Pilot Report: ‘Fly the Special Olympics Airlift once and you’ll understand’

In his typical straight-to-the-point manner, businessman and general aviation advocate Michael Herman has a message for his fellow aviators: “We need to do more.”

He can’t understand why anyone with access to a CESSNA CITATION, BEECHCRAFT KING AIR, Beechcraft PREMIER, Beechjet or HAWKER aircraft would not donate the use of their aircraft, fuel and pilots for the 2022 Special Olympics Airlift happening next year on June 4 and June 12.

“We have the assets and we have the ability,” Michael said of his fellow aircraft owners. “It’s just a two-day commitment for us every four years, and it results in an unforgettable experience for each of the athletes. We all ought to be involved in the Special Olympics Airlift.” The Citation CJ3 jet owner hopes sharing his experience at the past four Special Olympics Airlifts will inspire others.

“Fly the Special Olympics Airlift once and you’ll understand,” he said.“I fly many diverse philanthropic missions, and this one is at the top of my list because of the athletes we transport.” His first Airlift experience was in 1999, the same year he began flying Citation aircraft. His CJ was among 260 aircraft that year flying athletes to Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.

Michael said he had no idea what to expect the first year he participated, but it was such a moving experience that he had each of the athletes on his plane sign a hat. He’s continued the tradition of this personal keepsake at each Airlift.

He was impressed with how smoothly the Airlift ran the first year he participated, and each year after has been just as well-run. He participated in 2006 (Des Moines, Iowa), 2010 (Lincoln, Nebraska) and 2014, when he agreed to fly athletes from California, where he was living at the time, to the games in Trenton, New Jersey. (Learn more about the history of the Special Olympics Airlift here.)

Michael credits all of the Textron Aviation staff and volunteers, along with those from other supporting organizations, who come together to make the Airlift happen.

“The airlines could learn a lesson from the people behind the Airlift,” he said. “It’s incredible how they handle the aircraft on both days. They’ve got it down to a science on how to handle them in, get the luggage and handle them out one after the other after the other.”

Business aviation has been part of Michael’s life since 1965, and even at age 81, he has no plans to slow down. Michael has served as a board member for the Citation Jet Pilots owner-pilot association and National Business Aviation Association. He continues to serve on the board of the San Diego Air & Space Museum and operates three businesses.

Having access to his own aircraft was an important tool in building his career as an international provider of direct mail manufacturing and distribution. He continues working in that industry today, and also uses the aircraft to fly for organizations such as Corporate Angel Network, Angel Flight and Veterans Airlift Command. There’s also the matter of visiting his seven children, 12 grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

He has flown Citation jets since 1999, starting with a CJ, then a CJ2 and his current 2006 Citation CJ3 aircraft, which he purchased new from the Wichita factory. In a typical year, he flies the 275 to 300 hours, including an occasional trip to Europe in the CJ3. He has hangar space in Montgomery, California, and in Bedford, Pennsylvania, which is now his primary residence.

What would he say to someone considering registering to participate in the Airlift? “You have an asset that has served you well, so let it serve the Special Olympics athletes for two days in 2022.”

Citation Jet Pilots association challenges Citation aircraft owners to step up

Citation Jet Pilots members have a long legacy of supporting the Special Olympics Airlift dating back to the 1980s. This year, to reinforce the association’s support, leaders of CJP have issued a challenge to their group through its CJP Special 100 campaign. CJP hopes to inspire at least 100 owners to donate the use of their aircraft, fuel and pilots for the 2022 Special Olympics Airlift. The event is an incredible chance to showcase the benefits of private and general aviation, and it is not possible without the generous support of Citation jet owners and operators.

Athlete spotlight: Michelle Feiner

Michelle Feiner started her journey with Special Olympics when she was 17 years old. The now 29-year-old has more confidence in herself and her abilities after a dozen years competing for Team Florida in golf, volleyball and powerlifting, a sport in which she regularly wins gold medals.

Aside from all the gold, Michelle’s greatest achievement through Special Olympics has been learning to speak more comfortably with new people. In fact, she’s looking forward to making new friends when she competes in powerlifting at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games. She is focused on training every day, staying confident and not allowing her insecurities to get to her. She said she wants to show people just how strong she is, while proving to other girls that they are strong, too.

Learn more about the USA Games and the athletes who will compete there at 2022specialolympicsusagames.org.

We Need You!

Who: Nearly 200 aircraft—Cessna Citation, Beechcraft King Air, Beechcraft Premier, Beechjet, Hawker

What: 2022 Special Olympics Airlift

Where: From airports around the U.S. to and from Orlando Executive Airport (KORL) for the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games

When: June 4, 2022 and June 12, 2022

History of the Airlift

Last organized in 2014, Textron Aviation is thrilled to be organizing the eighth Special Olympics Airlift. The company has a proud history with the Special Olympics, and together with our many generous customers and supporters, we’ve transported nearly 10,000 athletes and coaches from across the United States to Special Olympics World Games and USA Games competitions.

1985 - Cessna Aircraft Company transported the Special Olympics Kansas delegation in two Cessna Citation business jets to the International Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah

1987 - 1st official Citation Special Olympics Airlift to the International Summer Games in South Bend, Indiana, with 132 aircraft

1991 - 2nd Citation Special Olympics Airlift to St. Paul/Minneapolis, Minnesota, for the International Summer Games with 180 aircraft

1995 - 3rd Citation Special Olympics Airlift to Hartford, Connecticut, for the International Summer Games with 197 aircraft

1999 - 4th Citation Special Olympics Airlift to Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, for the International Summer Games with 260 aircraft

2006 - 5th Citation Special Olympics Airlift to the first U.S. National Games in Des Moines, Iowa, with 235 aircraft

2010 - 6th Citation Special Olympics Airlift to the U.S. National Games in Lincoln, Nebraska, with 160 aircraft

2014 – 7th Citation Special Olympics Airlift to the U.S. National Games in Trenton, New Jersey, with 97 aircraft