“I feel like I got caught with my hand in the cookie jar,” says John Lunseth, a pilot and longtime volunteer for Angel Flight Central, based in Kansas City, Missouri. “I do what I do because I enjoy it.”
Lunseth was recently surprised to learn that the National Aeronautic Association (NAA), in partnership with the Air Care Alliance (ACA), will be honoring him as a Distinguished Volunteer Pilot. The organizations’ 2022 Public Benefit Flying Awards recognize volunteer pilots, as well as other volunteers and organizations engaged in flying to help others—and those who support this work.
For Lunseth, there’s more than one cookie in this jar.
On November 18, Angel Flight Central will honor the pilot—who is also a practicing intellectual property attorney—with its Lewis Young Pilot of the Year Award. According to the NAA, since 2011, Lunseth has flown more than 93 Angel Flight missions, donating the use of his aircraft—and fuel costs totaling more than $61,000—to provide non-emergency medical flights for health care and humanitarian purposes.
Lunseth says as soon as he had logged the minimum 500 hours that Angel Flight requires to volunteer as a pilot, he signed up. “It looked like a fun thing to do as a way to help,” he says.
In his Mooney M20K 231, he says he has “hauled hundreds of pounds of donated blood and bone marrow,” breast milk to medically fragile babies, children with HIV to special summer camps, and patients.
According to Lunseth, the relationships, albeit temporary, that he forms with his passengers are one of the most rewarding aspects of volunteering.
“In most cases, the patients are anxious, not so much about the flying, but about what’s going on with them,” he says. Many of the patients he’s transported are fighting cancer and going back and forth to chemotherapy treatments. “It’s a real ordeal for them and you see them slowly sinking, and we don’t win every time,” he says. “[But] you start a conversation and you spend two hours with them. And you hope that by the end of the flight, that they’re feeling a little bit better and they have a little more hope, and they have the feeling that there’s someone else on their side.”
Another thing Lunseth finds rewarding is knowing that the donation of his aircraft and his time goes 100 percent to the beneficiaries. For most nonprofit organizations, only a percentage of donations go directly to programs—and the other percentage pays for administrative and fundraising costs. “The real thrill of it is the gift goes directly to the person sitting in the right seat,” he says.
Lunseth isn’t the only Angel Flight volunteer the NAA and ACA will recognize with a 2022 Public Benefit Flying Award.
Turning the $100 Hamburger on Its Head
David Knies has also volunteered for Angel Flight. In his 20s, he chaired the Angel Flight Southeast Board. He’s also volunteered for Angel Flight Soars, Vital Flight, FlyQuest (a STEM education organization), and the ACA. The latter, a partner in the Public Benefit Flying Awards, helps refer patients and volunteer pilots to nonprofit flying organizations that provide free flights for medical and humanitarian purposes and lobbies for legislative support for their activities. Knies will receive the NAA/ACA award for Outstanding Achievement in Advancement of Public Benefit Flying.
According to the NAA, Knies, has dedicated over half his life to flying patients for gratis and supporting the organizations that facilitate these flights. He owns a travel agency, a Cessna 210, and works as an office manager for Air Comfort Control, a residential air conditioning business in Huntsville, Alabama.
Knies says at one time he wanted to be a commercial airline pilot. While trying to build his flight hours in the late 1990s, he discovered Angel Flight Georgia and Angel Flight Southeast were looking for pilots. He was hooked.
He says he most enjoys the flights that are difficult to schedule, whether because of the weight of the passengers and cargo, the range, or the route. “I view them as missed opportunities,” he says. “My fallback mission is to use my travel agency business and buy them an airline ticket.”
Knies encourages other pilots to volunteer for public benefit flying organizations.
“There seems to never be an end to the number of people who need help, but there always seems to be this finite number of people willing or able to help them,” he says. “I can’t be the only one that set out and said, ‘The $100 hamburger is getting old, I need to do something useful.’”
Knies, who serves on the ACA Board, says his desire to create more awareness surrounding the services offered by public benefit flying organizations—and the opportunities available for pilots to help—led to his involvement with the ACA. He suggests that those who need a non-emergency medical flight, and pilots who are willing to fly them, reach out to the ACA.
Other 2022 Public Benefit Flying Awardees
In addition to Lunseth and Knies, the NAA and ACA will recognize:
Wayne Maynard – Distinguished Volunteer Pilot
Maynard, who has served as chair of the Angel Flight South Central Board of Directors since 2019, and is a CPA and a certified financial planner, “epitomizes selflessness in his unwavering commitment to charitable flying and helping others,” according to the NAA. “His devotion to taking on as many missions as possible, even during the most challenging of times, while offering compassionate care to his passengers, is inspirational.”
Master Sgt. Michael Fontaine – Distinguished Volunteer
An active-duty military liaison for Honor Flight San Antonio, Fontaine coordinated complete logistical support for two complimentary flights that provided war veterans all expenses-paid trips to visit their memorials in Washington, D.C., the NAA says. Fontaine also worked to secure funding for special events and honoree travel, planned and executed fundraising events, briefed personnel from various airlines and security agencies to promote and garner support for Honor Flight San Antonio’s mission, and established a recognition program for active duty military volunteers who dedicated time to honor our nation’s heroes, according to the NAA.
The National Business Aviation Association – Champion of Public Benefit Flying
“NBAA has long supported charitable aviation’s work by helping individuals and communities in need through business aviation and by telling the stories of volunteer pilots and other charitable aviation organizations,” the NAA says. Additionally, NBAA’s people give of their time, effort, and personal involvement to engage in public benefit flying, and have provided their facilities, publications, and other resources to substantially further all groups’ missions, the NAA says.
The 2022 Public Benefit Flying Awards will be presented on a date and location to be determined. For more information: www.naa.aero.