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Take Off Talk

Distance can be a major barrier to accessing quality healthcare in a timely manner. For patients, access to air transportation can make all the difference in getting the treatment they need. However, flights can be expensive, and putting off medical care because of costs can put you or your loved ones at risk. That's where Angel Flight East comes in.

Welcome to Take Off Talk with Angel Flight East, a nonprofit dedicated to facilitating free air transportation for children and adults with medical conditions who need treatment far from home. Our organization covers a 14 state footprint from Virginia to Ohio to Maine and for further distances, we partner with other public benefit flying organizations.  No matter how many times you need to get to your medical treatment or see a loved one in need, we are here to help. Unfortunately, few people know about free services like ours, and thus cannot use them when needed. We don't know how many people forgo medical care because they don't have accessible transportation, and that's what this podcast is here to change.

Angel Flight Talk With Volunteer Pilot Tom Mellett

TTAFE - DFY 23 | Volunteer Pilot

Today’s guest loves anything with engines, one of the reasons he wants to become a pilot. Volunteer Pilot Tom Mellett sits with Jess and Maddy for an Angel Flight talk. He shared his challenging experience and how it pushed him to continue to fly. Tom urges everyone who wants to join Angel Flight because it is fulfilling as a pilot. Join Tom Mellett in this wonderful conversation.




Watch the episode here


Listen to the podcast here


You have always heard us talking about Tom because we've heard that he reads and he is probably the only person who gives us his feedback on what we say.

Especially when we say somebody's name incorrectly.

Whether you want to hear it or not.

Tom, you are the second person doing it from here. Usually, we do it all over Zoom, but he could not stay away from us and all of our fun.

It's great to be at the international headquarters of Angel Flight East. They've done quite a bit of improvement and invested a lot of money into this facility. I must say I'm very impressed with the Barbie room.


TTAFE - DFY 23 | Volunteer Pilot


For those who are wondering about the Barbie room, Jess and I got booted and got our own office space down the hall. They are very different. Mine is gray, lovely, and nice and Jess is Pepto-Bismol pink with white and gold furniture.

It’s great.

It does define our personalities as a whole, but that's not what we're here for, at least not in the beginning part of the episode. Tom, tell us a little bit about being a volunteer pilot for Angel Flight.

I joined Angel Flight quite a while ago. My first flight was many years ago. I flew a gentleman and his wife from Lancaster, PA to Columbus, Ohio. I used to have a rental car facility here in the terminal building. When they shut down the airlines, there was still a counter in there. I took that over and we had a rental car location here for 2 or 3 years in the early to mid-'90s.

Did you rent out box trucks too?

To qualified drivers.

Did you do background checks?

Yes. That was interesting. At that time, Harry Morales was around and his wife worked for Pennsylvania Aviation.

She worked here.

I can't think of her name. Tammy is sticking in my head.

I think it’s Tammy.

I got to know them a little bit listening to what they were talking about, but I was learning how to fly then. I wasn't instrument-rated. As a result, I didn't qualify to fly for Angel Flight, but nevertheless, it gave me incentive to progress my flying training a little further and get the instrument rating. It's been a good mix. It's certainly good for me. Hopefully, I've been an addition to Angel Flight’s efforts.

Tom was the person who rented all of our box trucks when we were doing the PPE deliveries. Maddy and I would go to his car rental location in Glenside. He would give us the keys, say goodbye, and not do any type of background on this. He just hoped that we would come back in one piece, which we always did.

Surprisingly, you did.

Especially that one time when we weren't sure if we qualified as a truck on the no-truck sign.

That was a very tight tunnel. I was holding my breath for that one.

That was a truck.

Why do you volunteer your time and plane for Angel Flight?

It’s tough to justify owning an airplane. It's a little easier to justify it as you're buying it. “We're going to do this. We're going to do that,” but once you get it, you do this and that. You say, “What am I going to do?” The thing sits in the hangar a lot. The first few years of having a plane was fun. I take my buddies to the golf courses. My wife and I would go to Block Island or something for the weekend.

I go out for a nice little Sunday morning breakfast, but sooner or later, almost everything gets old. Helping people out never gets old. I found I needed a good reason to continue owning this thing and I know that helping other people out is incredibly grateful for myself for my own selfish reasons. I enjoy doing it. That's how it all came together. It was a brilliant mix. Old Harry knew what he was doing back then.


"Helping people out never gets old."


He did. He still does.

When we interviewed him, he seemed much more together than we ever will be.

That's not saying much for us.

Tom, do you have any place that stands out for you or something that’s been impactful? It’s okay if you say it’s the one you booked Jess and me, but if you have anybody else that you want to talk about, we will listen to those.

