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One Epic Flight to Launch Thousands of Others

Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Give Hope Wings
December 29, 2017 - 12:16 PM

Commander’s Message

After a year of fundraising and planning, and fund-raising and planning – and more fundraising – we are winging our way south at last. It was so good to close the hatches, start our engines, taxi out, apply full throttle and take off on our great adventure – circumnavigating the Americas for Hope Air.

Although I am writing this in late December, it will not be published until soon after our launch from Kelowna International Airport. All going well, we’ve had a good send-off hosted by the Kelowna Flying Club and witnessed by a large crowd of supporters and well-wishers. We were escorted out of Kelowna airspace by a flight of Vans RV’s from Vernon - part of our multi-aircraft formation departure on this maiden flight of our 50-stop itinerary. And we hope you’ll see some dramatic videos of our send-off in the press and on our website and social media.

On this first segment, from Kelowna to San Die-go, Peter Smith from Port Colborne is flying with me in my RV6; Russ and Harold are in close formation in Russ’s RV9A.
Wish us Godspeed as we embark on this 20,000 mile, 60 day odyssey around the Americas, flying across 20 countries. And please watch our progress on the home page of where our heading, altitude, groundspeed and exact position will be automatically displayed and updated every 10 minutes - live via GPS tracker.

Our part is to now execute a safe and enjoyable flight – making regular posts along the way. Yours is to help us spread the word of this mission further and wider, inviting further donations to Hope Air as we fly to fund thousands of free medical flights for disadvantaged Canadians who must get to healthcare. Getting Canadians to Getting Better.


Bon Voyage from Kelowna’s International Airport

All of us at YLW offer our very best wishes to the crew of Give Hope Wings, this most unusual and ambitious flight around the Americas for Hope Air. For some years now, we’ve followed the incredible service which Hope Air provides to disadvantaged Canadians who have to get to healthcare far from home; in 2017 alone, this iconic Canadian charity arranged 1417 flights in and out of YLW – that’s four every day! 

We’re glad to be amongst the sponsors of this expedition, and we’re pleased and proud the flight originates right here at YLW. We look forward to welcoming the pilots home in a couple of months and wish them safe flying.

Sam Samaddar— Director of Kelowna Int’l Airport

Message from Hope Air CEO

Over a year ago, Dave, Russ, Harold, and I began our first discussion about what would become the Give Hope Wings project. Did we ever dare to think our plans could impact so many? And yet, as we approach the end of 2017, we close out a year of spectacular accomplishments by the crew that have exceeded even our most ambitious expectations.

With a goal of $500,000, the money raised by Give Hope Wings has the potential to fund over 2,000 flights. That’s 6% of our total number of flights for one year—an outstanding contribution and a direct and immediate benefit to the clients we serve coast to coast.

What’s more: we know the value of free travel to specialized medical care extends into the clients’ communities. We estimate that 45 people—family, co-workers or fellow students, employers or teachers, healthcare workers, and friends—are impacted by every Hope Air flight. So the impact of those 2,000 flights could be felt by some 90,000 lives across Canada. All because three tenacious pilots dared to dream.

Dave, Russ, and Harold – we are very proud of you and honoured that you chose Hope Air as the charity beneficiary for your epic adventure. So many fellow Canadians will have your initiative, your hard work, and dedication to this project to be thankful for. On behalf of the staff, volunteers, and clients served by Hope Air, I send you on your journey with our best wishes. May there be blue skies, and the wind be always at your back. Bon voyage, my friends.

Doug Keller-Hobson CEO of Hope Air

Message from Hope Air Board of Directors

Hope Air has been providing free flights to critical healthcare for 31 years. We began with 56 flights in 1986; this year we are expecting to provide about 12,740. The impact of this service can be demonstrated with numerous statistics, but the emotional impact that a flight has on our clients is most powerful of all. The immense contribution by Give Hope Wings will support Hope Air’s valuable work for low-income families facing health crises across the country.

Speaking on behalf of the Hope Air Board of Directors, it is my absolute pleasure to wish the Give Hope Wings crew farewell as they embark on this adventure of a lifetime.
Dave, Russ, and Harold have shown us exceptional kindness and creativity. These three pilots have perfectly captured the spirit of volunteerism that is the lifeblood of Hope Air. They are heroes for taking on this ambitious venture.

