Angel Flight: where compassion takes flight, and small planes create big miracles. In this episode, we soar through a heartfelt journey with special guest Bill Brown from Casa Volunteers, who shares his incredible experience with Angel Flight. Bill opens up about the practical aspects of flying in small planes, addressing the common fears and uncertainties that some passengers may have. Hosts Jess Ames and Maddy Beck also discuss their own adventures in aviation, expressing their preference for general aviation over commercial flying. All together, they discuss the importance of pre-planning your Angel Flight journey, the importance of giving back, a wish list that includes some high-flying destinations, and more. Tune in now.
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We have a different passenger with us. We have Bill from CASA Volunteers.
How are you? How’s everybody out there in the world?
We are excited to have you because all of our previous guests have been passengers who we’ve flown to medical treatment centers. Another area of our service that we don’t advertise as much is compassion flights, which is what you had taken. If you could tell us about your role at CASA, what you guys do, how you found Angel Plate East, and how we fit into the work that you do at CASA.
CASA stands for a Court Appointed Special Advocate. We’re assigned to cases from the court. Sometimes, it’s requested by case managers or other people, but we’re assigned by the court and are volunteers. That’s a key. It’s important to realize that the only person who gets money is the director as a fee or salary.
The easiest way to explain it is my role is to make sure that children are safe, protected, and heard. The key thing is making known what their desires might be or what we believe is what is known as best interest when they’re in foster care. I don’t want to overstep my bounds by saying things as a volunteer that my director might know better than I. I’ll try to keep it simple. Children can be in foster care even though they stay in the home. It’s where custody is granted by the court. It depends upon placements and what is necessary for the children. That’s my role.
In our county, we have a court hearing with our families, and children are included, if possible, every three months. I don’t know if it’s Pennsylvania or the United States rule where they have to have a hearing within six months. I’m going to use it as Pennsylvania, but we generally do it in the third-month period because the goal is to reunify. A baseline is the reunification of children back to the family whenever, wherever possible. It does not always happen.
We work closely with, and I volunteer in Lackawanna County. I do not live in that county. The county I live in does not have a CASA program. Not all counties have CASA programs. That’s something that certainly would be nice to reach out and get counties all involved in that. How we got to know about this is that our director, Joan, informed me that she went to a National CASA conference and found out quite a few years ago that South Central Texas, if I’m not mistaken, had an Angel Flight program that took CASAs to visit the children throughout whatever jurisdictions they were outside of.
In September 2023, we do a one-on-one. She brought this up to me because we got talking about the kids in Virginia, and she said, “I thought I heard something.” I can hear her typing. She’s looking it up from Texas. Once Texas hit us, she and I started looking up Pennsylvania. What do they have? Lo and behold, there you were. I reached out and got David on the phone. From there on, history is with us. I hope it continues for our county because there are several of the children that we have a responsibility for are outside of our jurisdiction.
We’ve decided, at least Joan and I have talked about it, that anything over a four-hour drive would probably be a good radius to use for asking for Angel Flight. We do have the ability to use Zoom. It’s an approved method of having face-to-face with children. Quarterly, I asked for exemptions to not have a visual or actual face-to-face. That would alleviate that necessity to do every quarter if that’s what we choose to do and how we want to ask for assistance to get there. That’s it. That answered most of the questions.
We weren’t aware of what CASA did before. You had reached out to us. The work you guys do is incredible. If we could be that connection between face-to-face first Zoom, we would love to do it, and the pilots would love to do it as well.
One of the things that I learned or considered is that a lot of times, people need to have a one-day trip. I know that is a more difficult mission to arrange. I’m fortunate that I don’t have to be back. I can stay overnight and not disrupt other people’s lives out there because they’re also volunteers. I’ll try to respect that. That’s one of the situations that might be a conversation for later, depending upon the day or the week.
How did you get involved with CASA?
I have two major careers. When I started my second career, I wanted to label it as working within the human services field. I worked with kids and adults in schools, a probation and parole treatment center, a nonprofit restorative justice program, developing disabled people in an organization that helped get people jobs, and people coming out of jail or prison transitioning.
