More than 20 children, some facing terminal illnesses, did something on Saturday that most people never do in an entire lifetime: Fly a plane.
Flying Vikings, a nonprofit organization based in Central Texas, hosted the event at Skylark Field in Killeen, using several small airplanes to provide rides for the children and their parents.
“What we do is take kids who are chronically ill or physically disabled for free airplane rides, and the best part is we make them become the pilot,” said Paul Hansen, executive director of Flying Vikings. “We give them the controls.”
Terrence Orr-Crofoot, 15, was among the group that stepped out of the plane after flying over Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir and the Bell County Expo Center.
“It felt like it was going sideways,” he said. “It was fun.”
The Nolan Middle School student has cerebral palsy. He said he was nervous, but had an awesome experience and would like to do it again.
Nick Martin’s daughter, 6-year-old Jaylin, has stage-four brain cancer, and doctors told the family she has eight to 24 months left to live.
“We just do everything we can to keep her active everyday,” said Martin, a Temple resident. “Whether it’s a bike ride in the park or bowling, it’s whatever she wants to keep her going.”
Martin said he was happy his daughter got to try something new. “I didn’t even know an organization like this existed, but it’s an awesome thing they are doing.”
Philip Marbut, a teenager from Joshua, near Fort Worth, said he was counting down the days before he could get behind the controls of an airplane. Philip has cerebral palsy and uses a walker or wheelchair to get around.
But his mother described him as a normal teenager. “He’s my little daredevil and up for anything,” said Andrea Marbut, Philip’s mother. “I appreciate everything and that the (Flying Vikings) gave the kids the opportunity for what they normally don’t get to do.”
This was the fifth year the organization held the event, which also included free food and arts and crafts. The youth came from local cities, as well as Dallas, Round Rock and Georgetown.
Hansen said he enjoys seeing the impact the rides bring to the children and their families.
“We just tell them what to do and we are sitting literally four inches from them,” he said. “There is actually two controls and we give the feel of the plane and they can do whatever they want, within certain limits.”