Head, and heart, in the clouds

Helping others is in Jim George’s nature. As the director of community relations at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Penn State College of Medicine, he’s made it his career. In 2011, he became a licensed pilot. That same year, he started building his flight hours so that he could start to volunteer with Angel Flight East.

The nonprofit organization provides free air transportation to financially needy patients and their families by arranging flights to distant medical facilities.

“It’s a great excuse to fly,” George says of Angel Flight. “You get to do what you love and do something good for someone else at the same time.”

Jim George, pilot, right, and Ray Deimler, co-pilot, left, both Caucasian males, sit in the cockpit of a plane, wearing headphones, while a Caucasian woman sits in the back, also in headphones.

Jim George, right, and Ray Deimler, left, transport a patient for Angel Flight East.

After George earned his private pilot’s license, a lifelong goal, he set a goal to achieve his instrument rating. He completed that in 2014 and then started volunteering for Angel Flight East. Since then, he’s completed several flights. His farthest flight to date was in 2013 when he transported a patient from Wheeling, W. Va. to Philadelphia.

Volunteer pilots are required to have 300 logged hours, a private pilot certificate and instrument flight rules rating. Angel Flight East uses an online flight information system called VPOIDS to view the most up-to-date list of available flights. Pilots access that system to volunteer for a flight.

Angel Flight, of which there are three branches—East, West and Central—is the best known health-related flight organization. Pilots volunteer their planes for a wide range of causes, including transporting pets and delivering supplies to disaster areas. Angel Flight West is transporting mudslide victims, including patients to hospitals and essential workers to their jobs.

George co-owns a four-seater plane and, like all the pilots who volunteer for Angel Flight East, donates his plane, time, fuel and landing fees.

The organization transports patients who have a unique medical need but can’t get treatment close to home. George will fly to other airports, such as Wings Airfield north of Philadelphia or Allegheny County Airport near Pittsburgh, to pick up patients and transport them to where they need to go.

George recruited an ally in his mission to use his pilot’s license to benefit others—Ray Deimler, a project manager in Penn State Health’s Office of Marketing and Communications.

Like George, Deimler always wanted to fly. He remembers that as a boy of 10 or 12, he would go with his neighbor, an airplane mechanic, to Capital City Airport to see the planes. The former “airport rat” officially gets his pilot’s license in February and gives much credit to George for his mentorship.

“He’s sacrificed so much of his free time to make me a successful pilot,” Deimler says of George. “The night before my written test, he came over to my house to go through the training book. I kept wanting to call it a night, but he kept pushing me to go over questions again. It turned out to be good because those extra questions were on the exam, and I was like, ‘I know this!’”

Deimler has joined George for three Angel Flight East trips, acting as a flight crew member and a second set of eyes in the air.

“Until you do an Angel Flight, you don’t understand how appreciative the people are,” explains Deimler. “They thank you a hundred times. Not a lot of people have the skill to fly, so it’s great that we can do something useful with it.”

Deimler jokes that he calls George the “aviator Pied Piper” because when people go flying with him, they often end up becoming pilots themselves. He plans to continue volunteering with George for Angel Flight East once he officially has his license, saying they make a good team.

“He pushes me to be the best pilot I can be.”

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