I'll go to another one.

I feel slighted.

I remember that. We went and dropped off some goodies, and then we went to the Hudson River VFR corridor, which was fun.

You let Jess and I fly.

You then took us to lunch.

We're still here.

It was a great time.

It’s amazing how it all worked. My most memorable flight may have been many years ago. It was a young boy by the name of Weston Keeton. I'm not saying anything out of school here. It’s those websites, Facebook pages, and so forth about this guy. His family lived in Kingston, Tennessee. He had a chronic heart and lung issue. They ended up spending three years at CHOP. His mother, Julie, used to travel constantly between Philadelphia and Tennessee and depended on Angel Flight East for transportation.

He's a little guy. His poor body was wearing out. He needed a heart and lung transplant. During the treatment, the Keeton family had been separated in ways that no family ever should be. His father, Adam, stayed in Tennessee to continue working and his mother, Julie, made CHOP and Philadelphia her second home for pretty much three years going back and forth as needed. The two of them had to constantly send her other five kids to relatives to help out while they were coming back and forth.

The kids were young and also Weston who's up at CHOP. It was very challenging. It meant them missing birthdays, milestones, and Christmas, but the family figured that by making all these sacrifices, someday the whole family would be back together and everything would become normal. During one of the stays when Julie was up here, she gave birth to her daughter, a young baby girl. Adam, at the time, was in Tennessee, tending to the other five children.

My wife and I had the privilege to help get them back to Tennessee with the newborn baby girl. She was a week old. She was an infant. I had a friend of mine who worked a CHOP. She was able to get me some little earplugs for the baby. We got them down there and it was the first time the father met his daughter. It was hard to forget. Weston eventually did get his heart and lung transplant right before Christmas of 2013.

Talk about a good Christmas present.

Everybody said it was the Miracle on 34th Street, but then not to 34th Street where CHOP was located. Weston put up a good fight, but unfortunately, about three months later, he lost the battle at age seven. That was sad to see, but it's things like this that keep you in the air and keep you flying. That was certainly a memorable one, but then you have other people.


TTAFE - DFY 23 | Volunteer Pilot

Volunteer Pilot: It's things like helping others that keep you in the air. It keeps you flying.


Yvonne is a frequent flyer. She has been flying with us for at least ten years.

She's great. She's always happy. You can’t even look at this woman without smiling because she's always so uplifting. She's got multiple problems. She's chasing back and forth to hear all the time, but you don't see it in her. The best part is you fly with her and she's flown so much. She knows the airspace. She knows you're going drop down here and you're going up here. You're probably going to be talking about Allentown soon.

She knows all the lingo.

She does. We were shooting on an instrument approach into her airport and she spotted the airport and turn off of this taxiway.

We told her that she is a pilot by the association.

Her most redeeming quality is she can pick out a good place for food. She knows all the FBOs. She knows where to go. She turned me on to the millionaire up in Syracuse. They have great food. She makes the best of it. You go into this place and it's like a Costco on a Saturday afternoon. There is food everywhere. It's a lot of fun. She's been fun. Her mother made a quilt for me. She made this beautiful quilt. I and my family fight over it every night. We sit on the couch to watch something. I try to get in first so I can grab it. I met a lot of interesting people. I flew a guy who has a seizure-sensing Pomeranian. There are lots of good memorable flights.

Do you fly for any other organizations or is it just us your favorite?

Obviously, you're my favorite.

Are you cheating on us?

Are we the favorite by luck of the draw?

It’s by default. I did sign up with an organization a few years back but I haven't done any flights with them. We had our airplane reupholstered with new seats and carpeting. I might have to start looking for an organization that rescues butterflies, goldfish, or something.

There is a turtle one. I thought we talked about the turtles a lot.

I might hook up with those guys. We'll see what happens.

Apparently, they transport them in banana boxes.

It makes sense. Little dogs and cats won't stay in those things. That's a problem.

What made you want to become a pilot?

I love anything with an engine. I grew up in the '60s with John Glenn and the Race to the Moon. I tried golf. I'd sit there on a golf course and look up at the sky. “Tom, it’s you're shot.” I like what was up there. It looked easier and it is. It's much easier to fly a plane than it is to play golf as far as I'm concerned.

I find that hard to believe, but I'll let you know.

I don't know if everybody's going to follow that same thought process, but I'll buy it.

Let's put it this way. I played golf with some friends. It’s the first time that I played under 100, but we only played nine holes.

I was going to say, “How many holes was that?”

