Why would a volunteer pilot spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to put someone in need on a much-needed flight free of charge? Most people would not understand this upfront, but pilots who are really passionate about what they do would immediately get it. Who would not be excited by the prospect of being able to do their hobby while making an impact on someone else’s life? That is what fuels Michael Friedlander to keep on doing what he does here at Angel Flight East. Michael is one of our first pilots, flying with us since 1995. Like a true angel flight OG, Michael got reinvolved with Angel Flight East as soon as he got back from outside the country. Prepare to take off as Michael joins Jessica Ames and Maddy Beck in the cockpit to share his story, his motivation, and his message to all of us.
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In this episode, we have a volunteer pilot, Michael Friedlander, with us.
How are you? It’s a pleasure to be with you.
We wanted to start out with you telling our audience how long you have been flying with Angel Flight East.
I first started out with Angel Flight East back in 1995 when I lived on the East Coast in the ‘90s. I flew for a couple of years, then moved out of the country. I moved back in 2021 and got re-involved with Angel Flight East in 2022.
You were one of our first pilots.
I was involved in the early days.
What was flight coordination like back in 1993? Did they just call you?
It wasn't even that sophisticated. There was a website that you could check on. There was no such thing as emails. You go and check out the website and see if there was a mission available. You'd sign up for it on the website, and then you'd periodically check the website to see if everything is connected. You then got a phone call from the coordinator saying, “It looks like things are a go.”
I had no idea you flew that long.
I want to make a comment for our younger audience that back in the 1990s, they weren't able to get that phone call while on the website simultaneously.
There was no such thing as text messages, WhatsApp, or any of those applications. It was all very manual.
How did you hear about Angel Flight in the ‘90s?
I literally remember sitting in the FBO and somebody had posted up on the corkboard a flyer for Angel Flight. I thought it was one of the coolest things that I had ever seen.
We still think we're pretty cool. We may be a little biased, but we say that. Why do you volunteer your time and fly for Angel Flight East?
At the end of the day, I've been very blessed in my life and it's about giving back. It's about service to others and being there when people need you the most. That's why I do it.
Can you tell us a bit about one of your favorite flights?
In October 2022, I had an opportunity. There was a little girl. She was a toddler, two years old. The poor thing had some type of brain tumor, and she has been to a number of different research hospitals in the area. It was an extended family that was based up near where I live in Northern New Jersey. She had gone down around Washington DC to have some further evaluation done. She needed a flight back up here to her extended family. She had been down there. It wasn't necessarily looking particularly good for her.
I flew down. I picked them up and I got to know the family a little bit. We were flying home. I get choked up when my dogs got to go to the vet. I can't even imagine having to deal with this. Anyhow, in the face of all this with their little girl, the family was the most loving and some of the most spirited people I've ever met.
I got to know and loved them. We spent an hour and a half flying back from the South of Washington, DC area back up here. It was very meaningful. The little girl had nothing but a smile on her face the whole trip. I have pictures of her sitting in the back of my plane with the little headsets on and everything. It was an incredible experience.
Was that passenger Sarah?
That was Sarah.
We totally agree with what you're saying about the family. We had to buy them commercial tickets at one point because the weather wasn't working out. They ended up missing their flight and they're like, “It's okay. We expected this to happen based on everything with Sarah.” They were always positive. I couldn't even imagine what they were going through.
They had called me because of all the problems that they were having. They had reached out to me because of the weather. There's a lot of ice. I have the icing on my plane, but I'm not qualified so I couldn't take them. It was a tough series of events for them.
She was always such a happy little girl. You would never know what treatment she was going through because she was always smiling. Would you say she was a passenger that has had the biggest impact on your time with Angel Flight East?
I don't blame you. She's one of my biggest impacts too. I have a niece that's the same age as her. Every time I heard something new about her story, I was heartbroken. I was so excited that we could help that family. Do you fly for any other Angel Flight organizations or public benefit flying organizations if it's a dog?
Sadly, what happens with Angel Flight because of my work schedule, it's a bit complicated for me. In most of the flights, people are traveling for procedures, so they fly during the week. I have an agreement with my partners that I try to manage the amount of time I take off during the week. Angel Flight is a little bit more difficult for me to fly during the week, but I fly for Pilots N Paws on the weekend.
We love them.
They're great people. I do a lot of Pilot N Paws flying. I am also a volunteer for the Veterans Airlift Command.
Is that Royce?
The coordinator's name is Denise. I could get that wrong.
I don't remember. I might be talking in circles. He did something with veterans. It's a guy with a 310 who doesn't look away from veteran families. All of the names sound familiar so it gets me confused.
I need to know when you fly for Pilots N Paws, how do you not take all the puppies home with you? I would keep them.
We have thought about that. My wife and I picked up three little lab puppies down in North Carolina and brought them home. My wife was, “Can't you just come home with them and tell them you lost them along the way?”
They're stuck at the airport. What made you want to become a pilot?
It's something that I've always wanted to do, even back when I was a kid. I grew up in a household with fairly modest means. I never had the opportunity when I was young. Over the years, I've been very blessed. The minute I had the opportunity, here I am.
What do you do for your real job? You can afford your fun job.
I'm a partner at a hedge fund in New York City.
Do you travel to New York City every day then from New Jersey?
How is the traffic or do you take the train?
I'm a public transportation commuter. I take the bus from the city to the Port Authority, and then I take the train from the Port Authority down to my office. I don't consider public benefit flying, but it is. I'm also a pilot with the Civil Air Patrol.
