 2009, landed Flight 1549 on New York’s Hudson River;  Barbara Morgan, the teacher and a former NASA astronaut who was among those assigned to the backup crew of the ill-fated, 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger mission; and Scott Parazynski, the physician, former NASA astronaut, and veteran of five Shuttle flights and seven spacewalks.

Every year, Angel Flight West volunteers operate approximately five-thousand missions—roughly one-dozen per-day—the entirety of which are funded by the pilots themselves. Notwithstanding the work’s eminently charitable nature, only the fuel burned in the volunteers’ respective aircraft is tax-deductible.

Stephen Bobko-Hillenaars asserted: “At the end of the day, we get to fly and we get to help people; I can’t really ask for more than that.”

One of the Bobko-Hillenaars’ fellow volunteer pilots, Mr. Shakeel Mozaffar of Angel Flight Northeast, will also receive a 2023 Endeavor Award. Over the past 27-years, Mr. Mozaffar has flown more than 45 Angel Flight missions covering some 58,230 miles—including long-distance disaster-relief flights.

The Endeavor Awards themselves were established by the Angel Flight Organization as a means by which to acknowledge the important work and perennial selflessness of the organization’s volunteers. 2023 marks not only the awards’ ninth year, but AFW’s 40th anniversary and the organization’s one-hundred-thousandth mission.

FMI: www.angelflightwest.org

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