I extend my thanks to our valued Give Hope Wings donors, without whom none of this would be possible. I would especially like to thank our title sponsor, First Choice Haircutters, for their leadership and belief in the significance of this project. All the best for a safe and exciting journey!

Jim Burton Chair of Hope Air Board

Hope Air - Profile of Hope

For Andrea Mayer, when it comes to getting to her cancer treatment in Vancouver, the difference between taking a flight and sitting on a bus couldn’t be starker. Because of the flights, Andrea says, “the appointments don’t interfere with my family; I don’t have to worry about my kids.”

When Andrea was first diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2003, she travelled more than five hours on a Greyhound bus to get from her home in Kelowna to her appointment in Vancouver every three months. “It was very challenging because I’m a single mother and my children were very young at the time.” Every time Andrea had an appointment in Vancouver she would have to find somewhere for her kids to sleep, arrange for a friend to pick her up from the bus terminal and drive her to her appointment, sleep at her friend’s house, and then take the bus for five and a half hours back to Kelowna the next morning to be home in time to pick her kids up from school.

She repeated this routine for five years after her diagnosis in 2003. Because Andrea’s mother died of breast cancer in 1999, she was tested in 2005 to see if her cancer was inherited from her mother. Though she had breast cancer, as her mother did, the test suggested that Andrea’s cancer wasn’t hereditary. But a new diagnosis earlier this year cast doubt on that result. In March, oncologists told Andrea that she had a new breast cancer diagnosis. It wasn’t a relapse, but rather a new cancer incidence. “It was a carbon copy of my first cancer.” The doctors in Vancouver tested Andrea again to check whether the cancer was hereditary, and they confirmed that it was and that the results from the first test weren’t accurate. “It’s almost like I’ve got chapters of a book missing from my chromosome.”

With the new diagnosis, Andrea applied to the BC Cancer Agency for funding to subsidize expenses that she would incur because of her treatment, and it was then that the woman reviewing Andrea’s application told her about Hope Air. A friend who had had a flight arranged by Hope Air also reassured Andrea that the charity could assist her, so she requested a flight to Vancouver.

While Andrea still has ongoing breast reconstructive surgery after her prophylactic bilateral mastectomy, she has recently been diagnosed with fallopian tube cancer due to her BRCA1 genetic mutation. The new diagnosis means that Andrea has to take more time off work and put her breast reconstructive surgery on hold. “We don’t even have the specialists in Kelowna. I need further surgery and the only place I can get it is in Vancouver.” Though Andrea will be beginning her third round of chemotherapy, she says that the flights arranged by Hope Air have made the process much easier.

“Hope Air is so helpful to me because the flights are all under one hour,” Andrea says. “I wouldn’t be able to be doing this if it wasn’t for Hope Air.” Now, because of the flights arranged by Hope Air, Andrea flies into Vancouver, takes the SkyTrain to her appointment, and flies home on the same day.

“All I can say is thank God for Hope Air,” she says. “It has been a literal blessing and I am very grateful.”

Campaign Update

Well, this is “where the rubber meets the road”, as the saying goes. We have been planning and campaigning for well over a year and we are embarking on the journey as this newsletter is published.

We have had much success since the Autumn newsletter when we told you that we had raised just over $317,000 in donations and another $50,000 in pledges. Not only have all those pledges materialized, but we have also attracted so many more donors.

We are so proud to announce that as of the year-end, GHW has raised over $480,000 for Hope Air.

Again, the donations come in many different forms:
Corporate Sponsorships We have attracted an additional Silver Sponsor— Victoria Bullion Exchange out of Victoria BC. We welcome them on board and have added their logo to our aircraft.

Volunteer Flight Crew We were saddened when one of our VFC, Reg Willick, had to drop out recently for personal reasons. We still had 2 open segments and this made it three. However, it didn't take very long before Reg’s segment was again filled and in fact, we also filled the final leg back to Kelowna. This leaves only the Caribbean segment still available. Peter Smith from Port Col-borne ON saw the GHW article in the COPA magazine and quickly signed on board. Dave’s friend from BC, Terry Grover was so impressed with a conversation with Dave about the project, that he signed on board for the Florida to Kelowna segment. The VFC program is responsible for almost half the donations collected so far.

