All posts by Josh Olson

Ask Josh: What’s the deal with the AFW call sign?

For anyone not aware, Angel Flight West has a unique three-letter call sign (NGF) designated by the FAA for handling, priority and marketing. Many pilots using this call sign have experienced some level of priority and other pilots have joined AFW after hearing the call sign used by controllers. As of January 1st this year, the FAA changed the way in which we are to use the NGF (Angel Flight) Call Sign in response to concerns about unauthorized aircraft trying to access US Airspace using designated three-letter call signs like ours.

Each volunteer pilot is now assigned with a unique four-digit number to file with NGF for Angel Flight missions. Pilot numbers will currently show up on your Mission Assignment Form and in the future will be found in your pilot record. You can send an email to to receive your number, or just wait until your next mission assignment and it will be on the form. Please note using NGF + your tail number is no longer accepted by the FAA. We strongly encourage everyone flying an AFW mission to file using the Angel Flight Call Sign. While it is not required, it is helpful for the coordination team to track locations of flight, help us recruit more pilots, and offers some preferential treatment for your flying.

For further information and instructions please view our previous blog post on the call sign change: Call Sign Changes.

Should you have any questions about this change or anything else, please give us a call at (310)390-2958 or email us at Thank you and happy flying!

Gaining Altitude: AFW in 2014

We are off to a great start in 2014! Our membership is up 10 percent. Total flights flown are up 17 percent. Flights requested are up eight percent. And most importantly, the number of passengers served is up seven percent. Passengers like one-year-old Zohie M. from Ronan, MT, who suffers from a condition called synostosis, runs the risk of severely stunted growth and development without surgical intervention at Seattle Children’s Hospital because her bones are fused together. Her condition causes her pain, and causes her young parents a lot of fear and anxiety. Angel Flight West offers hope for healing and health by providing the gift of flight needed to help Zohie and family access the medical care they desperately need.

It is incredibly humbling to serve in my new role of Executive Director at AFW because I see stories of indomitable courage and strength like Zohie and her parents every day, and I admire our passengers. In the same way, I admire our amazing pilots and volunteers who generously give of their passion for flying to serve our courageous passengers. I also admire our committed, talented staff and volunteer leadership who balance the busy and sometimes crazy world of our passengers, pilots, health care partners, and patrons to accomplish our mission efficiently and effectively. Between our courageous passengers, our passionate volunteers, and our dedicated staff, we make an amazing team!

Our challenge as we move forward is positioning our organization to serve more people in need of our gifts of flight. We are working hard to evolve our services to make things easier for our passengers, pilots, health care partners, and patrons. As patients become more and more responsible for arranging their own healthcare, we are continually revising our request process to make it easier for our passengers and health care partners. We eliminated member fees and started directly advertising on social media to sign up over 100 new members last month. We created the electronic waiver to make the day of flight simpler for our pilots. We hosted the Endeavor Awards to raise awareness and patronage for public benefit flying. (See pages 2 & 3). We’ve revised our website to help us get information out that is relevant and timely. Later this year, we will be integrating Earth Angels as a user group in AFIDS. This will allow us to recruit volunteer drivers across our region to assist in transportation to and from healthcare, positioning us to offer “curb to curb” service for our passengers. And there is more to come.

Angel Flight West is adapting to the challenges surrounding us while keeping our eyes on our mission. While we are buffeted by winds, we will continue to gain altitude. As we pass 60,000 total flights flown, let’s keep our communication open and the passion for our mission strong. Thank you for making this organization a source of such  impact and inspiration. I’m really looking forward to what we can accomplish in our next 30 years!

AFW Volunteer Pilots Turn Passion into Compassion

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When you join AFW as a Volunteer Pilot, you are joining an amazing group of men and women who take to the skies in the interest of helping others.  We’ve got 1,300+ active members in 13 western states, who collectively fly an average of 10 flights each day to help those with a compelling need.  Each day our Volunteer Pilots help those in need, providing one-on-one service to directly benefit our passengers. In recent months, our members have flown:

  • To Portland, to enable cancer patient Miriam to participate in a clinical trial.
  • From San Diego to Imperial to deliver donations of much needed blood.
  • Back and forth from Southern Utah to California, to bring passenger Melanie to her bi-monthly kidney cancer treatments.
  • To Los Angeles, to bring Adriel and his dad Ruben to UCLA for Adriel’s ongoing treatment for Muscular Dystrophy.
  • To East Elementary school in Cedar City, Utah, to deliver Santa and school supplies to underprivileged students. (Even Santa can use help from the AFW Angels from time to time.)

