Piedmont captain Matt Sheehan is a big fan of paying it forward. As a child, he was obsessed with airplanes, begging his grandmother to take him to Logan Airport in Boston to watch the airplanes take off and land. As an adult, he gives children in need the gift of flight he longed for as a child.
In 2015, Matt met Gary and Martha Oberstein, founders of a non-profit called Above the Clouds. The Obersteins were on a mission to share the wonder of flying with children facing adversity – a child who recently lost a parent, a young boy coping with drug-addicted parents. The Obersteins needed pilots and Matt, no stranger to childhood adversity, was hooked.
“For the kids, the dream flight provides an escape from their daily life challenges by providing a fun, unique experience, even if only for a little while,” said Matt.
Children are referred through local doctors, hospitals and organizations such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters. One Saturday a month, April through October, pilot volunteers fly 12 to 14 children on dream flights in donated airplanes or the organization’s PA28 Piper Warrior. The flights depart from Norwood Memorial Airport just south of Boston. Children are welcomed at the airport by volunteers and visit a planning room where they map out sights they’d like to see from the air. (Some of the more popular requests: Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots; Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, and the children’s own homes.)
In flight, the kids get a chance to hold on to the controls and sometimes, just for a moment, fly the airplane. Once they land, they’re given a log book signed by the pilot, a bomber jacket and a few gifts from Piedmont. When Matt isn’t flying during the event, he is part of the committee on the ground and also assists with aircraft preparation before the event. “It is really rewarding for me to use what I have learned and experienced in my career to teach children about aviation because I could relate to some of these kids at their age,” said Matt. “I want to show the kids that obstacles can be overcome because I did it and I celebrate that by paying it forward.”
Matt has been instrumental about spreading the word about Above the Clouds. He is planning to fly Boston’s mayor on an introductory flight in August and hopes to recruit more Piedmont pilots.
Piedmont has been a platinum sponsor of Above the Clouds for two years, allowing dozens of children to experience flight first hand. At least one dream flight recipient is now planning to study aviation.
“You never know when a dream flight experience can spark an interest in a child to pursue an aviation career,” said Matt.
To learn how you can get involved with Above the Clouds, visit the ATC website at http://abovethecloudskids.org/.
Thank you Matt for volunteering your time with Above the Clouds!