Licensed general aviation pilot Dale Swanson wanted to do something to help communities impacted by COVID-19. When he read a request to deliver supplies to the hard-hit Navajo Nation, he rose to the challenge.
In the Community: A Flight of Compassion
MITRE employees take our mission of solving problems for a safer world to heart—and to their communities. Our "In the Community" series highlights the many ways our people make a difference in neighborhoods across the country and around the globe.
Select stories feature employees lending their time, talent, and heart to the fight against COVID-19. Dale Swanson took to the skies to deliver personal protective equipment to the Navajo Nation.
I own a twin-engine Cessna, and after hurricanes hit the Bahamas a few months ago, I signed up for Aero Bridge. It's a volunteer organization that coordinates relief missions to transport supplies and help people in distressed situations.
A Mission with His Name on It
I was scanning the Aero Bridge missions list when one entry caught my eye. It was a request to fly to Bedford, Massachusetts, pick up 12 cases of medical face shields that had been donated to the Navajo Nation, and deliver them to a facility in Gallup, New Mexico.
It’s nearly 1,800 nautical miles between Bedford and Gallup, so I knew it would be a multi-day journey. But I wanted to do it. The Navajo Nation has really suffered from COVID-19, and their hospitals were badly in need of these supplies.
I talked with my wife, Brandy, about the time and expense. She was onboard. The next morning, I told my manager this was something I needed to do. He and my team worked to make it possible.
Best Laid Plans …
I mapped out a schedule, with refueling stops and overnight stays. Things didn't go quite according to plan.
I live in Maryland, so the first leg was a flight to Bedford, outside of Boston. After takeoff, I was surprised at how windy it was in the cockpit. Then I realized the main entry door had popped open. Fortunately, I had my coat on, so I just kept flying with the door flapping in the wind.
When I got to Bedford, I realized only six of the 12 boxes of face shields would fit in my plane. I called Aero Bridge to ask if I should proceed or not, and they said to keep going.
I flew the first leg toward New Mexico that same day. I encountered a lot of heavy rain and turbulence. It was white-knuckle flying the whole way.
Things got a bit harrowing the next day, too. I thought rain was hitting the windscreen, but I saw the propellers were turning white. It was sleet, and the propellers were icing over. I let air traffic control know that I was making a sudden descent a couple thousand feet to get below freezing. The virus has curtailed many commercial operations, so the skies were pretty empty.
I got into Gallup, where I was able to deliver the supplies—but not before my contact and I found someone to unlock the airport gates. I arrived at 7 pm. It turns out the airport closes every night at 5.
It took five days and 24 hours of flying time to complete the trip, with one day spent working online from my hotel room while I waited out the rain.
When I got home, I received a really nice note and a photo [shown above] from my Navajo Nation contact, Mel Rodis. He said everyone at the Health Command Operations Center was thrilled with the donation.
That picture made the whole trip worthwhile. I'd do it all again.
—by Dale Swanson, as told to Marlis McCollum
Inclusion and diversity have long been key elements of our culture. MITRE is committed to leading the way to a strong future through community involvement and volunteerism, locally and nationally, and we offer 40 hours of paid time to employees to volunteer during the workday for causes they care about. Learn more about working with us.