As the central nervous system of Angel Flight West, the Mission Operations Team coordinates each of 5,000+ flights that crisscross the Western United States every year.
Made up of five dedicated coordinators, this team verifies passengers are safe for flight, talented volunteer pilots are on-hand to complete each mission, and flight schedules are thoroughly vetted. Through it all, its members stay in close communication with airborne volunteers, even as Mission Operations traditionally stays on the ground.
Of course, sometimes Mission Operations members do get to take to the clouds, themselves. That was the case for Natalie — who, after a year as a Mission Coordinator, recently soared as a Mission Assistant alongside first-time Angel Flight West volunteer pilot, Farhad Sigari.
“It was my first time in a small aircraft,” Natalie said. “I was nervous about it, only because both of us were new to the experience.”
Natalie soon realized, however, she had little reason to worry. Before passengers Carly and her five-year-old daughter, Talula, arrived for their flight, Natalie took time to get to know her pilot, Farhad, and was quickly impressed with his level of experience in the air.
“Farhad’s an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor with offices in Santa Monica, Long Beach, and Bakersfield,” Natalie said. “Every week, he flies himself to Bakersfield as part of his commute. Learning all of that made me feel really safe.”
Once in the air together, the newly forged team of travelers enjoyed a beautiful flight with clear skies and a captivating coastal route to Santa Monica. Views were unobstructed, so Farhad relied on visual flight rules (VFR), rather than on instruments, for most of the trip. All the while, Natalie gained an ever-deepening appreciation for his care and caution.
“He told me he’d always wanted to sign up for volunteering with Angel Flight West,” Natalie said, “but he’d decided to wait until he was comfortable flying his own kids. Recently, he’d flown his wife and three-year-old and five-year-old in his plane, and that’s when he’d decided to commit.”
Due to some weather changes in Santa Monica, Farhad switched from VFR to instrument flight rules (IFR) for their return trip — but nothing about their changing environment clouded the mood inside his plane.
“We talked the whole flight,” Natalie said. “Carly and her daughter both did great, and it was really sweet to hear Talula’s comments. She pointed out the ocean coast and the clouds. She was having a great time.”
Against a gorgeous sunset backdrop, as Farhad guided them over the Hollywood sign and downtown Los Angeles, Natalie realized she felt more comfortable with air travel than she ever had before. Today, she has an even greater love of the work at Angel Flight West — and of the incredible network of people, in the air and on the ground, who keep it all humming.
“I feel like a kid now when it comes to airplanes,” Natalie said. “This was a really cool experience and I’m thankful to help others access their health care this way.”
Article by David Radcliff