I would’ve loved to do that in the county I live in. I had a couple of contacts. We worked hard. It didn’t work out. Being the background that I had, I was well aware of CASA. I said, “It’s not what I want to do, but I have to do some volunteer, and I got to do something for myself instead of remodeling my house.” It’s already done now.
I chose to reach out to CASA. I found out Wayne County didn’t have one. I reached out to Lackawanna County. I’m a 45-minute drive away from the office in the center of Scranton. Fortunately, I’m able to do this in that county because I’ve had clients an hour and a half away from Scranton to visit them once a month. That’s my story. That’s how I got involved. It fits everything in everything I’ve done. My first career, the education and the experience I got, as well as why my second career fit in perfectly for CASA. It wasn’t my number one choice, but that’s okay. It is now. It’s my life now.
What everybody wants to hear about is, how did your flight go?
It was okay, from my companion, which I’ll call Megan. The flight went well. That’s all I can say. It was smooth. The pilots are seasoned pilots. Fortunately, they were Air Force background, which is on retiree from Air Force and maintenance and musicians, we were closely related. I worked with F-4s and B-52s. We had several things to talk about. We got where we needed to go in a timely manner."The flight went well. It was smooth. The pilots are seasoned pilots."
"The flight went well. It was smooth. The pilots are seasoned pilots."
We were able to move up our departure flight from Pittsburgh a little bit earlier because the schedule of the child that we were meeting with needed to be adjusted. We were able to see her Saturday afternoon because we got in a little bit late. It took some coordination to get there. That’s another discussion on how it worked, but we got there.
We visited for a couple of hours there. We went and purchased some personal things for her. We stayed in the hotel. The next morning, we went early enough to have two more hours with her. Antonio had called me before the return flight. She said, “What do you want to do? I can be there by 2:00 or 2:30.” I said, “Why don’t we do it at 2:30?” That was a 45-minute earlier than we had. We went about our return to get to the regional airport in Pittsburgh, Allegheny.
It all worked smoothly. The weather was okay. When he started to descend into Scranton, that’s when the crosswinds started. You wouldn’t know it because it was a beautiful day on Sunday for us. It was a little rough sliding back and forth and somewhat up and down, but we came in. The touchdown was a little hard, but he couldn’t help it. We’re lucky we landed because it was a struggle. I was watching. These guys were wonderful. They were special people. I have their names, numbers, and emails.
Rob Newman is a little bit local to us. He does a lot of outreach presentations with us. He loves talking about Angel Flight. He’s always signing up for flight.
I made him fly with me up to New York to present to a lunch club and fly home. He was like, “This is great. This is the best way to spend a day. This is awesome. Let’s do it again. Where’s the next one? Where are we going?” I was like, “Here we go.”
How much time between landing and taking off did you have to do your presentation?
We were probably there for maybe two hours. That’s the nice part because I live about a half hour from where he keeps his airplane. I met him at his airport, and we went.
I haven’t had to coordinate a trip like this in a long time. When I go on vacation and go overseas, I have a routine. It’s simple because I’m paying for it. It was a struggle for me to get back into what I used to have to do if I had to go on a trip for work because there was a lot of coordination and knowledge that I did not have. I have a good list of lessons learned on how to offer to people. I already wrote up a checklist for the CASA in Lackawanna County. If they want to do this, here are the points of contact and things to be considered.
I initially thought Allegheny Regional was probably a better stop. I’ll get a Hertz rental right there. We’ll be able to drive to the facility, which was a little bit across town, not too far. I drive back, drop it off at the airport, and go. Along the way, I discovered that Hertz at that airport was not open on Saturdays and Sundays in the week before we started. When we were finalizing the flights, takeoff, landings, and conversations, I discovered that the budget rental store that I asked for, because it would be on the way and it was a little shorter trip, was not open on Sunday mornings. We flew on Saturday and Sunday.
I had to redo that coordination and went to Pittsburgh International. That was a long ride. That was a long, gigantic distance because everything we did was on that side of town, like south of the airport. Everything’s right on that side. I learned that maybe Allegheny, even though I loved going in there because the people were great, is not maybe the best one to go back to Pennsylvania.
