Where the stage meets the sky, we find our wings of compassion – reminding us that in our darkest hours, the light of humanity shines the brightest. In this episode, we take off with David Turner, a Broadway and television actor who takes his passion for flying to new heights by volunteering his time with Angel Flight East. David shares how he finds solace in the cockpit, where he discovers the magic of helping others in their times of need. His incredible eight-year journey as a volunteer pilot shows the powerful connection between acting and flying, both centered around making a difference and touching lives. Through the lens of his unique experiences, we explore the deep impact pilots like David have on the people they fly, shining a light on the resilience and love for life that often hides behind medical diagnoses. Tune in to this episode and embrace the beautiful reminder that, as David puts it, "things this great are on earth, people care."
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
In this episode, we have pilot David Turner with us.
How's it going?
We're good. How are you?
Good. Thanks for having me on.
We're so excited to have you. If we could start, how long have you been flying with Angel Flight East?
I looked in my logbook and it appears to be the summer of 2015. We all took a little time off during COVID, so I know a lot of pilots were sad not to be able to continue doing that during that time, especially during a time when so many people did need help. It's so good to be back in the saddle.
That is a long time to put up with us.
I was trying to think about what I did in 2015 and nothing productive.
I have those years too. My real job is on Broadway and television. It's a great compliment to a schedule or a career that's unpredictable because when you have downtime, which, for an actor, very often means a sort of a loss of identity, “What am I, who am I if I'm not on the board?” It's so great to have something meaningful that is flexible that you couldn't do during that time.
How did you hear about us back then?
The truth is, I don't know. It must have been on the radio, or I must've found a flyer where I did my commercial. I got my private in 2010, my instrument in 2011, and my commercial in 2013. It was the first thing I wanted to do when I got 300 hours. I was so excited to start helping you guys.
That's amazing. Why do you volunteer your time in an airplane for Angel Flight East?
I'm a person who feels better when he's helping. It has a lot of things in common with acting, particularly in the theater because it's about connection. In the theater, that connection is communal. You have a sense when an idea has landed with a crowd where you can hear them go, “Hm,” or even the sound of silence, and that you've made a point. That happens on an individual level for me when I'm helping someone when you see that impact that you can have, especially for someone who's in one of the worst moments of their lives when you can just by being steady, by being there, or by making a hard day a little less hard. It's a no-brainer.
When you add to it the environmental impact of flying, all of us either turn a blind eye or make a little bargain with ourselves about why we think we should be burning so much gas in a world where not everyone has that privilege. It's up to all of us to decide what side of the ledger we're going to end up on and why we think we should be able to do that. If you enjoy flying, it certainly helps to know that you are doing that for a purpose. It's a great compromise for me. I don't know when I get to the pearly gates, whether I'll have been right or wrong, but I know that it works for me.
That's what matters. Speaking of the impact, what would you say is a passenger who's made the most impact on you?
That's hard. Unfortunately, it's this one who died. His first name was my last name. He was young and handsome. He brought his fiancé along. It was some years ago, but I remembered him, primarily because of his name. It was so unusual to meet someone whose first name is your last name. I thought to look him up and I found his obituary. I had never done any follow-up on any of the people I've helped. I never thought to, but this was one of those people whose spirit, particularly a young person touches you and you want to know what happened. It's a reminder that we're all on borrowed time, to appreciate what you have every day, and to do what you can. I'm sorry that a loss is one that made an impact on me, but that's the truth.
That's beautiful. We always say all the people we fly, they are going through such a hard battle with whatever medical diagnosis they have, but they're so upbeat and they love life. A lot of times, you would never know they were sick or anything.
If anything, they have more of an appreciation. Of course, I'm human. You get upset about something petty. Doing Angel Flight helps you put a check on. You're going to be upset because someone cut you off on the highway.
Did you fly for any other angel flight organizations or is it just us? Who do you cheat on us with?
I also fly for Angel Flight Northeast. A lot of overlapping territory there. They do a lot of flights to Maine. It's awfully beautiful up there.