Individuals & Groups We have literally hundreds of individual and group donations making it impossible to recognize them all here. There’s the dozens of “In Tribute to”, Friends of Hope Air donations and the many $50 & $100 donations that have filled the pot. While our Friends of Hope Air donors are recognized on the aircraft as we fly around South America, all donations get recognized on our donor's page. Every dollar counts towards paying for airline tickets for low-income Canadians so that they can access health-care.

One particular donation had a heartfelt story. In tribute to Rob and Gayle Smith – Give Hope Wings and Hope Air were honoured and touched by recent generosity and the story behind it. Rob and Gayle Smith bequeathed Breitling watches to good friends some years back. These watches have now been donated to Hope Air in trib-ute to this couple who sadly both passed away from cancer within a short time of each other. This donation will allow many Canadians access to much-needed health care. “We are glad to be able to do this in memory of Rob and Gayle, as our lives were made so much better having known them and Hope Air seemed such an appropriate place for this donation.” - Anonymous Donors.

We hope you continue to follow and enjoy our journey and live tracking. We hope that you will ‘click’ on the donate button above the map on our website and support Give Hope Wings as you watch our progress.

Flight Planning Update

The flight plan update in the Autumn Newsletter reviewed the route we will be following outlining Central & South America. I wrote about weather, scenery and some of the challenges that we will be facing as we weave our way through 20 countries prior to our return to Canada in March 2018.

Since then, much as happened, we have hired a Country Permit Planner and have reached out to so many more people in the places we will be visiting.

Mike, from White Rose Aviation in the U.K., is securing our over-flight and landing permits for each of the countries. He has been doing this for 40 years so we are very comfortable that we will have all the proper authorizations in hand. Every country that we fly over, or land in requires some kind of pre-authorization. Some as simple as an email a day ahead of time, while others require many hundreds of dollars and a copy of almost every piece of documentation known to mankind. Even so, he has indicated to us that he is uncovering a number of changes in regulations as he goes along. We are so happy to have someone like Mike on-board looking out for us.

In addition to landing permits, many countries also require the hiring of a ground handler to walk the pilots through the myriad of paperwork upon landing, especially at the AOE (Airport of Entry). There are also a number of stops along the way that, while not mandatory, research tells us that life will be a lot easier if we pay someone to help us. That help, however, does not come cheap. Each stop would be several hundred dollars per aircraft. We have a strategy and will be hiring ground handlers at about a quarter of the stops.

What has made us a little more secure about handling our own affairs at a number of these airports are the contacts we have made along the way. We have contacted a number of Aeroclubs (Flight Clubs in Canada) and not only are the members giving us invaluable information about regulations, procedures and flying tips. But they are setting up meetings with local aviators and assisting us on the ground with transportation and lodging.

Of particular note is the help we are getting from Vans Air Force (VAF). The Vans Aircraft community has a broad network of builders/owners worldwide. We posted our project on the VAF forum earlier this month, not only did we get many well wishes, but several influential owners in Brazil have reached out and will be hosting us as we travel through the country. This will be particularly helpful as Brazil regulations will be a little more difficult to navigate, as well the Portuguese language. We will continue to reach out to the South American aviation community as we start flying

We will be providing continuous updates on our Facebook page as we travel.

Trip Facts

I have gathered up a few facts as I have completed the planning:

  • Although South America is definitely ‘south’ of North America, it is also so much further east, in fact, the whole continent is east of Toronto. The eastern shoreline of Brazil is almost in line with the eastern shore of Greenland.
  • There is so much east-west travel that we will be flying through 6 time zones, from the Pacific TZ in California to the Brasilia TZ in Brazil
  • Ushuaia, our most southern landing is the most southern continental point in the world other than Antarctica. However, it is only as far south (55 degrees S) as Edmonton is north of the equator.
  • Of the 20 countries we will be landing, 10 are Spanish speaking, 1 Portuguese, 1 French and the rest are more of less English. We will be spending about 60% of our time, or 5 weeks in Spanish counties. We will actually be in France (Fr. Guyana) and the United Kingdom (Anguilla).
  • The areas we have the most challenges in will be Columbia and Peru. These counties are not very GA friendly and will be very expensive. There will also be a large amount of paper-work.