The list goes on and on, with more than 3,500 missions flown in 2013. Right now we have about 100 missions waiting to be assigned, but sadly each month we are unable to find a Volunteer Pilot for every mission, meaning that many of our passengers have to make other arrangements. The more qualified Volunteer Pilots we have, the more passengers will have an Angel at their side for vital travel.

Our pilots tell us that in addition to enjoying the fuel discounts and more opportunities to fly, the chance to use their flying skills to give back to the community was their number 1 reason for joining AFW.  What will your reason be?

In addition to flying missions, AFW members come together from time to time for fly-In gatherings and a speaker series on aviation topics.  And our regional wings  host pilot events closer to home.  AFW Volunteer Pilots can develop their skills with the new Culture of Professionalism toolkit.  And of course AFW pilots are all recognizable by our logoed decals, hats and shirts, so flying with AFW is a great way to meet other pilots in the hanger.  Perhaps you’ve heard the Angel Flight call sign, for example “Angel Flight 1-2-Bravo,” used by another aircraft while in flight?  When you do, you’ll know your fellow pilot has a very grateful passenger.

To become an Angel Flight West Command Pilot you need to have 250 hours as PIC and complete a short ground orientation.  Many of our pilots rent aircraft, so if you haven’t bought your dream plane yet, you can still fly with AFW.  If you haven’t yet reached the qualifications to be an AFW Command Pilot, you can volunteer as a mission assistant or provide ground transportation. As a pilot you have a unique set of skills and expertise that are in high demand.  By joining Angel Flight West, you can share your love of flying with someone who will truly appreciate your special talents.  Click here to browse the available missions in your area.  When you’re ready to turn your passion into compassion, and share your love of flying to help a deserving individual or family, become a member. Thanks for your consideration!

Thoughts From Some of Our AFW Volunteer Pilots


Our Volunteer Pilots are essential to operations here at AFW, the spinner to our propellers if you will. We simply could not provide compassionate air travel to hundreds of people and families in the West each year without our dedicated and compassionate group of volunteer pilots. We can give you dozens of reasons to volunteer as a pilot and fly with AFW, (actually more than dozens, there are about a hundred missions waiting to be assigned in our region right now), but we know that our Members’ reasons for joining and sticking with AFW are the best reasons. So today we’d like to let some of our volunteer pilots speak for themselves.

Volunteer Pilot Dwight joined Angel Flight West nearly 10 years ago as a way to combine his passion for flying with the joy he feels helping others.  Dwight has fond memories of all his AFW Missions, but one in particular came to mind when we asked him. Dwight said, “I remember a patient named Cynthia whom I was flying from Salt Lake City to Modesto. She commented to me almost in passing as we were saying our goodbyes that she would literally “not be alive if it were not for the repeated generosity of Angel Flight West and their pilots” who were routinely flying her to much needed treatment for a rare illness called pulmonary arteriovenous malformation.  When I called my wife to tell her I was about to fly home I was too choked up emotionally to speak. I was so humbled.”

Volunteer Pilot Rayvon said, “Like many pilots who have worked hard to earn their certificates I’ve found after a while it becomes clear that flying for training, the occasional pleasure trip with the family or just the proverbial $100 hamburger just does not provide a sense of satisfaction they once did. Angel Flight affords an opportunity to upgrade my passion for flying to compassion for others. I can use my skills and equipment to assist others who might not be able to help themselves. The sense of accomplishment after each mission is what keeps me coming back.”

Oregon Wing Volunteer Pilot Derrick’s answer to our question sums it up nicely: “Flying Angel Flight missions allows me to help people in their time of need, while allowing me the pleasure of flying across this great country.”

And Kevin, who flies with the Northern California Wing, said, “Flying for Angel Flight West has not been just something that I do, it’s become part of who I am.”

To become an AFW Volunteer Pilot you need to have you need to have 250 hours as PIC and complete a short ground orientation. After orientation, where and when you fly is up to you. When you have some free time coming up, just browse our Available Missions and choose where you want to go and whom you want to help. All flights are at your discretion, even after they are scheduled and confirmed. We understand personal minimums, and our passengers all know that since you are responsible for a safe flight, we have systems in place should you need to cancel or delay.

Can Angel Flight West become a part of who you are? Why not check out our Volunteer Pilot requirements and join today.

