Tuesday, 08 May 2012 by Justin Cox
On Saturday at Temple Regional Airport, several children got to take the flight of their lives as part of the Flying Vikings.
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.
Alongside Executive Director Paul Hansen, the children get to take part in a real life experience away from the clinical environment that they are so accustomed to.
Saturday at Temple Airport, Hansen and a team of volunteer pilots and aircraft owners took up a group of several children between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Belton's Kari Bradshaw brought her daughter Kandis, 9, to the airport, and sat in the back while one of the veteran pilots took the pair up for a half-hour flight around Central Texas.
Kandis wasn't too interested in taking the wheel like many of the other children that take part in the program, but she said she had a lot of fun either way.
Her mother said she was overjoyed that her child got to participate in the program.
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 specifically target 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.
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.
Hansen left a lucrative career in New Jersey where he worked in financial investments to start his Flying Vikings organization.
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."