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EAAers Coordinate Relief Efforts for Sandy Victims

 

Sandy relief
Young Eagle Alex Bowley, 12, with some of the relief supplies he collected for Sandy victims.

Sandy relief
Charley Valera, center, briefs pilots upon arrival at Fitchburg Municipal.

Sandy relief
Valera displays some of the shrink-wrapped Sandy relief supplies that filled a conference room at Fitchburg Municipal Airport.

November 7, 2012 - Last week's call to action from AEROBridge asked GA pilots to get involved in the relief effort for victims of Superstorm Sandy, and we're pleased to report that GA has and continues to make a difference for the still-hurting folks caught in the storm's path.

One local story comes from Graeme Smith, EAA 1047360, of Newport, Rhode Island. He appealed to local residents near his airport (Newport State Airport - UUU) seeking clothing and food in support of AEROBridge's efforts for children on Staten Island left with nothing after the storm.

Twelve-year-old Young Eagle Alex Bowley got involved, gathering 90 pounds of clothing himself in the space of 12 hours, then helped load a total of 1,800 pounds of other donated supplies from the community onto aircraft that were flown to FRG - Republic Airport in Farmingdale, New York, by volunteer pilots over the weekend. Alex also assisted with fueling aircraft at UUU, Smith said.

Smith, who has been a private pilot for about 18 months, told TV station WPRI that the entire community came together to make his charity flights possible. Four pilots made eight round-trip flights to bring much-needed supplies to the staging area for further distribution.

We also heard from Charley Valera, EAA 721704, of Lunenburg, Massachusetts, and EAA Chapter 1454 in Fitchburg. Prompted by the AEROBridge appeal late last week, he got in touch with organization officials and began to pull together a plan: recruit pilots on Friday from the Fitchburg Pilots Association at Fitchburg Municipal (KFIT), collect and package supplies on Saturday, then perform airlift ops to Long Island on Sunday.

To get the word out for donated supplies Valera used social networking including Facebook. "From there, it went viral," Valera explained in an e-mail, stating that about 100 people came throughout Saturday with coats, blankets, cases of bottled water, and pet supplies.

"We had four to six people working all day Saturday to package everything in shrink wrap bags and vacuum the air out," he continued. Everything was weighed and marked. Then, on Sunday morning, people met at 7 at the hangars as pickup trucks brought packed supplies to be loaded into aircraft.

In all, 16 planes - dubbed the Sweet 16 Squadron - departed on compassion flight squawk codes provided by Boston TRACON in advance, with help from an air traffic controller who was an FPA member. "We staggered departures and arrivals by minutes only," Valera explained. "First and last plane crossed paths over the Long Island sound and we rocked our wings in acknowledgement. Upon arrival at the Republic airport in Farmingdale Long Island, KFRG, we were greeted by many linemen who were very grateful and happy to see us."

They unloaded the freight "like we were jumbo airliners," Valera added, then everything was taken to a storage hangar until distribution later that afternoon.

"All went better than planned, and somehow we were rewarded with tailwinds both ways. GA at its best!"

The 16 planes from Fitchburg were among the 40 or so that AEROBridge said flew relief missions into FRG, MJX (Toms River, New Jersey), and 31E (West Creek, New Jersey) providing more than 40,000 pounds of relief donations to stricken areas.

From AEROBridge: "A big thank you to the aviation member organizations, especially AOPA, EAA, and NBAA. We would like to thank USAirports in Rochester and Million Air in Albany for collecting donations. We would like to thank Atlantic Aviation in Farmingdale, Ocean Aire in Tom's River, and the people at Eagle's Nest Airport.

"So many individuals are stepping up and we are all working to make a difference when our own fellow Americans need help. As one of our colleagues pointed out, 'If the situation were flipped, we would want others helping us.'"

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