Yes, and 23-year-old Zach Kilgore is already one of AFSC’s most dedicated flyers
[Pictured above: Zach Kilgore (right) with his flight assistant and friend Will Kyle (left), preparing to fly AFSC passenger John K. (center) from Fayetteville, AR, to Dallas]
Angel Flight passengers often do a double-take when they first meet volunteer pilot Zach Kilgore. Zach, 23, is one of the youngest pilots flying for AFSC, but don’t let that youthful face fool you. He has more than 1,000 hours of flight time under his belt and is a certified flying instructor. And he has an ageless care for his passengers, keeping water and blankets on board and nearly always bringing his friend Will Kyle along as a flight assistant to make sure passengers are comfortable during their journey.
Zach began flying for Angel Flight South Central a couple of months ago and has fast become one of our most frequent volunteers. This passion for flying and helping others began when Zach was in college at Oklahoma State studying agricultural economics. He had planned to go on to law school but after a couple of internships with law firms, realized that wasn’t the right career path for him. So he completed a rating in OSU’s flight program, enrolled in flight training at home in Addison, and ultimately earned his private pilot’s license. Soon after, he certified to teach others to fly and has already sent around 31 check rides. (A check ride is the flight a student pilot and his/her instructor take with an FAA inspector to earn their certification or license.)
Zach’s father, Shawn Kilgore, also makes his living as a pilot – in his case as a captain at American Airlines. Shawn also had been volunteering with AFSC, and Zach flew with him multiple times as a child. Upon earning his own pilot’s license, Zach jumped at the chance to volunteer himself with Angel Flight, using the family’s 6-seater Beechcraft/55 series to fly missions. (Zach is working on getting his brother to volunteer as well.) The plane can fly about five hours without refueling, so Zach tries to pick up the longer legs that are posted to AFSC’s flight board.
All of this experience isn’t immediately apparent when passengers first spot Zach and Will. Zach laughs as he describes walking down a long hallway toward a passenger recently. As he approached, he received a text from her that read: “I see you all. I’m scared.” Preternaturally poised, Zach says, “I calmed her fears. I told her that I take off and land 15 times a day.”
[Above: Photos from Zach’s first mission for AFSC: baby Jesus R. had a relaxing flight from Midland to Houston to receive treatment for a chromosomal syndrome.]
Zach’s first flight was a particularly memorable one for him: his mission was to fly an infant – who was having breathing and other medical issues – and his parents from Midland to Houston for treatment. “It was wonderful looking back and seeing him comfortable and falling asleep. We were able to get them to their destination fast, and when we got there, the dad said, ‘You all really are angels.’”
As Zach is about to start his own career flying for Envoy Air (American’s regional carrier), he plans to continue volunteering with Angel Flight South Central. And he encourages other young pilots to do the same. “Take advantage of the experience that comes with it. At our age, this might be the first time you have the chance to take care of someone and provide really good customer service. It’s a little like operating as an airline. Also, flying for Angel Flight lets you go into busy airports that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to get to fly into in general – and often without landing fees.”