Flying has been a part of AFW Volunteer Pilot Ryan Cowley’s family for generations. His father was a Life Flight helicopter pilot, and his Pappy was a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI). Following in their footsteps, Ryan became a CFI three years ago. “I enjoy teaching others how to fly and how to become better pilots,” he says. “I wanted to share my passion for aviation with others.”
Based in Utah, Ryan considers his state a “service-oriented state and community,” a place where giving back is part of the cultural norm. After joining a local flying club, he learned about Angel Flight West (AFW) from some of their volunteer pilots. Motivated by their enthusiasm for charitable aviation — and by their impactful stories of meaningful missions — Ryan didn’t hesitate to sign up
Now, four years later, Ryan has flown 24 lifetime missions in his Cessna 210 Centurion, helping AFW serve a diverse audience through the special types of missions he flies.
Guardian Project Missions
This past summer, Ryan flew veterans back home after their weeklong adventure with the Guardian Project, a therapeutic program in Wyoming for post-9/11 veterans. “Being able to give a minimal amount of service back to those who have dedicated years of their lives to serving their country is an incredible experience,” says Ryan. “It’s humbling to be able to ease their transportation to healing and recovery.”
The program’s creator and leader, Cpl. Jed Morgan, was one of Ryan’s passengers this year. He says, “The pilots are amazing people. Not only do they use their time and resources to help, but they go above and beyond in how they treat us. It shows the kindness of their hearts.”
Utah Santa Flight
Ryan also signs up for Utah’s Santa Flight, ensuring children from underserved schools receive toys, books, supplies, and warm clothing during the holiday season. Since 2000, AFW’s Santa Flight has been an annual endeavor to support Title I schools in Utah’s rural communities. Ryan has been part of the gift-giving and sing-a-longs that accompany these special missions for the past two years and looks forward to making it a holiday tradition.
Two Strangers, With Love
During the first two years of COVID, AFW helped deliver necessities to hard-hit communities. By partnering with With Love, From Strangers, our volunteer pilots packed their planes with clothing, PPE, and soap and flew supplies to Native American reservations in the Four Corners region of the Southwest. “I filled my plane with things that, at home, I take for granted,” says Ryan.
Still reflecting on those life-changing flights, Ryan tearfully recalls how COVID greatly affected those communities, with many people lacking basic resources, like access to water for handwashing. “It was nice to be able to play a small role in helping them,” he says.
A Privilege to Fly
Ryan says being a pilot is a privilege, and with that privilege comes the obligation to use his talent and resources for good. “I have a lot of roots in aviation,” he says. “But none of them are as significant to me personally as the ability to serve and give back to the community as an Angel Flight West volunteer pilot.”