Veterans Airlift Command to showcase new plane at Spirit Airport
By: Jim Erickson
A not-for-profit organization that specializes in providing free air transportation for wounded military veterans will display one of its planes at an Oct. 6 open house at Spirit of St. Louis Airport.
The Veterans Airlift Command (VAC) will show its Eclipse twin-engine business jet from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the TAC Air facility at the intersection of Edison Avenue and Spirit of St. Louis Boulevard. The open house is part of VAC’s effort to call attention to its program and gain financial support for it.
Headquartered in St. Louis Park, Minn., a Minneapolis suburb, VAC recently received the Eclipse as a donation with the understanding it would be used to transport veterans.
According to Jack Jackson, a Vietnam veteran and former state legislator and Boeing test pilot, other VAC donors provided new engines, avionics and interior, airframe modifications, and a unique paint scheme to prepare the plane for its new mission. Jackson also serves as VAC’s volunteer chief pilot and aircraft operations manager.
Due to aircraft and pilot availability, VAC gives priority to veterans wounded while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The free transportation is available to the veterans and their families for medical and other compassionate purposes.
Jackson, of St. Albans, notes many veterans either are unable to fly commercially because of their wounds or have found the experience extraordinarily difficult and/or degrading.
A letter on the organization’s website (veteransairtlift.org) describes the problems encountered by one such veteran on a commercial flight. The serviceman, who lost both legs above the knee and most of one arm and hand to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, almost didn’t make it through security due to the metal rods in his body and medical equipment he had to carry with him. Unable to use a wheelchair due to the plane’s narrow aisle, he was forced to sit in the aisle and scoot along the well-traveled carpet until he reached his seat. A layover en route meant he had to repeat the process getting off the first plane and getting on and off the second.
To make matters worse, his bags containing, among other things, an extra battery for his now-dead wheelchair were lost.
Jackson’s wife, Arleen, also is an active VAC supporter.
“The organization is about six years old but is just now getting the traction it needs to make a big difference,” she said.
Although she knows of no St. Louis area veterans or family members who have used VAC thus far, she said it has flown many hundreds of missions to and from all parts of the nation.
The donated Eclipse business jet is the first plane owned by VAC, Arleen added. Other aircraft that VAC uses are privately owned and are made available by their owners as a way of helping meet the air transportation needs of wounded veterans and their families. Pilots, who usually are owners of the aircraft being used, also donate their time.The airports used depend on the location and needs of the veterans being helped and where the plane to be used and its pilot are located.
Any veteran or family member needing air transportation can go to the VAC website and complete an online request form.
VAC welcomes contributions of any amount. Donations are tax deductible and are needed to pay the day-to-day costs of keeping the organization’s aircraft flying. All gifts are recognized on the VAC website, and top sponsorship levels include other benefits, including the opportunity to inform the veteran or family member about the trip the donor is sponsoring. Contributions can be made at the Oct. 6 open house or can be sent to VAC at 5775 Wayzata Blvd., Suite 700, St. Louis Park, MN 55416.