Volunteer pilots are willing to help strangers with their service. Today’s guest is no different. Bob Blouin, a volunteer pilot, shares his experience flying with Angel Flight and the personal impact it has had on him. Although Bob retired from two aviation companies, he still runs around doing many things in his life. His brother advised him to do something purposeful every day because everything would follow. Find some inspiration to serve others by tuning in.
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Welcome back with another episode of the show. We are here with Pilot Bob.
Bob, we're so excited to have you. How long have you been flying with Angel Flight East?
I've been flying for several years with Angel Flight East. I heard about you guys through a network. I have a friend who works for Corporate Angel Network up in White Plains. They were saying that there are other Angel Flight-type organizations, so I reached out to you guys. It's been great.
That's awesome. Why do you volunteer with Angel Flight? What drove you to be involved with public benefit flying?
One of the things that I found by owning an airplane was I've been able to help my own family with flights for their benefit in terms of getting to specialists and things like that, specifically the Cleveland Clinic. One of the things that I do is help my family. I also felt that I needed to and I wanted to help perfect strangers with the same service. That's why I do it. I've seen the benefit of that firsthand just with my family. They didn't think about calling me and using the plane to get to the Cleveland Clinic. I offered and they went, “That's a great idea,” instead of driving for six and a half hours.
Isn't your son-in-law a physician out there?
He is. You have a very good memory, Maddie. He’s a critical pulmonary care guy, senior guy with them. I talked to him at length about using the Angel Flight organizations in the Midwest and also on the East Coast to get people out to the Cleveland Clinic. They're very familiar. I talked to you, Maddie, about coordinating with the person who coordinates those trips, or did we leave that up to the Midwest organization?
We talked about it briefly. I don't think we went too far into it, but I love the idea.
There is another organization out of Chicago. I'm not sure and I can't remember their name, another Angel Flight organization. I know you guys collaborate with these folks, which is another wonderful thing because it takes a lot of coordination if you're going outside of the East Coast geographic area that you guys have as your sweet spot. Going down to Florida or going up to Maine, we cross over with other people's Angel Flight, and the same thing with going out to the Cleveland Clinic and Chicago.
What you said about flying complete strangers is a perfect description because, a lot of times, when we explain what we do, people are like, “Are there really pilots out there that will fly somebody they don't know to a faraway place?” Our challenge is getting over that hurdle being like, “Yes, there are people out there that provide this service.”
Jessica, you hit the nail right on the head. One of the things that has blown me away over the flights that I've flown with you guys and others is that we will meet a perfect stranger at the FBO. I always marvel at how brave these people are to get in an airplane with a pilot that they have never flown with before and say, “I'm willing to go get my treatment, my program, or whatever with a perfect stranger.” It's a perfect stranger on both ends. I put myself in their shoes.
Some of them have been little babies. I've flown couples with little babies. Here's a couple who say, “We're willing to take a chance on this pilot picking us up and flying us to,” fill in the blanks. In one case, for me, that stands out is flying them back into BWI to Johns Hopkins from their home base. I marvel at their bravery and their tenacity at a time when they're trying to get their child or themselves to a specialist or medical appointment that isn't available in their local area. Good for them.
I always say our passengers have such an incredibly positive outlook on life despite what they're going through. We always have to take a step back and be like, “Our day isn't as bad as we thought it was.”
With any of these perfect strangers, has anyone left a bigger impact on you than another?
One woman and her daughter, I flew from Lynchburg to BWI for an appointment at Johns Hopkins. Her daughter was 14 and I decided to take my 14-year-old grandson with me. He's flown with me for a long time. His name is Jack. I said, “Jack, you're going to look out for the passengers. I needed you to turn around every once in a while and give them a thumbs up because we don't have headsets for the people in the back.”
When we landed to pick them up, we introduced each other. A girl, the same age as my grandson, my grandson took a lot of time with her to explain the airplane. It's a BeechCraft Bonanza. It's not a big airplane. We went around, walked around the airplane, and told her what we do for safety and everything else because he has always helped me with the pre-flight. That one sticks out because my grandson still talks about another fourteen-year-old who is battling cancer.
Do you volunteer with any other organizations?
Yes, I do PALS, Patient AirLift folks. I've gone to CAN events or Corporate Angel Network events. Although I don't know if you're familiar with Corporate Angel Network, they're more of a business aircraft. Not that the Bonanza isn't a business aircraft. It's a small business aircraft. They're mostly Gulfstreams and Cessna Citations and things like that. It's a corporation that makes seats available for cancer patients. I've helped them by going to their events.
I used to work for NBAA a number of years ago. NBAA was a big supporter. That's the National Business Aviation Association. I've gotten to know those people through the National Business Aviation Association. Later on, when I worked for Beechcraft, I was their Vice President of Flight Operations. I flew Corporate Angel Network flights for them in our demonstration aircraft and our executive transport aircraft.
We do know Corporate Angel Network. We refer a lot of patients to them, specifically those patients who have to go a lot farther distances. For our readers who don't know, our general aviation fleet, we try to keep under 1,000 miles. While that still could be Rhode Island down to about Florida, it's just not the same as going across the country to Colorado or something like that. What made you want to become a pilot?
I don't know where you two were in 1969, but I was in the military. I was in Vietnam and I was riding in the back of the helicopter. In 1969, I was riding in the back of helicopters in Vietnam and I was looking down at what I had to walk through. I'm looking at the pilots in the front and I'm going, “It would be nice to be able to fly either a helicopter or an airplane and then go home at night and have what we used to call three hots and a cot.” When I got out of the military, I went back to school on the GI Bill. In addition to getting my Bachelor's degree, I also got my commercial instrument ratings. I've been flying for many years.