What made you want to become a pilot in the first place?
I'll give you the truth. The background though is that it runs in my family. My dad was a private pilot and my grandmother also flew. There's something in the blood. This was interesting to me. Your audience will decide whether it's qualitatively interesting. I drew a lot of planes when I was a toddler. Never in a million years did I picture myself in the cockpit. It never entered my head.
In 2010, when I was probably 35, I had a heartbreak, one of those that leaves you feeling like trash. Do you know what I mean when you end up feeling your self-esteem in the gutter? I don't know where it came from, but a little voice in my head said, “Take a flight lesson.” I googled it and what came up was Morristown because I was in New York City. I took the train out to Morristown, did the discovery flight, and hated it. It was bumpy and I was sick to my stomach. I just thought, “This is such a terrible idea,” the same little voice said, “Just do another.” After 4 or 5 flights, I started to realize I was really onto something. I fell in love with it. I got my certificate about ten weeks after my first flight.
Jess, do you want to talk about your flight training and how it's going?
I've been going at it for a year and I just switched airplanes, so I have to start all over, but I'm back on track.
Switched from what to what?
I was in a Cessna 150, but now I'm in a sling, which is much more modern. Hopefully, it helps me learn.
That sounds good.
By learn, we mean land.
I need the land. I can do everything else but land the plane.
Everyone has that problem. I did too. They kept putting me up with new instructors. They were getting on the horn and saying, “I've got this guy.” I am out of ideas. You've got to go up with him. Can I tell you what did it for me? A guy took me up, grizzled old hand, and he had a dry-erase pen. We were set up on the final at the right speed and the right altitude. He handed the pen to me and said, “Draw on the inside of the windshield, just put a dot where the numbers are now.” I did. He said, “Great. Keep that there.”
I know. I guess I wasn't letting the nose drop. I must have had a psychological thing about heading into the ground or something. That's what worked for me.
I'm going to have to try that in my next lesson. I might have to take a dry-erase marker.
Do it. No harm done.
If you could tell me one thing about being a volunteer pilot, what would it be?
It is a great feeling to help someone on their worst day. It marries something that is a love for all of us involved. It deepens that love and it lets you share it with people who can connect to your passion. I always sense that it's a welcome distraction for the people we fly to see how planes work. Just to be around something someone else feels passionate about reminds them of what makes life worth living. It puts a little fire in the belly and gives a little fight. Things this great are in the world. Things this great are on earth, people, care. That is something we all need reminding of. When people are despairing, it's something that the mere proximity to someone who is doing something they feel passionately about or who's being kind to them can have a huge impact.
Speaking about your real job and the audiences of Broadway and you're acting on TV and stuff, what's the coolest role that you've had so far?
I played a role in an Apple series called Servant, which was Lauren Ambrose. It was an M. Night Shyamalan horror thing. I played the pivotal role of balding daddy.
I don't even know if I want to ask.
I want to ask.
My agent was like, “There's good news and bad news. The good news is you booked it, but you're a balding daddy.”
It's exactly what it sounds like.
I used to be a twink, so being a balding daddy is some whiplash. That hurts. In this episode that I did, I got projectile vomited on. I said to my manager that might be the least degrading thing that's ever happened to me in show business.
What is the most degrading thing that has ever happened? I don't know if I want to know.
It's just a comment on show business. You're always putting up with something stupid. That made it real. It's a hoot.
It sounds like something we have to google.
It's season four. It was called Zoo.
We can say we know the balding daddy personally.
Just watch Doors Open. If you want to use that, feel free.
I knew I had to ask that question. Where would you say your favorite place is to fly to?
This is going to sound pretty snooty, but my husband and I own a public airport in Pennsylvania.
The identifier is 8 November 4. All are welcome. Daytime VFR conditions, no lighting. It is a grass field. Our house is right next to the runway.
That is amazing.
It is awesome. We have a website. It is FlyingDollar.com and it's got all the information and a great history of the airfield. It was built in the ‘20s, the first airport in the Poconos.
