If you ask Bruce Wilder about his job as a flight test engineer on the Air Force’s premier fighter aircraft, the F-22 Raptor, he will tell you it is one of the coolest jobs in the world.
When the aviation enthusiast is not working on the most advanced fighter in the Air Force inventory, Wilder rents Cessna aircraft from the Edwards AFB Aero Club and enjoys the birds-eye-view of the surrounding areas.
With a passion for flying, Wilder began searching for an opportunity to give back through participation in an aviation charity program. That is when he discovered Angel Flight West and made a commitment to donate his time, aircraft and fuel to provide those in need with free air transportation.
“Angel Flight provides transportation for people who need to get to and from treatment. They also provide transportation for organs, doctors and other causes,” said Wilder, 411th Flight Test Squadron. “I was interested in doing things with my pilot’s license that would help other people. I looked up the charity about 15 years ago and joined approximately 12 years ago. I’ve been flying about one mission a year ever since.”
Angel Flight West was founded in 1983 and is made up of a vast network of 1,600 private pilots throughout the 13 western states, including Alaska and Hawaii.
“The organization works very much like we work aircraft missions on base. They have an operations desk, if you will, that coordinates all the flights and proposes the routings. The pilots then go and volunteer for various missions they see on the Web site,” said Wilder. “So, I try to volunteer for missions that are central to Edwards. Common ones are Fresno, Santa Monica, and Las Vegas to the Los Angeles Basin.”
His last mission was Aug. 4, during which Wilder transported a girl home from a camp for the deaf and hearing impaired. According to Wilder, it would have been an extremely long drive for the family if Angel Flight West had not taken care of the transportation, as the camp was located at Yosemite National Park.
Wilder has also dedicated a great deal of time providing transportation for numerous burn victims and cancer patients.
Each mission costs upwards of $500, which factor in variables such as hourly Cessna 172 or 182 rentals from the Aero Club, as well as distance traveled.
For Wilder however, it has never been about the money. It’s about using his passion for flying for a purpose larger than himself.
“I’ve flown people to and from Santa Monica to the UCLA Medical Center for people who’ve had cancer treatments. These are trips that would have taken all day if they had driven a car. Plus, when you consider the exhaustion from treatment, that drive might become too difficult,” said Wilder. “Angel Flight West provides an advantage to patients undergoing treatment such as chemotherapy because they can go home the same day.”
For Wilder, volunteering for more than a decade with Angel Flight West has been an incredibly rewarding experience.
“I’m doing something with my skills, abilities and background to give back and do something for the community. I get to do something I enjoy and I also get the benefit of feeling good about what I’m doing. It’s special and meaningful for somebody in need,” said Wilder. “I get a lot of good feedback from the parents and kids; they’re very appreciative of what we do. They call us their ‘angels.'”
Volunteers interested in contributing to the mission of Angel Flight West can visit www.angelflightwest.org or can call the Aero Club at (661) 275-AERO.