I hope I fly for many years one day.
You have to be able to land the airplane by yourself first, Jess.
I know. I cannot land yet. I'm getting there. It's a slow process for me.
The key to a successful pilot, Jessica, is when you look at your logbook. The takeoffs equal the landings. That's just about it.
"The key to a successful pilot is when you look at your log book; the takeoffs equal the landings."
Funny story, my dog ate half of my logbook. It's a little bit in pieces now, but you can still read it. What is your real job when you're not being a pilot for public benefit flying organizations?
Fortunately, I retired from two aviation companies. I retired from Bombardier and then I retired after spending eight years with Hawker Beechcraft out in Wichita. We had pilots everywhere in the US, Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe, and Asia. That was a fun job. My new job after retirement is flying for Angel Flight and keeping up with eight grandkids and doing it. It worked out good. We do a lot of travel. We've traveled all over the world since we retired several years ago. We're going to be traveling. This 2023, we're going to Europe. In 2024, we're headed on a cruise of the Great Lakes, believe it or not. That will be fun.
Also, Bob, we cannot take away the work that you do for that local community organization that brings the clothes and shoes. I don't remember the name. I need you to help me out here.
It's called Clothing Our Kids. That's another charity that my wife and I are involved in. We've supplied over 30,000 pieces of clothing to thousands of kids in Sussex County, Delaware. It's a great organization. They're all volunteers. It started as a grassroots organization with a woman out of her garage and just a couple of neighbors. Now, it's grown to 34 schools in Sussex County and we have over 120 volunteers.
That's incredible. I always say people who are retired seem way busier than people who are working, so good for you.
My brother gave me this very good tidbit of advice when I retired. I said, “How am I going to stay busy in retirement? I'm running around like my hair's on fire. I got pilots everywhere around the world.” He goes, “Bob, don't worry about it. You do one purposeful thing a day and everything else will follow. If you need to wash the car, go wash the car. That's perfectly purposeful. If you need to cut the grass, go cut the grass. If you do one thing every day purposeful that's outside of getting up and having breakfast, just do that.” It's amazing how you fill your day and it really is. The Clothing Our Kids and the Angel Flight organizations, I have no problem filling up my time with that, plus keeping up with the maintenance and the care of the airplane. That's a big deal for me.
Where's your favorite place to fly to now that we know that you've had pilots all over the world that you've worked with? I'm sure you have some good stories.
Geneva, Switzerland is like a fairy book. It's like a movie set when you fly in there. You're surrounded by the Alps and the huge lake of Geneva. It's just gorgeous. Up in Maine, we were up in Bar Harbor for a week. We flew all over Southern Maine and up around Bar Harbor. It was just gorgeous. We spent some time walking in Acadia National Park and things like that. It is anywhere from Acadia National Park in Maine. This last winter, we took the airplane down to the Keys. We love the Keys, not necessarily Key West because it's a crazy place. Maybe it's the youngster in me, but I’m over the crazy stuff that goes on on Duval Street and Key West. Islamorada or Marathon Key, a quieter area, is gorgeous with the color of the water and everything else. It's pretty down there.
We're going to spend some time with the grandkids late in the summer. When school starts, we're headed out to Texas. One of the things that we did in 2022 was we flew out to Colorado for a wedding. That's God's country out there. We stopped in the Badlands, Rapid City. If you've never been there, it's worth the Badlands stop. It's really great. I love Hawaii. I lived in Hawaii for seven years too. I flew cargo there for a number of years. We're going back to Hawaii for Christmas this 2023.
If you could say anything about being a volunteer pilot, what would it be?
In a nutshell, being a volunteer pilot for me is you get more than you give. Just to be able to have the relationship for the short time that we do, meeting the people at the FBO, flying them where they're going, and then dropping them off, you get much more than you give. When you do it, you'll figure out what that means.
"You get more than you give as a volunteer pilot."
I love that. I have goosebumps again. I feel like I'm going to cry.
Bob, what is one final thought that you want to leave our readers with?
If you're a pilot and you have access to an airplane and you want to do something good, try it. Try it just once even. Take a friend along or do it by yourself. I found that I have no problem meeting people. A lot of people sometimes are timid about meeting new people. If you're a pilot, have access to an airplane, and you want to do something good where you get more than you give, then you should do this.
That's awesome. Thank you so much for your time. We love this. This was such a great story to hear all about, and we're so excited to share it more.
Keep up the good work, ladies.
You, too. Enjoy your day.
I love retired people. Also, do you think that we are his one purposeful thing that he did?
I think so. That will be the first time anybody's ever said that about us, but I'll take it.
Also, when he kept talking about strangers getting in planes with strangers, I was like, “We don't even give you guys a free candy sign.”
That's true. All I can think about for Key West was Fantasy Fest and all those pictures Dom showed us. I don't think I can ever recover from them. Dom, if you're reading, I know you still have those pictures.
Our old flight coordinator, who retired when I came on went to Fantasy Fest for his retirement party in Key West in August. It was a time. There were a lot of pictures that I couldn't get out of my head.
He was so sweet. I had never seen him. I don't think I've talked to him. Maybe we met him when he was flying PPE. That was the first time I met him, I think.
When I met him at the Lewes Delaware Rotary meeting, he joined me. I learned a lot about him, apparently. I'm very impressed with myself that I remembered all that stuff.
We are so glad you read again to talk about basically nothing but also hear Bob's very inspiring story. We hope you join us next episode.
We are so excited to see you again next episode. Have a great day.