I'll be in the Poconos. Jess is shipping me out to the National Association of Social Workers in Pennsylvania.
If you're around, come and check it out.
I am going to get a little knock on your door now that I know where it is.
When did you acquire this airport?
We bought it at an auction in 2014. We were just feeling fanciful and we were googling real estate airstrip. That would be a dream. This place came up that was up for auction. A woman had been married to a pilot who worked for a cargo. He died and she kept it up on her own for a few years, but finally, it was too much. She sold it at an auction. It's 70 acres. It's great. It's a tricky runway. It's not for the faint of heart. It's on quite a grade. It's 4.5%. One way in, one way out. We have seen people try to land downhill and it doesn't end well.
I will not be there for a long time.
They keep flaring and the ground keeps pulling away. It's rough to watch. Land to the North and take off to the South.
Do you fly back and forth to New York City for acting roles?
Yes, I do. That's my life.
It's pretty great.
What is one final thought you want to leave our audience with?
If you're a twink, enjoy it while you can.
"If you're a twink, enjoy it while you can."
You might be my favorite guest to date.
You said something so profound.
You said it in all seriousness too.
That's why I got the big box.
That is another way of saying carpe diem. That's the gay version of carpe diem.
We appreciate all your time and your insights. You are hilarious.
I can't wait to come and get a cup of sugar.
Please do. It is great to finally put faces with your names. Thank you for all you do making it all happen behind the scenes. We appreciate it. I know I speak for all of us.
You do the hard part.
You're the bomb.
All right. Thank you. Have a good day.
Thank you. Nice to meet you.
That was fun.
I don't even know what to say on that one. I know I said silence isn't my thing, but that took a lot of words out of me.
I would like to talk to more actors in my life and I wonder if they're all that funny.
I feel like you can't be playing Jane if you're an actor. We have to watch that episode. Who has an Apple TV that we can steal?
I feel like Ellen does. I don't know. I'm going to find somebody. I wonder if Popup does.
Kenny, I know you’re reading, but we need your Apple ID. I'm still waiting for my HBO password back. I haven't been able to watch my shows.
If anybody else wants to share their passwords, let us know.
Tom, you better send that over. He does.
I know he does. I don't know what else to say. I feel like that episode said enough and it was amazing.
It is going to maybe be a 15-minute episode or 20.
We should own an airport one day.
Is this going to be along the lines of that we should get a membership at the country club and share it?
Also, join the kickball league.
We have a lot of things on this to-do list.
I know. Number one, don't go to happy hour at Panache anymore.
You can do it, but know what you're getting into first. You may get surprised and it may be ‘80s night, Motown night, or somebody's family dinner.
I did think it was odd that they had a cover charge to go outside. I've never seen anything like that.
I didn't know there was a cover charge.
It was $10. I don't think anybody was paying for it. I think they just went outside.
We didn't pay anything and we went outside.
I felt like I was at my parents' birthday party.
I feel like that very often when I go to Panache. We are not the demographic of said party.
We should be. Who doesn't want to hang out with us? I could name a couple of people.
I could probably name a couple of people too. I want to say that every time that we comment on these shows, somebody should tell us that, either the password to HBO Max, Apple TV, or something like that. Instead, people just send us their commentary bullying us. When everybody sent us a text, it was like, “Jesse said that word wrong.”
How about how great it is?
Tell us we're funny.
I don't need to know about my mispronunciation of things. I already know that I can't talk. I think can't speak. I don't know.
Is there a difference?
I think so. The difference is to fake it until you make it.
Carpe diem. Whatever the twink said.
I almost said it again, but I was like, “I'm not going to say that.”
I don't think we can say that because we are straight.
That's true. We still love you, David.
We love you, David. I'm showing up at your airport soon.
For sugar. That concludes this weird but hilarious episode. We can't wait to talk to you next episode.
See you next episode. I'm going to go try and talk to Jess if he’s going to get us Twinkies now because that's all I can think about.