Why Passengers Need Angels

Aviation is proof that given the will, we have the capacity to achieve the impossible.
— Edward Rickenbacker

So how are you doing on those New Year’s resolutions you made last month?  Many of us decide to exercise, eat better, read more.  Whatever they are, all those resolutions usually boil down to one thing: our pledge to be better in the coming year.  But do we stick to them?  What if instead of changing yourself, you used your existing your skills and talents to be better, to do better?

Most resolutions are about changing a behavior, which requires repetition and dedication, two things pilots are very familiar with.  To become a pilot you log hours and you study and you pass your tests and all that effort brings a great change and a great reward: suddenly you have the power to shrink the map.

Once you get your wings, you can travel great distances almost as easily as if you’re going to the corner store for a carton of milk.  Our AFW passengers aren’t as lucky; for most of them travel is nearly impossible.  All AFW passengers have a need to get to a distant airport, but can’t afford the cost of the plane tickets that will bring them to life-saving medical treatment or important respite from their troubles.  Many live in remote areas of the West, and driving to the best doctor, the special needs camp, or to the home of an ailing parent would be an impossible strain on health and resources.  These are just a few of the reasons AFW passengers need pilots to volunteer their skills and aircraft.  You can read more about them here.

AFW passengers are all hoping for a positive change in the coming year, but they can’t do it alone.  Too many of our missions are canceled for lack of an available pilot.  Each of these flights represents a chance for someone.  We vet each passenger for financial and compassionate need; all of our passengers have a compelling need to get to a distant terminal.  Every story is different  and the common element in all of them is the volunteer pilot who commits to giving his or her time and energy to making life a little better, one flight at a time, one passenger at a time.  Click here to learn how you can use your skills to help AFW passengers.  Doesn’t that sound like a nice resolution for the coming year?

Get Out of Your Flight Rut


Maybe you got into general aviation flying for the thrill of controlling your own wings.  Maybe for the chance to see new places from a new perspective.  Whatever your reason, you’ve logged many hours in the air and on the ground to become a private pilot, and your reward for all that work is the chance to go wherever, whenever.  When you got your pilots license, maybe you were like most of us at AFW and made a list of places you want to visit, and airports to add to your landings list.

So what do you do when your list of exciting new destinations becomes the been-there, flown there list?  What do you do when you and your hanger buddies want a new adventure, a new challenge?  It’s easy to get into a bit of a rut, but here are some ideas for some new flight patterns:

  • Pick three counties in your state to visit.  Then pick the three counties in a neighboring state with similar names.
  • Like barbeque, or tacos?  Are giant balls of string your thing?  You can create a new list of flight schedules based on just about any hobby or cuisine.
  • Want to fly for a better reason?  If you check our Available Missions, we have a long list of destinations to try, and passengers in need of travel to critical healthcare appointments.

Plus, flying for Angel Flight West has perks of its own: Member Benefits and you can meet other AFW Angels in the hangar.  One of your new AFW Volunteer friends may know just the spot for the best barbecue in the West.

AFW Missions are for the benefit of the passenger, but of course all missions are at the discretion of the Volunteer Pilot’s personal minimums.  When you fly, how often you fly and whom you fly are all up to you. We have easy systems in place to request a mission and canceling for any reason is always your choice.  Mission Coordinators are available to help you with every stage.  It’s your aircraft, your donation, and you’re always in control.

If you’re looking for the best reason to fly, consider flying deserving passengers for Angel Flight West. You can learn more about AFW and the passengers we exist to serve. Learn about our Command Pilot requirements and orientation process. Joining AFW is a great way to find new horizons. Ready to explore new destinations? Join Angel Flight West today!

What Passengers Don’t Say

Understanding Our Passengers
By Josh Olson

Upon finding a pilot for an Angel Flight West (AFW) mission, the AFW staff frequently calls the passenger only to hear. “I never heard from a pilot, so I scraped together money from friends and family to buy a commercial ticket,” or “I started driving yesterday,” or even, “I canceled my appointments.” This type of response is really frustrating, both for staff and pilots. We work hard to fill these flights and pilots work hard to free up their schedule and time for AFW missions.  So why does this so frequently happen? What can we do about this to help our pilots?

AFW instructs and informs new passengers at least three times as to how our process works and what to expect. The first is through their social worker or medical provider. The second is through a volunteer phone call that goes through an extensive script. The third is direct contact from the staff as their mission approaches.  Obviously, if they call us to check-in as instructed, or if a pilot calls them upon signing up for a mission these are additional points of contact.