Crew Profile - Dave McElroy

This is a difficult task. Our Newsletter Publisher, Russ, has commanded me to write a self-descriptive column. In the last issue he set the same task for himself - but chose to write about others. So I’ve decided to use this space to tell you about the origins of this project: How did we come to be where we are at this moment – flying rapidly south toward Tierra del Fuego – Cape Horn?

I have been flying since I was 19 years old. Flying has all but defined my life. I’ve had no need to write a diary; my life is in my log books. All I have to do to recall what was happening at any stage is to pull one of them out and there’s the story – with whom I was flying - where we were going - in what aircraft. Each of my two sons started flying when they were less than two months old – and we’ve enjoyed long trips and shorter excursions together ever since.

Flash forward to retirement from full time work at the end of 2013. For the first time in my long work life I had some free time at my disposal. I chose to immediately plan and execute a flight around the world in a Piper Comanche, becoming just the 198th person in world history to circumnavigate Planet Earth in a single-engine aircraft ( This project raised more than $150,000 for two amazing charities: Sick-Kids Foundation of Toronto and Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance of Perth. It was also the genesis of Give Hope Wings.

Two years after FlyRTW80, I teamed up with Russ Airey of Windsor plus nine other men and we flew a six-ship squadron of aircraft across Northern British Columbia, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Alaska. At the end of that amazing two-week trip, Russ asked: “Where’s the next trip, McElroy?”

Three months later I phoned him and asked him what he thought about flying around South America. He gasped and quickly replied: “I’m in.”

Two months after that, on November 8th, 2016, Russ and I were in Toronto at Hope Air’s 30th Anniversary celebration – and Give Hope Wings was born. A few short weeks later we were joined by Harold Fast – a quiet, unassuming farmer/veterinarian/businessman/pilot who, it turns out, knows everyone in Saskatchewan plus at least half the people in Alberta – all of whom he has since persuaded to donate large dollops of money to Hope Air through our project. Harold was also instrumental in persuading no less than four of our eight Volunteer Flight Crew Members to come aboard and fly right seat with me. Almost 50% of the funds raised so far has come from these eight amazingly generous men. Notable amongst them is Bob Vance of Victoria - the first to sign up for this role, and a fervent Hope Air fundraiser in his own right.

We were attracted to Hope Air for several reasons: It was all about using aviation to help people who really needed help – and it was the most efficient and cost-effective charity I’d ever been involved with. The Staff, including CEO Doug Keller-Hobson, loved our project from the moment we suggested flying to raise money for them. The Board – at least a couple of them – were a bit dubious at the outset – but endorsed our project nevertheless.

The rest is history. We’ve had nothing but full support from all the Staff, Board and Volunteers who comprise this most excellent charity. In December 2017 they hosted a luncheon for ourselves and some key supporters in Toronto – but we, the Crew of Give Hope Wings, are the ones who are honoured to be working with this most selfless and excellent group of people.

We are now Flying for Good. Our project is all about generosity, comradery, adventure and a sense of giving back to those less fortunate than ourselves. How lucky we are to live in Canada, and be in a position to help less fortunate Canadians – while having the adventure of a lifetime. It just doesn’t get any better than this.

Volunteer Flight Crew

In early 2017, Dave’s passenger, Bob Vance from Victoria BC, stepped aside from participating in the entire South American circumnavigation. Bob was the first to sign on to the adventure in 2016, however commitments later precluded him from participating for the entire flight. Bob is still a very active member of GHW fund-raising project and will take part in a portion of the flight as a VFC.

Through personal contacts, presentations and trade shows, the crew has had the great fortune to attract seven additional VFC members who will accompany us through portions of the entire voyage, filling Bob’s former seat. The Volunteer Flight Crew are generous sponsors of the Give Hope Wings campaign; For a significant donation to Hope Air, they are able to take part in one of eight flight segments of their choosing around North, Central or South America Below you will find out a little bit more about a couple of these altruistic individuals and the adventures that they will encounter. O’Brian, from Fort St. John, will be joining us in Chile and Argentina. He heard about us at the COPA Aviation forum in Kelowna this past June. Craig, from Kokomo Indiana, is a friend of Harold’s and will be flying with us through Brazil. To find out more about the entire crew you can visit the VFC page.