At least they’re going on a weekend.
That’s the whole thing going on a weekend. It made it difficult because I didn’t look at other companies to see if they have a Saturday and Sunday. I want to pick a local airport closer to that so I don’t have to ask for ground transportation. If I don’t have to, that worked beautifully, except when we departed, we didn’t know the drop pickup point at the airport in Pittsburgh. The woman who picked us up said, “Where you at?
We had to walk across the aisle and go onto another side of the pickup points because Ubers could drop us off in front of the terminal, but they couldn’t pick us up. We didn’t know that. We had to worry. We had all these little lessons learned, and I never took a lift. That was a great experience for me. I don’t get worried about that. I don’t have to worry about a little bit of money.
Bill, I wish everybody was as easygoing as you are. You’re the best passenger, especially with our flights. Sometimes, they don’t go as planned. We always ask passengers to have a backup plan if the weather doesn’t work out. You’re the best and easygoing. You go with the flow. We always appreciate that.
We did have a backup plan. If we couldn’t fly out, we didn’t know how we were going to get home, but we had one going out. We were going to drive because we could’ve left it anytime we wanted, and it would’ve been a five-and-a-half-hour drive or a five-hour drive. We would’ve done it. We had already planned to stay over because Megan was able to stay over. She has a large group of many children. Her husband had to carry the load.
Do you want to stay for 2 or 3 days?
No, she wasn’t. She was ready to go home. I don’t want to go into Megan’s life, but she’s a CASA, a foster parent, and a mentor for kids in foster care. You name it, she does it. If somebody makes a phone call and needs a place to stay, like an emergency, she’s going to take them off for the nights or two nights that the caseworker’s trying to find bed. She’s outstanding.
Can you explain what it’s like flying in a small airplane for our readers who may not know, or they might think a small airplane is a twenty-passenger commuter jet and ours are a teeny bit smaller?
I’ve flown in a small one before. I was quite aware. I was able to tell Megan what she was up against. We had a four-seater going out and coming back, we have a six-seater. We sat in different places. Megan wanted to step in front so she could see. That was great. When we went with Antonio, we sat in the back. I sat on one side and Megan sat on the other disposition of weight.
It can be bumpy as you go through up and down, transitioning through clouds. If you’re on a commercial airplane and you’ve been through some turbulence, that’s an anomaly with a commercial airplane. It happens occasionally. Here, because we’re flying a different level of aptitude, we hit a little bit more of that, but it’s not anything that was uncomfortable at all.
The four-seater I sat in the back. I had a little bit less room and leg room. I had to stretch out a little bit because my legs tightened up. I did have to use a little extra foot space. In the six-passenger, it was like riding on a boat or an airplane with nobody in front of you. You could make two people sit, stretch out, and lie down. That was comfortable.
The biggest thing I would have to state is to be ready for turbulence. It is a way of it because the airplanes are smaller and lighter. It’s important to know that. You don’t want to overpack. I realized that we under-packed. We could have done a little bit more, which worked out because we had some things to take and we had some things to come back with us from each person exchanging things. We have plenty of storage space. It would be a small soft packet bag or something you would carry. I wouldn’t use a hard one. If it is hard, it has to be small to fit into most of those luggage cubbies.
The second car I bought myself was a two-door Mini Cooper. If I couldn’t slide my seat up and fit it behind my seat, I wasn’t bringing it on one of our small plates. That was a nightmare trying to bring anything.
We were fortunate that everything was small enough to fit and not take away from what the pilot had to put in that little luggage part. We were fine with it. The posters were a little bit different when we got posters to bring home. We rolled them up. We’re able to salvage them. Both of them were sending posters back and forth that we carry. Megan’s children made a big poster for the young lady. The young lady made a poster for the family and another family. These are the things that make the work worthwhile.
What is something that you would tell somebody who is scared of flying in a small plane or even somebody who’s thinking about getting involved with Angel Flight in general?
