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Angel Flight Pilot and WWII Vet Takes Epic Trip

Decorated World War II veteran and Angel Flight Pilot of the Year John Billings is taking the flight of a lifetime around America to raise awareness of public benefit flying while fulfilling his dream.

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‘When I’m Flying I Don’t Feel Pain’


Karen & Dennis in New Bern

by Stephanie Singer, Intern (Virginia Wesleyan College)

Karen C. has a condition called myasthenia pravis. Trying to say it will twist your tongue. That was the least of Karen’s concerns. This condition rendered twisting, or any other motion, almost impossible.

Myasthenia pravis is an autoimmune disease in which antibodies attack the areas where nerves and muscles join. This causes limited mobility.

“The condition is difficult,” said the 54-year-old woman, who has trouble walking any further than the length of her kitchen.

Treatment Complications

One of the medications doctors prescribed was Prednisone. The drug is an immunosuppressant, meaning that it weakens the immune system. It is prescribed for diseases such as myasthenia pravis.

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J.J. Quinn: Ambassador for Aviation

JJ  Quinn

“J.J. just loved to fly. It’s going to take several of us to fill his shoes.”

Steve Craven, Angel Flight board chairman and volunteer pilot, had been a close friend and colleague of John Joseph Quinn, Jr. (“J.J.”) for 20 years until a tragic plane crash on May 24 claimed his life and the pilot’s. “It’s unbelievable,” Craven said. “I’m still in shock.” Likewise, everyone who knew the beloved 81-year-old pilot from Culpeper who was both the Virginia and Mid-Atlantic Angel Flight Pilot of the Year for 2015.

“He flew 50 flights [in 2015], which is pretty incredible,” Craven noted. Most Angel Flight pilots complete about six flights annually; Quinn logged nearly 400 hours each year.

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Boy with Rare Disease Lives Up to His Name

By Stephanie Singer, Intern, Virginia Wesleyan College

zeq and Kristine in plane“He’s going to be his own prophet. He’s going to write his own book.”

These thoughts passed through Kristine’s head when she first held her son. She named her son Ezequiel, an alternate spelling of the biblical name Ezekiel. The name means “God’s strength,” a unique spelling reflecting the boy’s individuality.

Another Opinion

At two years old, Zeq, as he’s called, weighed only 19 pounds and was severely malnourished. Doctors thought he had food allergies. Kristine disagreed; it was impossible to have allergies to every food.

She drove to Baltimore, Maryland, hoping another doctor could help her son. “We needed a fresh set of eyes,” she said.

At the hospital, an immunologist diagnosed Zeq with eosinophilic esophagitis, or EoE.

Eosinophilic esophagitis is a chronic immune system disease. It occurs when white blood cells build up in the esophagus and attack substances such as food. Complications include scarring and tearing of the esophagus, vomiting, and severe weight loss.

Angel Flight to the Rescue

After learning of Zeq’s diagnosis, Kristine went to some internet forums that she regularly participated in and asked if there was anyone who could help get them back and forth to Baltimore from their home in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She got an answer: Angel Flight.

The charity has been providing flights for Kristine and Zeq, who will be six in July, for three years.

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Despite Burns, She’s a Happy Child


Kaylee Twyman-1 (2)

No child should have to endure the kind of suffering that six-year-old Kaylee T. has faced, but despite serious illness, the little girl from Gordonsville, Virginia “is a happy child in high spirits,” says her father and full-time caregiver, Jermaine.

Kaylee had just started kindergarten when one day in October 2014 she became violently ill and broke out in a rash. Her lips began to swell and blisters erupted inside her mouth. The condition quickly spread overnight. Jermaine called his wife, Daisy, and she immediately came home from work. They sped to the ER at the University of Virginia Medical Center 45 minutes away where Kaylee was admitted.

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Roanoke Pilot Relates ‘One-on-One’ to Patients

ralph burr with eric

“Every patient is special to Ralph,” says Steve Patterson, former Angel Flight vice president and chairman of the Angel Flight of Virginia board of directors.

The interest and care Ralph Burr of Roanoke, Virginia displays for the patients he flies year after year is apparent in many ways. He takes pictures of every individual to include with his mission report. He relates to each on a one-to-one basis. He has the determination and patience to resolve issues that come up, such as that of his first flight with a patient from Charlottesville.

“The patient’s paperwork got fouled up because the insurance hadn’t been approved for the outpatient treatment needed for her brain tumor,” said Burr. “The woman and I spent three hours on the phone.” At the last minute, a North Carolina legislator intervened and “straightened things out” so the flight could take place.

Another memorable trip he recalls was to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The patient, a little girl named Tara, was frightened “that the trip would be bumpy.” Ralph said “she managed a little bit of a smile before we left, and I was able to get a picture of her. She gave me a great big hug after we arrived with no bumps!”

After retiring from General Electric in 1997, where he’d worked as an engineering manager for over three decades, Burr joined Angel Flight, persuaded by a flyer posted on the bulletin board at Piedmont Aviation. Since then, he’s flown 175 missions and was named Virginia Pilot of the Year in 2004.