Golf was never my thing. I had a friend and his wife bought him a Discovery Flight. It was back in the '80s. I thought that was pretty cool. I had another friend who bought a Cherokee. He had it for a few years. I flew around with him a little bit in the local area. He always looked like he was having more fun on the plane than I was. I was enjoying it, but he was enjoying it. He gave me some incentive to give it a shot. It's a lot of fun.

Anytime I mention to anybody that I'm a pilot, I have a plane, or whatever, 9 times out of 10, the first thing out of their mouth is, “I always wanted to do that.” I'm glad I had enough sense, incentive, and a little bit of push from a couple of other people to follow up on it many some years ago. It’s been a plus in my life, I'd say.

I think so too. It's a plus to us, too, because I don't know who else would have trusted us with a 15-foot box truck back then.

There are not many people.

I was under pressure.

I saw how you drove. Tom, what would you tell somebody who is thinking about becoming a pilot or becoming even an Angel Flight pilot?

If you're a pilot, join the team. Just do it. It helps others. As I said before, it’s something to feel good about. I guarantee it. Public service improves the lives and the world around us. The greatest reward is the enrichment you get back from knowing you were a part of that. It's very fulfilling.


"If you're a pilot, join the Angel Flight East team. Just do it because it helps others."


What keeps you busy when you're not flying since now you're retired and can live it up?

Hanging out with you gals is always fun.

We're entertaining. We keep telling people that.

You're funny memes and meme tweets.

You're the troll that's trolling us online.

We had our first grandchild. It’s a little boy named Jesse. Don't worry. The next one's going to be called Maddy.

I'm glad you know that. It has to be.

He's going to be a lot of fun. He'll be walking soon. That will keep me busy. I'm retired now. I'm home and showing my wife how she should have been running the house.

She's such a sweet woman.

We travel a lot. We enjoy getting around.

You're always somewhere.


TTAFE - DFY 23 | Volunteer Pilot


How many times have we seen your Facebook photos, especially a camel?

How many countries have you been to since you've retired now, or even continents?

That is what we're trying to knock out. The only one that we haven't been to is Antarctica. The only two states that I haven't been to are North Dakota and Oregon. I don't know why I haven't been to Oregon.

In North Dakota, you can be like, “We can make a potty stop here then keep going.”

We did that. The last time we went to Nebraska, we went to Taco Bell just so we could say we were in Nebraska. We went next door to Iowa. We didn't even know they were next to each other. We went to the Jolly Time popcorn store. We knocked out three states one Saturday afternoon.

Why did you choose to go to Taco Bell and not Arby's?

This is a very big debate.

No night should be an Arby’s night. This is the reason why Arby's is still in business.

In the local Arby’s here, on Mondays, they play Bingo.

We went to the Indianapolis game with my son and he insists on going into this Arby’s. It was on the other side of the stadium and it was cold. We're going. “You got to go. Arby's is great. That's okay.” We finally got to Arby’s fifteen minutes later going in the wrong direction. Everybody else is going the other way to the stadium and he buys a cup of coffee.

That's why he went to Arby’s? I don't even know they sold coffee.

I had no idea. I thought I was going to be getting the best recipe. He's a good kid and the Eagles won.

That counts. This gives you a saving point.

Where's your favorite place to fly to in general?

It’s the Marco Island.

If you ever have an empty seat, we'll go.

Maybe two.

It sounds good. You can help with the flying.

I'll sit in the back and fall asleep.

It's a nice flight. You spend most of the day. You fly on the East Coast, although I do like flying even up into New England. I love going through New York. Everybody avoids it because of air traffic control, but it's great because they control you.


TTAFE - DFY 23 | Volunteer Pilot

Volunteer Pilot: I love going through New York. Everybody avoids it because of the air traffic control, but it's great because they control you.


They tell you where to go.

You do it and it's easy. It’s a no-brainer.

What is a thought you want to leave our readers with besides that we're your favorite people at Angel?

Everybody has a skill or an experience that they can offer and it's beneficial to somebody else. If you're not, put your talents to the best use in everyday life, or even if you are, volunteering can be a prime way to share. You can be surprised at how your own abilities sharpen when you share your own knowledge. It helps me become a better pilot. It helps me be more grateful for what I have.


TTAFE - DFY 23 | Volunteer Pilot


It's enhanced my life and I get to meet you guys. You do meet some great people. I am hanging around here and I'm involved with the Wings Field Preservation Association. Whatever we are, they are a great bunch of guys and they're dedicated. It's nice to see people dedicated to a good cause. That's my final thoughts.

We love it. That's good. It was great. Thank you so much for being here in our new humble abode.

I had to check it out. I heard so much about it.

Thank you, Tom. Thanks for hanging out with us. Thanks, readers, for reading this. We'll see you next episode.

It sounds good. Take care.


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