They come to Wings and Wheels. They registered their plane. What's your favorite place to fly to?
My wife and I are building a house down in South Florida. We fly from here down to South Florida frequently.
If you ever have an open seat, we need a flight to Florida.
We only need a flight there, not a flight back. You can leave us there. If you could say anything about being a volunteer pilot, what would it be?
It will change your life. It's something that you may not have ever thought about or considered. For proficiency reasons, a pilot will think nothing of spending $250 or $300 flying to get what we used to call proverbially a $100 hamburger. You think nothing of going up and spending an hour and a half flying circuits in the pattern, doing touch and go, or going up and flying practice approaches to keep your instrument proficiency. There's the mindset that if you're a pilot, that's what you do. That's the cost of doing business.
Imagine if you could take what you otherwise going to spend in terms of time and resources to do that for the public good, the return on that investment is priceless. It's particularly for an organization like Angel Flight. That is a way that pilots can touch the future by making an impact on people's lives. You're already doing it anyways. You're already flying to get a $100 hamburger, to practice approaches, and to your proficiency up. Doing it for somebody else is good.
"You're already doing it anyways. You're already flying to practice approaches and to improve your proficiency. Doing it for somebody else is good."
That's such a good way to put it because I feel like a lot of people almost think our organization is too good to be true like, “There are people out there that will use their planes to get me where I need to go and they'll never charge me?” We always try to get that point apart that pilots love to fly, and this splits their passion.
Even when I first started with the organization, I was a new college graduate. I was like, “They want to spend hundreds if not thousands on this?” Until I probably was here for six months, I was like, “I get it now.” Once I started to get to know our pilots, I know that everything is what they can do to give back and still encourage their hobby. Every time I talk to somebody about it, I'm like, “If you can get the same benefit from golfing, you would.”
It's funny, when I got involved in Pilots N Paws, I asked them the same question. I said, “It seems like you could pay $250 to put a little dog on a continental flight from point A to point B. Isn't that easier to do?” They said, “It's easier to do, but it's infinite. I can get a pilot who will fly himself 1,000 times easier than I can go scare up $250 to put a dog or a cat on a plane.” That's why they do it, and it makes perfect sense because you don't have to give pilots a reason to go flying.
"You don't have to give pilots a reason to go flying."
Even during COVID when we had to shut down, some people were asking us when we were flying their personal protective equipment, “Why don't you just ship it?” We had pilots lining up saying, “I need to get out of the house and I want to go flying.” They were going there anyway.
That's the exact thought process I had. What is one final thought that you would leave with our audience?
As pilots, we've been given a blessing and we all do it for our own reasons. Everybody should give back. Whether you give back by just giving a nice hello in the morning to people, sharing a smile, or whether it's feeding the homeless. There are a million ways of giving back. As pilots, we share this common bond to the extent that we can use this to better humanity. What a higher calling there is.
You are very well-spoken. You put it perfectly better than any of us could.
Thank you. It is my pleasure.
Thank you so much for being with us and sharing your story. We appreciate all you do for Angel Flight East.
It is a pleasure to be with you.
We will definitely keep you updated, especially now that we know the weekend flights are better for you, and that you have a house in Florida.
We have a double whammy that we're learning here.
Thank you so much, Michael, for joining us.
It’s my pleasure. Take care.
I cannot believe he is been flying with us since 1995.
I didn't know that people knew about us back then. I don't think I’ve seen a picture of him either.
I only knew he flew little Sarah, which is such a heartbreaking story. I don't even know how he told it without crying.
Her story gets me every time. For those who don't know exactly about all types of flights that we do, we do help patients of all ages. Sarah was nearly two. Unfortunately, Sarah lost her battle with her brain tumor. She has passed. We are proud to say that we were a part of her journey. She was awesome. Her family is still awesome. They are super engaged. I can't say enough good things about them.
I love doing this because I feel like it puts the good people back into the world, especially watching the news and everything about these Canadian wildfires. There are some good in the world still. The pictures were insane. I don't even know how people were taking them and being outside.
When I left the gym, they were literally handing out masks, and we are a lot South of anywhere. I can only imagine. I'm very grateful that we are not in Canada.
The other day I had all my windows and doors open because I thought my neighbors were having a bonfire and I love the smell of a bonfire. I was like, "It's smokey out here," and then I realized what was happening.
Somebody had told me, “I heard this is happening because of wildfires, but there are no trees around here.” I was like, “It's not near here. It's in Canada.” He was like, “That's far.” I was like, “I got to go.”
We're pretty smart most time. Sometimes we have some hiccups in life.
It's a lot of hiccups. Some of us have more than others. Our favorite part is, and this is a trade secret, we are both bottled blondes.
I used to be a brunette and it was bad. My dad said I was ugly and I had to dye my hair back to blonde.
Remember during COVID when you wouldn't let me dye your hair for you?
I've seen things that you've done and I was nervous.
For those wondering, Jess trusts me to make literally everything else
Crafting is my thing. I don't know why hair dye would be any different.
She does make some great cricket shirts. If anybody needs a T-shirt, call her. She'll do it for free.
It’s because I get bored sometimes so I need a hobby.
Buy her a case of White Claw. Either work.
Don't give me the one with the grapefruit in it because that's gross. That's how I would know you don't care about me.
I'm over you. It's happy hour time. I got to go.
Friends, this has been another episode of Take Off Talk. We hope to see you at happy hour, but more importantly, we hope to see you back here for our next episode.
See you. Thanks for tuning in.