By Christina Martinez
Smiles from ear to ear could be seen across the faces of a few area youth who flew 2,000 feet above Sugar Land with the non-profit organization, Flying Vikings. The event was held last Saturday at Anson Aviation Hanger at the Sugar Land Regional Airport where children from ages 4-18 with a chronic disease or disability were given the opportunity to fly in a private airplane, and even given the reins to fly the plane and become the pilot for awhile.
About 12 children were signed up for Saturday’s event, each getting their own personal pilot and flight overlooking area landscape and scenery. Five pilots volunteered their time to the Flying Vikings children and each gave a flying lesson to teach basic flight skills.
One Viking signed up was Victor Cardenas who suffers from spastic cerebral palsy. The condition affects body movement and muscle control and for Victor, affects his walking. Victor’s family says the condition doesn’t keep Victor from doing exactly what he wants to.
“If he puts his mind to it he’s going to do it,” stepfather Patrick Gonzales said. “He’s so brave and determined. He may not say much, but he wears his heart on his sleeve.”
Victor sat in the front seat and was accompanied by his younger brother Diego Cardenas. After buckling up and final goodbye waves were waved, Pilot Corredor started the engine and headed for the runway. Headsets were distributed so that the plane cabin could hear the pilot speaking to the control room for take off direction and Victor assisted with the takeoff setup. After takeoff and once Corredor elevated the plane to 2,000 feet the controls were handed over. Victor flew the airplane south. Made a couple right and left turns and even did a full 360 circle.
The plane ride lasted about 25 minutes, and Corredor said Victor was a natural pilot.
“While we were up there Victor didn’t say much, but he was smiling from ear to ear,” Corredor said. “That’s what it’s about. Seeing these kids smile.”
Flying Vikings has been taking children into the sky since 2006. Paul Hansen founded the non-profit organization from a calling to do something more with his passion for flying and helping children.
“It’s all about the children,” Hansen said. “It’s about taking the child out of their element and giving them the chance to do something that they may not normally get to do. Our mission is to touch the lives of children in different communities and put a smile on faces even if it’s just for a few hours.”
After all flights were taxied and completed, arts and crafts were provided and sponsored by Home Depot. Clay flower pots were painted bright colors by the Flying Viking participants and family members, along with other hand crafts. Papa Johns also sponsored the event and provided pizza for the participants and family members. Volunteers from St. Laurence Catholic School Lion’s club and local sororities were also in attendance. The event closed with a few more smiles for a group photo of the Flying Vikings and their families and friends.
Flying Vikings is based out of Temple, but schedules Fly Days all over Texas. Another Fly Day is scheduled for next year in Sugar Land and also a couple in Houston. Hansen said these fly days are only possible by getting the support of the community.
“If you can donate one dollar, 10 dollars or maybe 1,000 dollars anything helps,” Hansen said. “But I don’t want people to just donate money. I want the community to come out to the event and meet the children and take part in the event. I want people to see these kids’ smiles.”