Flying Vikings, a non-profit organization located in Belton, Texas provided a special treat for 25 area kids and their families on Saturday, Sept. 30, at Spirit of St. Louis Airport.
“We’re allowing kids that have illnesses or disabilities free airplane rides and we give them the controls and they actually fly the planes,” said Paul Hansen, the president and founder of Flying Vikings.
Flying Vikings uses more than 400 volunteer pilots and their personal Cessna and Piper aircraft. They partnered with Friends of Kids with Cancer, a local St. Louis organization which provides educational, recreational and emotional support.
“The journey with cancer is very much like a roller coaster," said Brandy Bimslager, the program director of Friends of Kids with Cancer. "There’s lots of ups and downs. They experience a lot of missing school missing opportunities. Obviously, their health conditions are very difficult and it’s difficult on the whole family so this is really fun that we can include the siblings and the parents.”
William Bartold, an 11-year-old sixth grader at North Middle School, was thrilled with his ride, but battling cancer since April 2016, Bartold knows first-hand how difficult the battle can be.
“It’s really tough," he said, "because all of your friends are going out to do stuff and you’re in the hospital a lot and you can’t do much and you’re just sitting there and you feel terrible, you’re always sick.”
While families waited to go fly they also participated in crafts, face painting and received pizza for lunch. Flying Vikings flies thousands of kids a year all over the Midwest and South states.
“This one happened to be cancer, but we hold ourselves out to all ailments, down syndrome, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy. Probably a third of the kids we fly, which are thousands a year, are in wheelchairs,” said Hansen. “The reward to me is really watching someone who’s been through something especially like cancer, use to going into a clinic or hospital their lives are turned upside down, and they have kind of lost control to some extent, and we’re giving them the control to something that they can actually take a real airplane and control it. And that’s uplifting for them, it makes them forget about their diagnosis, share a little bit of time with their family, smile, laugh, cry. They are really eye-opening events for the kid, the families, the volunteer pilots the volunteers, they are life-changing for everybody.”
And William Bartold had one last piece of good news to share. “two or three days ago we got our all clear scans.”
Flying Vikings plans to return next year. For more information about the organization go to www.flyingvikings.org.