Command Pilot Pete Bernardin
Pete Bernardin is the type of person who naturally brings joy to any room or cockpit. His presence offers a positive relief to those around him; an opportunity for some lightheartedness, which is often not found in many of Angel Flight West’s passengers’ lives. Staff at the AFW office also benefit from Pete’s presence as his office visits always provide a much-needed break from the heavy conversations the coordinators often have. AFW is lucky to have Pete as a Command Pilot and friend for almost 20 years.
Pete was born with a passion for airplanes. He doesn’t remember exactly what fascinated him about aviation or why, but he knew that it was his calling. There was never any question about what he would do for a living. Pete began flying lessons at age 14 and earned his pilot certificate at 16. He entered the Navy in their flight-training program in 1953, and flew for them for 26 years. After retiring from the Navy, he moved to California for a position as a production test pilot with Douglas Aircraft, later Boeing, flying for them until he retired 22 years later.
Pete began flying for Angel Flight West in 2000 and has flown missions almost every month since. He learned about AFW from a few pilot friends he flew with for Flying Samaritans who also flew for AFW. He has been hooked ever since.
Pete loves flying all kinds of passengers, but his favorite missions are for children who, “for no fault of their own, have terrible illnesses.” Many of these missions he has flown are between the Central Valley and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital (LPCH) in Palo Alto, CA. Pete has a particularly special connection with one family from Visalia, CA. A terrible skin disease called recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa affected their two young sons. It is an incurable condition that causes the skin to be very fragile and blister easily. Both boys received treatment at LPCH. One of the boys passed away in 2016, but Pete still flies the family when he can for the surviving brother’s continued treatment. Pete has been flying the family for nine years, and will often wait to fly them home.
One of Pete’s most enjoyable missions took place a few weeks ago. Pete flew three teens home from Camp Laurel on an especially long mission from San Bernardino, CA to Cloverdale, CA. He recalls that it was the best trip he’s had in a year. He loved everything about it. The campers were laughing the whole flight, and were very appreciative. Their families were waiting in Cloverdale and were so happy when they arrived. Pete had a high that lasted days!
Pete also loves the camp flights for hearing impaired children. One of the most memorable missions he flew was for four hearing-impaired siblings whose parents are also hearing-impaired. When the family arrived at the airport, they formed a circle and prayed in sign language. They had never been in a small plane before, and their parents were handing over their four kids to Pete. There is an incredible amount of responsibility involved in every Angel Flight mission.
When they landed, Pete walked his passengers into a large room with around 70 other children. There was a lot of giggling and laughing, but there was no audible conversation. Everyone was signing to each other, and Pete was really touched by how beautiful it was
To this day, Pete has flown 559 missions and counting. He says, “Of all the flying I’ve done over many years, none of it has been as important or as gratifying as what I do for Angel Flight West.” We are all grateful to have Pete in our lives.