A large portion of the success of the Give Hope Wings fundraising is attributed to the Volunteer Flight Crew; Give Hope Wings and Hope Air thanks them all for their generosity and is grateful for their donations.

O’Brian Blackall - Patagonia & Cape Horn

I have had a passion for flying for over 50 years! I was fortunate to join the Air Force Cadets in Williams Lake and took my first flight in a RCAF DC-3. My thoughts of a career as a Canadian Air Force fighter pilot did not work out as planned (glasses). I was fortunate to develop a career as a British Columbia Land Surveyor and enjoyed becoming a private pilot. I have seen many great areas of Canada and the world as either a land surveyor or as a pilot.

Shelley and I have been blessed with four daughters and now have been doubly blessed with seven amazing grandkids which has caused our life to be especially busy… wouldn’t want it any other way! Shelley and I visited South America five years ago when our daughter was going to University in Argentina. We visited quite a large area of Argentina, Chile and Cape Horn by air, ground and boat. To be able to see it again by private aircraft will be a dream come true.

I met Dave McElroy at the 2017 COPA convention in Kelowna and enjoyed his presentation, which covered his trip around the world in 80 days to raise funds for Hope Air and his planned trip around South America to raise another $500,000. I told Dave that it sounded like a great adventure for a charity that I had heard was doing great works for many families in Canada. I signed up for the Patagonia & Cape Horn portion of the trip. For 40 years, I have lived in Fort St. John, BC, so I understand the importance of being able to travel to medical appointments in bigger cities. Trying to get to medical centers during emergency or critical situations can be stressful, so to be able to help “give back” to help individuals and families in these communities, such as my own, is very fulfilling.

Craig Smith - Rio & The Amazon

Susan and I have been fortunate and have always believed that we should share that gift with a gift to others who have not been as lucky. Several years ago we founded the Smith Fuqua Foundation to use as a family gifting platform. This has been very satisfying and rewarding. Our favorite recreational activities are Flying our Mooney and travel-ing. What could be better than making a charitable gift to Give Hope Wings and have the opportunity to travel by small air-plane? I’d call this a trifecta!

Traveling through the Amazon and Brazil has always seemed like fun and adventure tied together. This flight will give me the opportunity to see it up close and personal. Perfect! Everyone has their own way to en-joy traveling but for Susan and me it’s always been the opportunity to meet people who actually live and work in the different cultures. Traveling to small airports in a private airplane will allow this in spades. Of course viewing the landscape from a low altitude will be a pleasure as well. All of this while helping others. Search as I may, I find nothing but good in this fundraising project and the work being done by Give Hope Wings.

In January/February 2018, two high-performance aircraft and crew will fly 20,000 miles, stopping in 20 countries while circumnavigating Central and South America. Give Hope Wings is comprised of 2 airplanes, 3 Crew and 8 Volunteer Flight Crew, but it’s much more than that. It’s an idea born of the passions of; generosity, flying and comradery.

In 2016, Dave McElroy and Russ Airey met while they were part of a 6-plane, 6000 mile epic flight across the Canadian Arctic and Alaskan wildernesses. Soon after that, Dave conceived an idea integrating his love of flight and adventure with the desire to “give back.” He presented his concept to Russ and Give Hope Wings was born. The crew soon fleshed out when Harold Fast joined. Harold is also a seasoned instrument-rated pilot, and an extraordinarily generous benefactor of this expedition. He fully supports the mission and goals of the enterprise. The crew filled out with the addition of the Volunteer Flight Crew: Bob Vance, Peter Smith, Woody Stewart, O’Brian Blackall, Ian Porter, Colin Rosengren, Craig Smith and Terry Grover.

In addition to raising at least $500,000 for Hope Air, the crew also intends to increase awareness of this unique Canadian charity and its life-saving work.

We invite you all to follow the epic 20,000 mile flight around Central and South America on the Give Hope Wings Website and Facebook pages. Like and follow us on Facebook to get real-time tracking and daily trip updates. If you like what you see, we encourage you to ‘click’ on the conveniently located Donate button above our tracking map. Every donation gets us another step to getting another Canadian to the health-care that they need.

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