By Rick Davenport
Texas A&M Transportation Institute
An 8-year-old boy emerged from a single-engine aircraft. His mother, crying, was beside him. Asked what happened, the mother replied, “These are tears of joy. My son said, ‘Mommy, I fly plane.’”
They were the first words her son ever spoke.
That scene plays over and over in the mind of April Culver, the CEO of Challenge Air, based at Dallas Love Field. Every time she thinks of the mother and her disabled, non-verbal son, it helps to motivate her to keep Rick Amber’s dream alive.
Amber created Challenge Air 20 years ago. Paralyzed at age 26 after his jet crash-landed on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War, Amber eventually made it his mission to take physically challenged children for their first airplane rides. He bought a Cessna 177B Cardinal in 1993 and began taking special-needs children up at community events nationwide. As a result, Challenge Air was born. After four years of making children’s dreams of touching the sky come true, Amber passed away from cancer in 1997.
“Rick’s goal was to make sure every disabled person experienced the world from a different view,” Culver says. “If we can get them up in the air and let them take control of the plane, it will let them know that they can do anything.”
Since 1993, Challenge Air has given 30,000 disabled children the gift of flight. Pilots donate their time to help make the lifechanging experience possible. The impact those flights have on the kids and their parents is well known among the staff of Challenge Air, who regularly receive thank-you notes from both pilots and parents.
Challenge Air has become so successful that the one full-time and one part-time staff members can’t keep up with the demand.
“Unfortunately, we have to turn down requests for fly-days at airports across the county,” Culver says. “We are in desperate need of additional staff, but the donations we receive now go toward current expenses.”
Challenge Air is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Culver, volunteer pilots, parents and, especially, the kids are hoping Rick Amber’s dream of ‘seeing the world from a different view’ continues.
To donate to Challenge Air, please visit their website at: www.challengeair.com.
One Thank You Note from a Grateful Parent
My son has flown with Challenge Air in the DFW area several times. When he first started, he could not sit up by himself enough to sit in the ‘co-pilot’ seat. Now, he has ‘flown’ the plane several times thanks to several wonderful pilots.
I cannot begin to express the joy and pride on his face as he is loaded on the plane from his wheelchair, flies, and then gets off the plane — all to the cheers of the crowds and numerous devoted volunteers! It brings joy to my heart and tears to my eyes each time! Thank-you from the bottom of our hearts!!
Karen and Matthew