AFSC board member and volunteer pilot Larry Forney was recently named Distinguished Volunteer Pilot of the Year by the National Aeronautical Association. You can read the press release announcement here and continue reading to learn of the many reasons he was nominated.
As the CEO of Grit Oil & Gas, LLC, a private equity-backed company that he started with his partners in December 2016, Larry Forney is a busy guy. But he does not let his business obligations stop him from being a generous and dedicated volunteer pilot.
Larry joined Angel Flight South Central (AFSC) in September of 2015 and set a lofty (pun intended) goal: he would fly 200 missions for AFSC in four years. When you do the math, that boils down to about one mission per week. He achieved this goal ahead of schedule by flying his 202nd AFSC mission on August 28th. Larry has not only succeeded in accomplishing what he set out to do, but he has made a remarkable difference in the lives of the patients he has flown. Larry’s AFSC missions have facilitated the travel for patients to life-saving appointments from 78 different cities across 12 states.
In addition to his regular donor flights, Larry has also volunteered in other ways to support Angel Flight and expand his philanthropic impact. Larry served as the Southeast Texas Wing Leader for two years shortly after joining the organization. In 2017, he became a member of the Board of Directors, where he now serves as the Vice Chairperson.
“Larry has a heart of gold and keeps the needs of our patients/passengers at the forefront of every conversation that the board has,” says Todd Quesnel, former AFSC Executive Director and volunteer pilot.
On top of the many capacities in which he serves AFSC, Larry has volunteered with several nonprofit organizations, as well as flown medical and humanitarian flights for other volunteer pilot organizations.
Larry’s interest in aviation began in South Louisiana, where he started his professional career after college. He received his solo certificate at the historical Wedell-Williams (Harry P. Williams Memorial – KPTN) airport in Patterson, Louisiana. Flying as a hobby was delayed by the usual – career, lack of funds, and later, a family.
After taking a 24-year break from flying to focus on his family, his career, and running two companies, Larry was bored recreationally and wanted to get back in the cockpit again. He bought a mint condition 1948 Cessna 170 and flew frequently but was looking for a more meaningful way to keep up his proficiency. After the loss of his brother in April of 2015 to pancreatic cancer and hearing about Angel Flight, the path became obvious. He earned his IFR ticket, purchased a Cirrus SR22T and set out to fly 200 missions in four years.
“Angel Flight missions have taken my flight experiences to a new level by providing a meaningful and logistical purpose to flying. The missions support a genuine need, and there is no better way to maintain proficiency.”
Larry finds himself signing up to fly the missions that aren’t likely to get picked up, whether they are last-minute requests or multi-leg missions. He has no problem flying long distances to pick patients up and get them home. While some pilots only have the time to fly one or two legs at a time, Larry will fly as many legs as it takes to get the patients where they need to go. He is very intentional and strategic in his planning and finds ways to combine more than one trip in a day. This means that he devotes entire days to serving others. He is always willing to fly before the sun rises and well past the sun sets, if that is what the conditions dictate for a safe flight.
Larry says, “I have learned so much from the passengers on these missions. These are people that are very sick and often physically and emotionally uncomfortable. Yet they are uniformly kind, patient and focused on the things that are truly important in life. Not a word pilots will typically like to say, but these flight missions help keep me grounded. And it is so gratifying to know that 100% of the cost for my flight donation goes to directly impact the passengers I am flying.”
In a time where people are incredibly busy and often overextended, Larry Forney is an active advocate for the work of AFSC. He makes the time to fly missions to reach his goal and takes great care in preparing for each one. “Having a place to go, logistics and weather to consider, is exciting and satisfying. Pilots like to be in control, and on these missions, when the patient is relying on you to get them to their destination safely and on time, you do just that.”
While some pilots bond with passengers and fly many missions with the same ones, Larry makes a point to fly different passengers. Larry’s calm, confident presence reassures patients, especially those who are flying for the first time. Larry says, “Their Angel Flight is a break from their new normal and a special way to travel. The excitement of flying in a small, private plane is a welcome distraction for many patients.” He says he enjoys introducing his love of flying to the patients that fly with him. For some of them, it’s their first time flying, and it’s kind of like going to Disney World.”
Having an illness that requires regular visits to a treatment center located far from home is stressful and exhausting. Larry is sympathetic to what his passengers are going through and focuses on providing exceptional flying experiences.
Larry is as humble as they come. He has an impressive professional resume leading large public and private companies, but he refers to himself simply as a professional engineer and the CEO of his company. Really, he’s a talented leader in his industry who has earned the respect of his colleagues and the teams that he has worked on.
Larry uses his experiences as an entrepreneur and successful businessman to provide strategic insight to the Board of Directors of AFSC. He has coupled that knowledge with his passion for delivering the mission of AFSC. When he saw a need for fundraising, he put together two fundraisers coupled with the Texas Aircraft Expo and an event with Tidal Aviation. Rather than sit around and talk about a need for fundraising, Larry leveraged his contacts and his love of flying to organize events that his fellow aviation enthusiasts would enjoy.
“I’m proud to join our other Board members in nominating Larry Forney,” says Wayne Maynard, AFSC Board Chairman. “His calming personality gives more than just transportation to Angel Flight South Central patients.”
Angel Flight South Central aims to provide no-cost flights to and from medical appointments. Larry Forney is deeply committed to helping AFSC deliver on that mission. He gets involved when and where help is needed. He is organized, respectful, and an incredible asset to our organization. More than that, he is an incredible asset to every one of the passengers he has flown in the past four years. Larry’s all-in spirit and positive attitude make him the perfect candidate to earn the Distinguished Volunteer Pilot Award.