He said he’s always been interested in flying “as long as I can remember. As a young boy I loved putting together model airplanes.” Then, in 1990, John, one of his three sons, suggested flying lessons at the local community college. After ground school and flight instruction, both Ralph and John obtained their pilots’ licenses and IFR ratings. Burr said his oldest son, Ralph, and his wife, Tanya, also learned to fly and became private pilots. “Surprisingly, my No. 3 son has no interest in flying or the plane.”

The plane is a 1977 Cessna 172. “Three engines and many dollars of avionics later I still own it,” he said, adding that he’s flown over 4,600 hours since buying the plane in 1991.

He said that volunteering for Angel Flight gives him an opportunity to fly to locations he wouldn’t ordinarily go to. “I receive a much greater sense of satisfaction by being able to help people directly. Spending money on avgas is a whole lot more rewarding than sending a check to some charity. I’ve made Angel Flight and buying avgas my number one charity.”




A Gallery of Angels Served and Serving

Tina and Billings at Landmark

Tina and her favorite pilot, John Billings, met at Landmark Aviation at the Norfolk International Airport for a filming session with SNJ Today, a news and media organization in southern New Jersey.


Morghan Ready to Go!Camper Arrival at Greensboro (800x647)

Morgan couldn’t wait to get to Victory Junction Camp for a week of fun shared with other children suffering from serious medical conditions. Bob Oglesby, accompanied by his friend Emily Ward, is our wonderful pilot who gave wings to this vibrant 11-year-old child.

kalee twyman

Kaylee is all smiles after flying with Angel Flight. The five-year-old went to Boston Shriner’s Hospital with her dad. Lowell Powers with Angel Flight Northeast flew the first leg of the trip, and Charlie Kreider flew the two back home to Orange, Virginia. God bless this brave little girl!

Passion, Fundraising Savvy Are CEO’s Specialties

robb in the cockpit

When Robb Alpaugh walked into the office on his first day as CEO and President of Angel Flight’s parent organization, Mercy Medical Angels, the thing that struck him most was “the people on staff. They were excited and energized with passion for the mission,” he said.

June 15 was the date Robb joined the team to provide leadership, financial growth, and his own brand of passion arising from his experience as a volunteer pilot.

“These passions have been growing since I first joined Angel Flight in July 2007. I met a little girl and flew her to Victory Junction Camp. I realized then what a great service we were providing.

“From that time forward, my enthusiasm for Angel Flight and later, for the associated charities under the MMA banner, has only increased.”

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Woman’s Motto Aids in Fight against Illness


By Sarah Payne, Intern, University of Virginia

“I’m more than a conqueror,” is one woman’s inspiring life motto after battling several severe medical conditions throughout most of her adult life.

For Tina, 39, from Virginia Beach, Virginia, her medical journey first started in 1993 when she began to experience the swelling of various body parts, symptoms many doctors wrote off as hay fever or allergies. It wasn’t until 2009 that she was properly diagnosed at John Hopkins Medical Center with Hereditary Angioedema (HAE), “a very rare and potentially life-threatening genetic condition.”

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The Pilots Have Been Wonderful

Jaime RevelFor years, Jamie R. was told, “It’s all in your head,” “You should see a psychiatrist,” “There’s nothing wrong with you.” Medical tests like MRIs would always come back negative.

It’s that way for many rare disease patients living far away from advanced medical facilities. Jamie, 35, resides in the small city of London in southeast Kentucky.

“I ran out of places to turn,” she says.

Growing up, she suffered from migraines and had unusual flexibility in her body. “I always thought it was normal to be so ‘bendy,’” she said, adding that family members were extremely flexible as well. “My grandfather could put his feet behind his head.” Over time, the headaches became worse, and by 2011, they had increased in frequency and severity. “I was eating Advil,” she said.

Then one day “I got a headache that didn’t go away.” Vertigo set in as well as other symptoms. “It just got worse and worse. I had to quit driving. I couldn’t walk without assistance. I stayed on the couch or on the bed.” She said she developed blurred and double vision and had to quit her job as an executive administrative assistant. “I went from working 50-60 hours a week and doing my own art business [Akari Studios] on the side” to producing only small art projects.” Jaime’s specialty was large stained glass pieces. Read the rest of this entry »

Announcing Pilots of the Year 2013


Another year has passed of extraordinary service performed by all our dedicated Angel Flight and Airlift Hope pilots in the mid-Atlantic region. We thank each one of you for your sacrifice and compassion toward those in need.

The results are in for the Pilots of the Year in their respective states. Congratulations to each of you for honors well deserved.

AFMA Pilot of the Year – John Billings

  • Virginia – John Billings 
  • Kentucky – Tony Schmidt
  • Maryland – Mark Ross
  • West Virginia – Cleve Benedict
  • Washington DC – Michael Knobler
  • Delaware – Dusty Carnahan
  • Pennsylvania – Richard Linsenbach
  • Ohio – Charlie Poll
  • Michigan – Dick Lawrence
  • North Carolina – Kenny Hardin
  • Tennessee – Steve Brumit