Yet with all of these points of contact, the passenger and often their family member companions are still in a daze. They have been diagnosed with a rare illness or have been fighting a disease and the results have overwhelmed them. They are trying to balance their work and home life with new rounds of medical treatment in a foreign area and they can simply become dazed.  They often have what we call “selective hearing” or they hear what they want to hear. For better success and less frustration as a pilot, we will detail some practical ways to help the patient and the AFW coordination staff in this process.

1.  Frequent and clear communication is important.  Pilots often assume that the patient is well versed in how AFW works, which is often not the case.  As soon as you sign up for a mission, call the passenger; no matter how far away the flight is.  Then call again a few times, time permitting, before the flight.  Include in your conversation weather considerations, timing, and what to expect.

2.  On your initial call, verify all of the information on the mission form is correct.  In particular, verify the scheduled dates and times for the flight.  Ensure that the planned arrival time allows enough time to reach their appointment/meeting, verify the passenger’s contact information (especially mobile or last minute contact, whether the passenger knows the planned airport and meeting point, etc..  Provide your contact information and encourage them to contact you should anything change.  Also be sure they have ground transportation and lodging arrangements taken care of ahead of time and have them contact the AFW coordination team if anything changes.

3. Pilots sometimes like to wait until closer to the date of the flight to sign up for missions because they want to make sure weather is acceptable.  Some pilots say they do this because they don’t want the passenger to have “false hope” that their flight will be covered, or that someone with de-icing equipment will sign up.  We would encourage the opposite. Sign up when you have a date available regardless of weather. We just don’t have that many planes available for last minute bad weather trips.  Also, the passenger would rather know a pilot has signed up for the mission and then have a later conversation with the pilot if weather forecasts or some other factor indicates the flight might not happen.

4.  The passengers we are dealing with are frequently in dire situations socioeconomically, physically, and mentally. They can flake out. They can have bad contact numbers.  They can say one thing and mean another.  A lot of this can’t be avoided. However, your AFW mission coordination team is here to help! Call us. You are not bugging us. It is our job and pleasure to help you!  We can chase down numbers, track information, translate Spanish, and give you some more information.  On the same note, we want to hear of questionable behavior by passengers. Whether they show up very late, are disruptive, not responsive, or possibly undeserving, we want to know so we can act accordingly. We have checks and balances in place during the intake process but we can certainly miss a few folks or run into someone taking advantage of our services.

We hope this helps give a little more insight into the passengers we serve and reduces the frustration of canceled flights.  We all want to serve as many passengers as we can, as efficiently as we can.  We thank you for all of your service and help on your end. We will continue to work with you to make the best use of your invaluable piloting resources.

Preparing Your Family to Fly: Practical tips to get ready for a medical flight

You likely know by now that flying in a 4 to 6 seat aircraft is different than flying commercially. So what can you do to prepare yourself, and your kids, for a private flight to medical treatment or wherever you need our volunteer pilots to take you?

There are a few simple things you can do to keep yourself and your children safe and comfortable on the flight.

Child on Small Plane

Hearing protection: Earplugs or a protective headset are necessary on a private plane to protect your hearing. Even on a commercial flight, you may want to use earplugs to reduce noise, and on a private flight they are essential. Please consult with your pilot, they will likely have extra pairs of headsets. If not, you can buy commercial earplugs at the drugstore. Keep in mind the flight headsets we wear for hearing protection and communication are different from the headphones you would use to listen to music. Regular earphones will not protect against hearing loss. If you are using earplugs for a baby or toddler, it’s a good idea to cover them with a hat or earmuffs, to keep your child from removing them during flight. Of course, please check with your doctor about recommended ear plugs for yourself and your child, and ask if there are any precautions you should take due to a medical condition.

Seatbelts and car seats: All of our Angel Flight West pilots use aircraft that have the appropriate FAA certified seatbelts for adults. If you are flying with a baby or toddler, his or her own car seat is the best option for the flight. If you can secure the car seat in a front facing seat, that may help minimize motion sickness, and will also allow them to enjoy the flight more. Speak with your volunteer pilot or Mission Coordinator if you have any questions or concerns about fitting your car seat into the plane.

Comfort: It gets chilly up in the air, and the rear seat of a private plane is usually a few degrees cooler than the front. Wear layers, and a blanket or sleeping bag is a nice way to make sure everyone can stay warm and cozy.

Air pressure: You will probably feel pressure building in your ears upon takeoff and landing. Swallow, yawn or chew gum to alleviate the pressure, or make your ears “pop”. For babies and toddlers, you can give them a bottle or pacifier to suck during takeoff and landing, which will equalize the pressure in their ears.

