A pilot looks back

Today, after 30 years of serving on the Parkview Samaritan crew, pilot Danny Aavang is retiring. We invited Danny to reflect on his amazing career.

I grew up on a dairy and crop farm by Greenwood, Illinois. When I was 7, our family friend, Art Galt, gave me an airplane ride, and from then on, I was captivated by aviation. I learned to fly at Galt Airport, which was about four miles away from our family farm. June 20, 2019, marked 51 years from my first flying lesson in 1968. I started when I was in high school – just 16 years old – and received my private pilot’s certificate when I was 17.

U.S. Army

I enlisted in the United States Army on October 20, 1970, hoping to get into the Army's fixed-wing school. During basic training, we discovered that the Army closed the program to new Warrant Officer Candidates, and I was sent to their rotary wing school, instead. At that time, the Army was cutting back on the number of pilots being trained, so my start date in the flight school was postponed by several months.

I spent 20 weeks at Fort Walters, Texas, for primary flight training, and flew the TH-55A helicopter. I had absolutely no interest in helicopters, but quickly discovered that flying them was really fun and challenging. I spent another 20 weeks at Fort Rucker, Alabama, for instrument and advanced flight training. There, I flew the TH-13T, UH-1B, D, H.

I was in Vietnam from May 1972-March 31, 1973, flying the UH-1H Huey. I flew combat assaults and served as command for other missions. Then I served for the United Nations for about six weeks. I had "Flying Farmer" and a crossing pitch fork and shovel painted on the back of my helmet.  Vietnam was a place where you really learned how to fly, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. I was released from the Army once I got back to the U.S.

Finding a career

I’ve always loved flying and farming, but I was better at flying. I flew for oil companies in the Gulf of Mexico for four years, from 1974-1978. I farmed for six years, from 1978 -1984, but I missed flying every day of those six years, so I went back to flying for the oil companies for another year, 1984-1985.

In May of 1985, I started flying for a hospital in Indianapolis, and in November 1989 I came to Fort Wayne to fly with Parkview Samaritan.

Samaritan

I planned on staying with the Samaritan program for maybe three or four years. I ended up staying for more than 29! I have no idea how many thousands of patients I have flown over the last three decades, but I’m so thankful for the opportunity to participate in their road to recovery.

How many people can say that they enjoy and look forward to going to work and truly enjoy everyone that they work with? I had that. My co-workers became my second family!

Over the years, I’ve provided vacation relief for crew members with three other hospital flight programs, and I can say I wouldn't trade any of our Parkview Samaritan flight crew members for anyone! Parkview Health is blessed with amazing people throughout the system.

People say you just know when it’s time to turn over the reins to someone else. For me, it’s that time. I have no doubt that I will miss it all, especially my co-workers. I can say that I have lived an awesome life, and I have been able to do things that most people can only dream of!

Thank you, Heavenly Father for all you have allowed me to do and experience, and thank you for all of the people that I have had the pleasure to meet and work with!

Others pay tribute to Danny

“I have flown with Dan for 21 years. He is quite the practical joker! He loves to tease the crew and is always coming up with some way to pull a prank. He has the most generous heart and will do anything for anybody. He will definitely be missed!” – Staci Gilbert, RN, Samaritan flight nurse

 

“I have had the privilege of flying with Dan for the last 30 years. He is our last original pilot, and I'm the last original flight crew member. I have lots of stories about Dan, but most of them are best kept secret. I have watched Dan grow older, gracefully. I have watched as he found love, lived happily for some time, and then lost that love to cancer.

Dan has always been 100% about Samaritan, and about doing what's right. We’ve had a couple of ‘close calls’ together; the kind that reminds you, to the core, that what we do is inherently dangerous. Dan is a great pilot. He is safe, and always doing practice approaches to maintain his skills and training.

I will miss Dan. I will miss his humor. I know that life goes on and that everything changes. But Sam One without ‘Farmer Dan’ just isn't going to be the same. Good luck, safe travels. Go and enjoy yourself.” – Andy Gilbert, RN, Samaritan flight nurse

 

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