40 Years of Free Medical Flights
Wanda Whitsitt, LifeLine Pilots' founder, in the early 1980s, flying blood products for urgent medical use.
"Pilots have a special skill and my hope is that they will use this skill outside of the limits of their life and make a difference in somebody else's life,” says Wanda Whitsitt, founder of LifeLine Pilots.
In 1981, Wanda had the idea to help people in times of medical need by flying them for free. Flying a Piper Archer named Sweet Charley, Wanda and a handful of pilots made life-saving trips in the early years of LifeLine Pilots.
The group she founded is now celebrating its 40th anniversary and honoring its founder during the month of March, which is Women’s History Month.
LifeLine Pilots has flown more than 5.2 million nautical miles, helping thousands of people in need of medical care far from home. What started out of Wanda’s garage is now the oldest volunteer pilot organization in the country. LifeLine Pilots is headquartered in Peoria, Illinois, but serves 10 states in the Midwest.
LifeLine Pilots facilitates free air transportation, through volunteer pilots, for people with medical or humanitarian needs far from home. Each year, their volunteer pilots complete hundreds of missions, bringing patients and their caregivers to and from life-saving medical care.
“Wanda is an inspiration,” says Lindsey Kerr, Executive Director of LifeLine Pilots. “She flew only 2,634 miles that first year, but her vision, dedication, and perseverance have created an organization with more than 250 volunteer pilots, located throughout 10 states. In 2020, our volunteers flew more than 138,000 miles helping people in need.”
“We believe that everyone, regardless of income, should have equal access to healthcare,” says Kerr. “By removing the transportation barrier, LifeLine Pilots helps to ease the financial burden put on families during times of medical uncertainty. The best thing we can tell families is there is no cost, ever.”
LifeLine Pilots receives no government funding. Instead, they rely on donations from individuals, businesses, and foundations to fund the facilitation of every flight. The volunteer pilots are the biggest supporters of LifeLine Pilots, giving more than $800,000 in donated flight time, fuel, and airplane costs in 2020.
“The COVID pandemic has hit our passengers especially hard,” says Kerr. “It was dangerous to fly with a compromised immune system before, but now our passengers are terrified to expose themselves to busy airports and crowded commercial airplanes.”
Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has presented many obstacles, LifeLine Pilots has seen a significant increase in the need for their services.
“From June-December 2020, we experienced a 48% increase in flights flown over this same time the previous year. The upside is that more pilots than ever are signing up to fly passengers, looking for a way to help people in their time of need.”
LifeLine Pilots, Byerly Aviation, Suite 302, 6100 W. Dirksen Parkway, Peoria, IL 61607
Since 1981, LifeLine Pilots (LLP) has provided no-cost air transportation for financially distressed passengers with medical and humanitarian needs. Over almost four decades, volunteer pilots have flown 5.2 million nautical miles and more than 8,900 missions with a 100% safety record. Missions are facilitated for babies through senior citizens. LifeLine Pilots has also participated in relief efforts for natural disasters by transporting volunteers and supplies to areas of need. Headquartered in Peoria, Illinois, LifeLine Pilots currently serves patients living in the following 10 states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin. The organization is a 501 (c)(3) charity that is privately funded by individuals, corporations and foundations.
Lindsey Kerr, Executive Director of LifeLine Pilots, is available for interviews. Contact her at email@example.com or 309-306-7853.
“LifeLine Pilots…the shortest distance between home and hope!”
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