Aviation Aid Missions to Haiti, Mexico and Belize Take Jack’s Plane to “Highest and Best Use.”
Next week Master Teacher Jack Long, Chairman and Co-founder of SchoolAdmin, will take to the skies. Once again he’s volunteering his plane and piloting skills in what’s become an ongoing series of aviation missions that he’s run to support medical aid and wildlife conservation.
In the last two years, Jack has flown medical supplies and personnel to Haiti shortly after the 2010 earthquake, brought a couple of seriously injured Haitian girls to the US for extensive medical care, and transported endangered wildlife across North America to support species growth and repopulation.
We talked to Jack recently about his missions, how his entrepreneurship enabled them, and how his June 2012 trip builds on one he flew last year.
As often happens with entrepreneurs, the opportunity and launch of Jack’s missions came about after harvesting a business he’d co-founded. Late in 2008, after selling software startup PeopleAdmin, Jack treated himself to a new plane, a Pilatus PC-12, built by the Swiss company Pilatus Aircraft Limited.
“It was a more capable plane… and it’s the nicest plane I’ve ever had,” Jack admitted. “I’ve been an aviation buff for more than 30 years. In college, I got a job at an airport fueling planes and funded my own pilot certification. I’ve been flying ever since.”
The remaining component came came into place in January 12, 2010, when the Haitian earthquake created a real need for help and provoked thousands of Americans to action. That’s when Jack rallied with three other Pilatus owners to fly doctors and medical supplies to Haiti, inadvertently beginning his aviation missions.
Medical Excursions To Haiti in 2010
Six days after the quake, Jack and the three other pilots collectively picked up 15 medical professionals – doctors and nurses – and 15,000 pounds of medical supplies. They convened in Miami and flew the next day to the Haitian town of Jacmel, southwest of Port-au-Prince where they unloaded the passengers and supplies and returned to the US.
A few weeks later, Jack was again en route to Haiti, this time flying his neighbor, a doctor at Austin’s Dell Children’s hospital, and a hold full of supplies. After delivering passenger and cargo, Jack flew to the Dominican Republic, Haiti’s wealthier neighbor on Hispaniola not directly impacted by the quake. A Dominican missionary group had set up a staging ground for critical supplies, while Jack and other pilots like him handled the logistics, making three of four runs per day. Jack ran relief supplies all over Haiti for five days before returning to Austin.
“These flights were my first flights outside of US airspace and in Haiti it was like the Wild West,” Jack said. “There was no air traffic control and military planes, from any number of countries, could just come out of nowhere.”
After commercial service was restored, and coordinated flight transportation in Haiti resumed, Jack decided that continuing his flights would not be the “highest and best use” of his resources and assumed his flights to Haiti had concluded. However, two months later he was asked to make the run a third time.
“There were two little Haitian girls, both had their legs crushed in the earthquake,” Jack explained. “They’d reached a point where, if they stayed in Haiti, their legs would be amputated… all four legs.”
UTSA Medical had agreed to contribute all medical services and two San Antonio families had committed to provide foster care for the girls while they recovered. The only missing piece was transportation, so when Jack was recruited to help, he agreed and brought the girls safely back to San Antonio for treatment.
“I felt like I did some good in Haiti,” Jack commented on his overall experience there. “And the flying was challenging and very different from what I had known. It was a good use of my plane and I was interested in finding more ways to use it like that.”
Enter LightHawk – Running Wolves and Falcons
After his Haiti trips, Jack began working with LightHawk, an environmental aviation non-profit that acts as a middleman between environmental and conservation-related organizations and pilots who can help their causes. Jack has run several missions, transporting Mexican Gray Wolves and Orange-breasted Falcon chicks across North America.
“My wife Carolyn and I are very active and supportive of The Nature Conservancy and conservation causes in general,” Jack said. “So LightHawk represented a good fit for me.”
Mexican Gray Wolves
Since 2009, the Mexican Gray Wolf has been the most endangered mammal in North America. The Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan aims to repopulate the species and reintroduce it into the wild. This involves both pairing and breeding wolves in captivity, for release into the wild, and moving wolves around amongst captive breeding sites, keeping the wolves’ DNA pool varied.
On each flight, Jack carried two wolves, each set in an individual crate just a few feet behind his pilot’s seat. Jack pointed out that while he was accompanied by wildlife handlers on his US flights, he flew solo with his canine cargo on his flights south of the border.
The Orange-Breasted Falcon Project
In June 2011, Jack shuttled two crates of rare and very endangered falcon chicks from Sheridan, Wyoming to Belize. Together, they flew with an entourage of three biologists and 4,000 pounds of frozen quail.
The Orange-Breasted Falcon is extremely rare and has only been bred in captivity in one location, overseen by one man. Celebrated falconer Bob Berry, himself an entrepreneur who sold his insurance company years ago, oversees the Orange-breasted Falcon Project, which seeks help from pilots like Jack to transport the captive chicks to their native Central America, where they can be transitioned into the wild.
When the chicks hatch, there is a very narrow window of about two weeks in which you can introduce them into the wild. If it is done too soon, they’ll die. If it occurs too late, the birds will be too attached to their handlers and unable to survive on their own.
Round Two of the Orange-Breasted Falcon Project
Jack’s next mission, with wheels up the morning of June 11, 2012, builds on last year’s experience with Bob Berry and his Orange-breasted Falcons.
“This time, my wife is going with me,” said Jack. “Bob Berry invited us to go with him once we land in Belize, as he takes the birds to their new habitat.”
Once they arrive, the chicks will be transferred to hack sites, where young falcons are placed in a raised, enclosed habitat designed to resemble a forest canopy. To avoid human imprinting, all human contact is concealed and the birds are fed with the use of puppets that help them learn to become experienced hunters.
Flying for a Purpose
“I love everything about these flights,” Jack said. “They help organizations whose causes I love. I love the flying and I love using the plane for a good purpose.”
Everyone at Acton is very proud of our friend, colleague and Master Teacher Jack Long. And we love that Jack’s entrepreneurial success and personal drive have afforded him new opportunities to help change the world.
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