One thing we talked about is more people die on the roadways than airplane crashes. It’s the biggest thing. Just because there’s an airplane crash does not equal the percentage of people that die in other ways. You can walk across the crosswalk and get killed in this country and others. Eventually, if you look at those numbers, death by airplane crashes is probably a minuscule number of harm. You do have to be a little flexible to get in and out of the craft, but there’s plenty of safety.
If you’re afraid to fly on a commercial airline, you won’t be comfortable flying on a small airplane. You need to overcome that if you plan on using this service. If you’re afraid to fly commercially in a gigantic jet, as a layperson, I could not even try to think how to convince them that you’re not going to be scared. Megan was a little nervous, and she closed her eyes and meditated. When we’re going up and down or when we hit the terms, that’s all she did.
"If you're afraid to fly on a commercial airline, you probably won't be very comfortable flying on a small airplane."
I feel more confident in a small plane than I do in a commercial setting. You’re looking at the dials the whole time. You can hear the pilot talking to air traffic control. You know what’s going on. You can look at how high you are. You can see how fast they’re going. You can see where the closest airport is. Whereas when you’re on a commercial plane, you’re like, “That’s a cool cloud.”
Part of the briefing out of Rob’s airplane was it had a parachute like the astronauts coming back to Earth. That’s what happens. It’s not a parachute where it jacks you out of the plane. The whole plane comes down. It can still float on water. They can go back, get it again, and fly it. That was awesome. I said, “That’s great.”
He treated us like a crew member. It’s a habit that they do probably in the military. They precheck and talk out loud to themselves or to anybody else. That allowed us to understand what was going on and what the dials all meant because back when I flew a small putter, it was nothing but dials. Technology is marvelous. You can watch it. If you don’t want to, you close your eyes.
You take a nap in the back, which is what I do.
I was interested in what was going on flying.
What is one final thought that you would want to leave our readers with?
The pre-planning is important. I wouldn’t commit to a time to take off and come back early once you put your application in. In our role, most of us don’t know where we’re going or where we should go, and we take the trip smoother on the ground. It’s important that you pre-plan the part of the trip that you’re responsible for and figure out how to get to the airport you’re leaving from and where you’re coming back from.
Everything in the middle, if you were staying over. Fortunately, the place where we were has a room for families to stay overnight, which means if we go with a small family, Megan, we’re talking about mom and two girls going. They could stay there, and I’d get a motel if I were going. Knowing what the size of the plane is. You know how many passengers you think you can get in there. You can’t take many family members, probably 2 or 3 people at the most. Pre-planning is important.
One thing I appreciate is that you obtained ground transportation for us. When we ran into a problem like that, we had it right there. I got the messages in my text. I knew what was happening and when it was happening. That was grateful. The biggest thing is pre-organized flight and coordinating as many as you can before you think about setting up a time and departure for the pilots because we’re at the mercy of the pilot and the weather. I know one thing. You have to be patient and flexible. I do have a question. Do I recall when I went on site with the application, there was a place to donate to? Is there a donate stream there?
There is a donate button.
I plan on putting something in the pot because I can’t thank people enough.
Thank you. That is appreciated.
You have to wait until the beginning of the month. It’s almost here.
We won’t rush you.
We do that with CASA because it’s nonprofit. We have a big fundraiser every year and dinner. Throughout, we try to help each other out whenever possible.
You need to let us know when the big fundraiser is or the dinner.
We want to come. We’re party people.
We’ll make a road trip for you.
Is it in the Poconos? I hope it’s in the Poconos.
We’re in Scranton.
We’ll go there too.
We’re at the northern end of the Poconos. You have to go through the heart of the Pocono region to get to us. You get to see a lot.
Don’t tempt us with a good time. Normally, it sends me to the woods anyway.
I live in a community. I’m in the woods all the time. There’s a lot of us. I don’t know how far Bluebell you’re at. That’s at least three hours.
It took me about an hour and a half to two hours to get back from Stroudsburg.
It’s in the evening. It starts at 6:00. I want to warn you. We’ll figure out arrangements. There’s enough support out there that we can make sure you’re taken care of.
We appreciate that. Thank you.
You don’t have to tell us twice to go to a party.
