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Mark Hanson Donates 100th Flight for PALS

February 2017 - Volunteer pilot and EAA/IMC lifetime member Mark Hanson could hardly imagine that he’d be flying an Eclipse 500, let alone using it to provide free flights to more than 100 people and families in need of transportation for medical treatment. Mark not only pilots Patient AirLift Services (PALS) flights, but he also donates all related operating costs.

Medical treatment is not always around the corner. Many people find themselves needing to routinely travel hundreds of miles for a variety of medical procedures. Cancer, burns, organ transplants, amputations, and an extensive list of illnesses require repeat visits. A 10-hour drive each way for treatment can become impossible for many families to endure, especially if commuting weekly.

“What a great and unique privilege we have as pilots to share our good fortunes with those in need of hope and support. It is impossible to describe the rewards of earning a child’s smile or a mother’s gratitude,” Mark said recently after flying an 8-year-old girl amputee who regularly commutes from northern Maine to Shriners Hospital in western Massachusetts. “Veterans who have endured so much during their service to all of us are always profoundly humble recipients of our flights. Words cannot do justice to the pride we get as volunteer pilots to support these men and women,” Mark added when discussing the PALS for Patriots program, which is sponsored by and provides Walter Reed-based veterans with VIP baseball game experiences.

Mark is a commercial instrument-rated pilot, type rated for single-pilot operation of the Eclipse 500. After semi-retiring in 2009, Mark committed himself to accomplishing a lifelong dream of becoming a pilot. He rapidly achieved a single- and multi-engine land commercial instrument certificates and purchased his first plane, a Piper Matrix, in 2010. At that time, a friend mentioned volunteer pilot opportunities, and not long after that Mark flew his first donated flight and was hooked. By 2012, Mark was flying an Eclipse 500, regularly contributing flights. That same year, he received an invitation to join the board of directors of PALS, where he actively supported the pilot/safety committee and took over leadership of the technology committee.

Continually looking for ways to give back to both aviation and those in need, Mark has recently provided safety and volunteer flying presentations at AirVenture Oshkosh, local flying clubs, IMC Club meetings, and other venues. As Mark enters full retirement, he is focusing his volunteer passion on PALS.

PALS was founded in 2010 as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization to connect patients in need of treatment outside of their geographic region with volunteer pilots who love to fly. There are many reasons a donated, non-emergency PALS flight might take off: medical, compassion, military (through the PALS for Patriots program), or humanitarian purposes, but all requests must be for ambulatory individuals who have a financial or compelling need. PALS has arranged more than 11,500 flights, now averaging 200-plus per month. Flights are only part of the story, as PALS also provides ground transportation by way of auto pilot volunteers and commercial services, ensuring a holistic door-to-door experience. All PALS pilots are instrument rated and required to have at least 350 hours total time with 50 hours in type.

If you or a loved one is in need of air transportation, or you would like to volunteer or make a donation, visit the PALS website or Facebook page. For information about volunteer pilot opportunities, you’re welcome to e-mail

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