Women of Aviation: Helicopter Mercy Pilot Dianna Stanger

Ladies and Gentlemen, as our Women in Aviation series begins to draw to a close, I want to express my gratitude to the gals who took the time out of their busy lives to convey to us each a different aspect of life in the world of aviation for them. Each faced challenges, some flat out prejudice, but all seem to delight in the sheer wonder and magic of aviation, as I believe all of us here do.

Women of Aviation Dianna Stanger

I first met Ms. Dianna Stanger when Bunny and I volunteered for the Women of Aviation Worldwide’s Fly it Forward event in Albuquerque. As you’ll recall, around the country, for one week in March, pilots gave young gals their first airplane rides. Who know how many were inspired to pursue aviation in some fashion or other! And, in a way, that is exactly what we’ve been striving for here: to let the world know that, hey, Aviation’s not just for boys!

Coincidentally, Dianna was at the Reno Air Races this week, premiering the Race’s first all-female race team (that is, owner Dianna and her pilot!) There, she was interviewed by next week’s guest blogger, “Sky Chick” Ramona Cox! Here’s a snippet of the event!

Rather than tell her life story, Dianna shares with us the story of Kevin, a little guy she once flew that changed her life. It offers a glimpse into her critical role as a mercy pilot, and through her experience, I know you will be changed, too.

Ladies and Gents, I give you Dianna Stanger . . .

KEVIN

by Dianna Stanger

Women of Aviation helicopter pilot Dianna Stanger“It seems that when someone writes about a phone call, the story will lead to something very devastating that is about to occur. This story begins with a phone call, but leads to something very different.”

Dianna Stanger

When the phone rang at my home, the caller i.d. indicated that it was Angel Flight South Central. The call was to ask if I could fulfill a mission in my area.  I was just getting started as a volunteer pilot for the organization, and uncomfortably nervous about each mission’s paperwork and procedure. However, I was not nearly as nervous as the Angel Flight SC office was, as they’d never had a helicopter pilot before in this region. (Later, I discovered when my application came through the office, it had initially been declined. A little research by the director had taken him to a picture of my helicopter, an Agusta 109, which is largely used for corporate transport, seating five in the cabin. The director overrode the action, explaining that “this is a real helicopter!”)

Dianna Stanger cockpit Women of AviationThis day’s mission—my first for Angel Flight—was to transport a very young boy to Houston for treatment of cancer that had begun to spread in his brain. I began to prepare for the mission.

I called the father to introduce myself as the pilot. Angel Flight missions involve many kinds of pilots. From aircraft to abilities, it differs greatly each time a patient is flown. It is always up to the pilot to make the final decision on flying. Drawing a long breath, I explained that Kevin and his father would fly in a helicopter.

The weather looked good, and I let them know the time I would be there, and the estimated flight time to Houston. Kevin’s father was the manager at the local grocery store and needed to schedule time off in advance. The tone in his voice was much different from the initial call, as he explained how excited Kevin was to fly in a helicopter. The family had bought him a toy helicopter that was his constant companion in recent days, and all he did was tell people about his upcoming ride.

Marilyn Women of Aviation Dianna Stanger

It was a very fast flight to Nacogdoches to pick up Kevin, and during the flight I tried to think of the best way to make a real entrance for him. The Agusta is a fantastic helicopter, on wheels instead of skids. Taxiing a helicopter is one of the best sights, rotors turning and the helicopter maneuvering on wheels. My smile was huge as the ship taxied along the tarmac up to the front door of the airport terminal building.  As the glass doors slid open there was a little boy there with a toy helicopter in his arms waiting for me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Women of Aviation Dianna Stanger helicopter

Cancer had ravaged Kevin’s body, but when he smiled, he melted everyone’s heart.

Introducing myself to Kevin as his pilot, he told me some of the things he had been learning about helicopters. The excitement was contagious. With all the terrible effects that cancer was having on Kevin’s body, his legs were awkward and his face had become misshapen, but when he smiled he melted everyone’s heart.  He was so excited he could not even complete his sentences, just one happy and normal kid about to get a helicopter ride for the first time.

MVC-004F Women of Aviation Dianna Stanger Kevin helicopterKevin’s father completed my paperwork and I turned to ask my little patient if he was ready for the ride. He looked at me and asked me where the helicopter was. Getting on my knees to look in his face I explained that it was right there, that big black beautiful Augusta helicopter was just feet away from him on the other side of the glass doors. How could he miss it? His father bent down to whisper in my ear that the Cancer had started to effect his eyesight and he could just see a few feet in front of him.

A hammer just hit my heart, a lump developed in my throat and I felt like a complete and insensitive idiot. I took him by the hand, regained my composure and led him to the helicopter. As the well wishers gathered around—he had won the hearts of so many in this town—he was buckled into the rear with his father.  As his father explained in great detail every part of the helicopter, we lifted to a hover to begin the departure procedure.  The flight continued, with every piece of landscape explained by his father, and every little bump in the air acknowledged by a very giggly young man. As his father directed me to their home, we circled to Kevin’s side, so that the people on the ground waving at him could be seen. As the flight continued to Houston, his enthusiasm erased the awkwardness I had felt regarding his vision.

The patients that I have flown have broken my heart, made me cry, motivated and educated me.

As we waited for his ground transportation to MD Anderson, we talked about the flight, and how he could fly helicopters someday. After going over every detail of the flight, Kevin talked to me a bit about the doctors at the hospital who have become his friends. Leaning in to talk in a more hushed tone, he explained that his brother was also sick. With all the love of an older brother, it was obvious that the Protector role was one he took very seriously. His brother, it seems, has allergies and has to take pills.

That phone call has truly changed my life. I am so very fortunate that Angel Flight SC exists for patients that cannot travel to receive life saving treatments. The patients that I have flown have broken my heart, made me cry, motivated and educated me. Never, ever have I had a bad flight, and each one opens my heart even wider. Jump ahead ten years, about 150 missions and more stories than I could ever tell.

Kevin  Diana1 Women of Aviation Dianna Stanger

It started with Kevin, and he will always be the one who first melted my heart.

Angel Flight SC-  www.angelflightsc.org

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