These simple additions to your flight checklist will make for a more comfortable and safe experience as you soar with Angel Flight West to better health. Also please keep in mind that private planes are more like traveling in car – there are no bathrooms or catering service on board. For a more complete description of what it’s like to travel on a private plane click here.

For a look at what it would be like to fly with Angel Flight West, check out this short video.

How to Choose the Best Medical Treatment Outside your Hometown

If you have cancer or another serious medical condition, you want to have the best possible treatment.  But what do you do if you’re in a small town without specialized care or treatment options? What if you need a second opinion for a medical diagnosis?

The decision to get medical treatment away from your hometown is an important one. Here are a few suggestions to help you make the best decision about treatment:

Review all your options with your doctor.  It may be that the best treatment for you is further than you can comfortably drive, but Angel Flight West can help with no cost flights to medical treatment or other pressing need, so don’t let distance stop you from making the best choice for you and your family.  If you don’t live in one of the 13 Western states Angel Flight West serves, you may be helped by one of our sister organizations.

Take your doctor’s suggestions and ask others about their experiences.  If your doctor can’t connect you to other patients or medical professionals, try reaching out to patient groups or social workers located where you are considering treatment.  If you have a rare condition, look for a national association dedicated to the condition, and you should be able to find a group that can help.  Type your diagnosis plus the word “association” into any search engine for links.

Speaking of the internet, it can be a very helpful or a very scary place when you’re ill and seeking information.  Do yourself a favor and use credible websites for information about treatments or procedures.  Try the National Institutes of Health, the Mayo Clinic, the American Cancer Society, or a similar organization for your information search.   If a website is trying to sell you a miracle cure, they may not have your best interest at heart.

Speak with your insurance or Medicare provider about the options you and your doctor have chosen.  Ask for a social worker at the hospital to help you understand the fees and coverage. Make your best decision based on all the information available.

Of course, if you need free medical transportation to treatment, make a flight request to Angel Flight West.  Call us today:  (888) 426-2643.  Or click here to request a flight online. We will need further information verified by a healthcare professional. For more information about making a flight request and all the helpful types of missions we fly, please click here. You may have some big decisions to make, but once you do, our volunteer pilots can help you get there.

Techniques to Help Relax While You Fly to Medical Treatment.

We’ve talked about ways to help a young child get comfortable with the idea of flying in a small plane. But what about those of us rational, level headed adults who have a fear of flying? When you are ready to take your first trip with Angel Flight West, we want you to have a relaxing and enjoyable experience.

Angel Flight Take Off

If you’re nervous about flying to medical treatment, you can use breathing exercises to help calm you during your first flight, or when you’re waiting in the doctor’s office, or any time you want a little mental break.

You can practice breathing techniques in any setting. To begin, adjust your position to be as comfortable as you can, whether you are sitting, standing or lying down. Then try one of these techniques:

1. Counted breaths: Begin by focusing on your breathing, in and out through your nose if possible. Observe your breath for three in-and-out cycles. On your next inhalation, breathe in to a slow count of three, and breathe out to a slow count of four. Repeat five times. If you can, try to increase your counts, breathing in to a count of four, and breathing out to a count of six.

2. Straw breath: Purse your lips like you are sipping through a straw. This can be relaxed; the point is to make a small “O” with your mouth. Inhale slowly through your mouth, counting if you like. Pause briefly when your lungs are full, and then exhale slowly through your mouth, keeping the O shape during the exercise. Repeat your inhale and exhale, sipping the air in and out as if through a straw. You may notice the air coming in feels cooler than with regular breathing.

3. Tension and release: If you’re nervous, your muscles are probably already a little tense, so you’re already on your way to employing this next technique. To begin, take a deep breath in, and make fists with your hands (careful of your fingernails). As you exhale, release your fists and relax. Breathe in again, make fists, and clench your arms to your sides, holding the tension all the way up into your shoulders. Exhale and relax everything. Repeat as much as you’d like. If the setting allows, you can extend the tension and release to your legs, neck and shoulders and even scrunch up your face on an inhalation, and relax your whole body as you exhale.

For any of these techniques, your eyes may be open or closed, and you may repeat the breathing method for as long as you like.

All of these methods can be practiced just about anywhere to help you calm your fear of flying, and they’re all pretty subtle. If you’re waiting in the lounge for your flight with one of our commercial partners, no one will notice a little breathing practice. And if you’re with one of our Angel Flight West volunteer pilots, we don’t mind breathing and we’ll do everything possible to make you comfortable on the flight as well. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of our pilots, or let them know that you’re a little nervous. They can often help by explaining what’s going on.