Even though it’s a fundraiser, there’s still a party.
Fundraisers can still be fun.
We have big raffles, baskets, and tickets to various places.
I need Jess’s husband’s opinion on this one, but I don’t know if more of their money goes to raffles or crane machines like the claw game.
I love a good raffle. I will put all my tickets in one basket. If I don’t win it, I’ll go home and think about it for a week.
Some of these are homemade. For example, the director gets honey. She has a basket with homemade honey and other parts of it in the basket. All kinds of things come out. That’s a little bit of what we do. I’m glad that I have met you all, the agency, and the organization. We have collaborated and had a successful flight. I’m ready to do it again whenever it comes. I do not want to abuse the privilege, but I will use it.
There is no such thing as abusing it. As long as you’re going more than a hundred miles, you better call us.
Thank you. I learned a lot myself.
Thank you so much for sharing your story and experiences with the Angel Flight. We’re happy to share more information about CASA.
Every one of us will give you a different perspective. It’ll be interesting. Hopefully, somebody logged in that I sent the links. I’m not sure how that works because I don’t see that.
It will be posted in a few weeks. You will receive all the information on how to share it with your contact.
That even works out better. I can send it to the county and spread it out. There is one thing I forgot. As soon as we got off of a meeting with this child before I left, we had a monthly review. As soon as I told him about Angel Flight, I got a call from the case manager who said, “Is Casa paying for that because she was driving two days before I left all the way out to Pittsburgh?”
You better give her our number.
Yes, they got it. It was funny that she kept on calling me, “How’d that work?” We initiated. That’s another thing that can help our caseworkers if they have to go out further and be willing to travel into this process because they don’t have a lot of money, county-wise, to do these kinds of things. Driving is more expensive. I’m telling you that.
Bill, you are hired. We will see you again for your next flight.
Thank you so much. I appreciate your time and everybody out there.
Take advantage of the program. Thank you very much. Bye-Bye
Road trip to Scranton.
I love the Poconos.
I want some of that homemade honey and all of those homemade raffle baskets. I’m going to bring all my dollars. I hope there’s a jukebox out there.
You can’t tell me that somebody in Scranton isn’t knitting a blanket or making one of those little patchwork quilts. I want to put all my tickets in that one.
Hopefully, somebody will read this and be like, “I’ll fly them there.”
Pilots, we know you read this. Many of you have admitted to reading.
If I said anything wrong, I’d hear about it.
I was thinking about it as he was talking about what it’s like to fly in a small plane. I feel like he made it sound like we’re a dry log flu.
When I flew back from Boston with Warren, we went through turbulence. She was like, “Isn’t this like a roller coaster?” I was like, “I don’t know if we should describe it like that. I don’t know if people will get on the plane if they say going through turbulence is like a roller coaster, but it’s not terrible.”
This sounds bratty and bratty is not the word that I want to use. I’m going to use our twin telepathy, and you know what word I want to use. It begins with D for the readers. I feel like I’m used to flying general aviation now that the little bumps, I’m like, “Okay.” When I get on a commercial plane, I sit there and keep reading my book. Everybody is in turbulence, like holding onto their neighbor, and I’m like, “Okay.”
We don’t like to fly commercially anymore. It’s a pain. You have to get there two hours early and go through all you’re strangers. It’s germy. People are gross. I’d much rather go to the airport behind our house or even in front of our office.
Marvin, if you’re reading this, we need a flight to Martha’s Vineyard. We’re thirsty.
I don’t think Marvin even knows that we have a show. Any other pilot can read this.
We’d like to go to Martha’s Vineyard one weekend. You can drop us off, and you don’t have to worry about us for the whole weekend.
Honestly, we wouldn’t be offended if you didn’t pick us up either.
I’m sure we’d find somewhere to live.
I don’t think we could afford it, but we could find it.
Andy would have to come pick us up and give us a lecture on the ride home.
Never mind, I don’t think we can go. I don’t want to hear about it. I don’t want to get in trouble, but I would also take a flight to Cape May because I missed their beer.
I do miss their beer.
It sounds good to me.
Thank you for reading, and we will see you next episode.