Special kids to get chance to fly an airplane
Sunday, 29 April 2012 by Justin Cox
For the past 10 years, Paul Hansen and the Flying Vikings have been taking children up in small planes throughout Central Texas — not to just see the sites, but to take the wheel in the cockpit seat.
You may think that such an endeavor could only be undertaken by a man with a death wish; but in truth, Hansen said he's never felt more alive.
The Flying Vikings aren't made up of just any children. They are kids between 6 and 18 who have been diagnosed with chronic disease or debilitating physical disability. Many of the children have cancer, down syndrome or a variety of conditions that cause them to spend the vast majority of their time in a clinical environment.
Hansen said his non-profit organization, based in Temple for the last five years, provides nothing short of a life-changing moment for children such as these, giving them an uplifting experience unlike anything they've ever known.
"What we're trying to do is create something that they'll never forget and give them something that will give them a lot of confidence," Hansen said. "We stick them right in the front — we give them the controls. We try to do something scenic. We'll go out to the lake, to the Expo Center. If they live nearby, we'll swing over and try to find their house from the air."
Hansen said that he wanted to target specifically children who have basically missed out on a lot of their childhood, a time that should be spent doing new things, having fun and enjoying life.
Next Saturday at Temple Airport, Hansen and a team of five volunteer pilots and aircraft owners will be taking up the next group of about 14 children between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Each child gets his or her own flight to experience themselves — and while they're sitting up front in the cockpit, their parents sit in the backseat to witness it.
Each flight lasts about 30 minutes, but that is hardly a measure for the joy and thrills for the children and families alike.
Hansen left a lucrative career in New Jersey where he worked in financial investments to start his Flying Vikings organization.
"I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit, you might say, but I want to look back and say I did something good — having affected thousands of lives in a powerful way — I could never be happier," Hansen said. "I felt I had a higher calling — a lot of people thought I was nuts."
He said it continues to be the most fulfilling thing he's done in his life.
"I want to give them something significant, get out of the clinic, get out of the hospital," he said. They're so used to being in a clinical setting- this is the complete opposite of what they experience every day. It's very powerful. their parents are crying, they're crying. It's huge for them."