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When kids take flight, the smiles come easily

Kaitlyn Trower of Manchester prepares for her Flying Vikings flight with pilot Bud Cool of St. Peters.

Kaitlyn Trower, of Manchester, prepares for her Flying Vikings flight with pilot Bud Cool, of St. Peters.

Paul Hansen can tell you any number of stories about special needs and seriously ill kids whose demeanor quickly changes when they find themselves at the controls of an airplane a couple of thousand feet or more above the ground.

Of course, the kids have an experienced pilot next to them but the smiles the young aviators exhibit after their half-hour flights testify that their ride is something they won’t soon forget.

Some 30 St. Louis area kids assembled with parents and other family members at the Aero Charter operation at Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield Valley late in September for their opportunity to take to the skies. The occasion was Flying Vikings’ second visit to Chesterfield. Hansen founded the nonprofit, which gives kids the gift of flight, more than 15 years ago after becoming disillusioned with his life as a financial investment officer and concluding there had to be a more meaningful path for his life to take.

A licensed pilot, he tells of being asked to help with a program sponsored by a local police department to take at-risk youngsters on plane rides. He quickly realized the effort’s potential.

“God told me to run with this idea and I’ve never looked back,” Hansen said.

The West St. Louis County area welcomed his program a year ago and, this year, he returned for a repeat with participation from groups such as the Catch 22 Miracle Baseball League and Friends of Kids with Cancer.

In addition to the use of Aero Charter’s large hangar and ramp facilities, the event has won support from Home Depot, Chick-Fil-A, Domino’s and Raising Cane’s. The Elite Aviation flight school volunteered four planes and pilots for the event.

Hansen already is planning a three-peat in 2019 with an expanded agenda that includes a fundraiser and other activities in addition to plane rides for the kids.

“The reception by organizations, companies and individuals here has been great,” Hansen said.

Similar events have been, or will be held in 20 cities this year. “The momentum seems to be building as people learn about what the program can do to help kids with disabilities and those with serious illnesses,” Hansen explained.

His home and base of operations now is in Belton, Texas, along the I-35 corridor between Waco and Austin.

With a Danish ancestry, Hansen says the name Flying Vikings came easily. “Vikings are pretty well known as tough and resilient, just like these kids are,” he said.

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