Founded in 1981 by Wanda Whitsitt of Champaign, IL, LifeLine Pilots’ mission is to facilitate free air transportation through volunteer pilots for financially distressed passengers with medical and humanitarian needs. LifeLine Pilots began as a small group of pilots in Illinois who envisioned using their special skill of flying to help people with emergencies to reach medical centers. With only 40 pilots, all activity was limited to departing or arriving within the state. All operations were under the auspices of Illinois Emergency Services and Disaster Agency taking advantage of their 24 hour phone service and liability protection. After five years, the group separated from the state agency to expand the service area outside of Illinois. Criteria was expanded to include a financial need and logistical concerns. Board Members served as volunteer mission coordinators. The 100th mission was flown in 1987.
By 1990, it was evident that the increase in mission activity would require a paid mission coordinator to handle the volume. In 1998, the move was made to relocate LifeLine Pilots’ office to Byerly Aviation at the Greater Peoria Airport and broaden the scope of activities. A steady growth in mission activity has underlined the importance of this decision. To date, over 8,000 missions have been flown by LifeLine Pilots’ Volunteer Pilots. The service area has grown to include free air transportation to those traveling between the Rocky Mountains and the East Coast.
The generosity of 450 volunteer pilots makes the mission of LifeLine Pilots’ a reality. Their decision to donate their time and resources to those with transportation needs has resulted in over 5,000,000 charitable nautical miles flown. The Volunteer Pilots come from all walks of life, are FAA certified pilots, have met the LifeLine Pilot’s volunteer pilot criteria and have a willingness to donate 100% of flight expenses. LifeLine Pilots’ passengers must have financial need, be able to sit upright, be ambulatory and be willing to fly in a small unpressurized aircraft. They have exhausted resources in their own community and are needing to travel a great distance to continue lifesaving treatments. LifeLine Pilots does not limit the number of times a passenger can utilize the service. Missions are facilitated for babies through senior citizens. LifeLine Pilots’ has also participated in relief efforts for natural disasters by transporting volunteers and supplies to areas of need. To continue to meet the growing need of those with transportation barriers, ongoing outreach to referral sources such as medical centers and service organizations, as well as participation in general aviation events to recruit volunteer pilots are necessary functions of LifeLine Pilots’ operations. The organization is a 501 (c)(3) charity that is privately funded by individuals, corporations and foundations.