Making a big difference with little airplane

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LightHawk is a nonprofit organization based in Lander, Wyo. It has a small staff that matches the needs of conservation organizations for flights with its corps of volunteer pilots. Under the FARs, there can be no charge for its flights, so LightHawk is dependent on individual contributions and foundations to pay the salaries of its staff and operate the two airplanes it owns. (All LightHawk flights, even in the airplanes it owns, are by volunteer pilots.) LightHawk program managers coordinate the flights in their geographic areas, with three currently in the United States and one in Central America.

lighthawk
For nearly three decades, LightHawk has dedicated flights to groups hoping to preserve the fragile natural resources of North and Central America.
A pilot learns of a needed flight via e-mail or a phone call. The program manager has already researched the issue involved and agreed that a flight would help disclose the true condition of the area. Once a pilot volunteers for a flight, the program manager briefs him or her on the geographic area involved and the conservation issue. The pilot then speaks with the conservation organization, and together, they plan the details of the flight, with the pilot making the final call on the airport of departure, the route to be flown and altitudes, based on his or her evaluation of the safest and best viewing opportunities. The pilot will seek to schedule the flight for a time when the air is expected to be smooth, as an uncomfortable passenger doesn

In Mexico and Central America, LightHawk uses a Cessna 206 it owns for most of its program flights. The program manager works with conservation partners well in advance and sets up flights so that the airplane is in a particular country for a matter of weeks for a series of flights. Volunteer pilots agree to donate their time, usually taking a couple of weeks of vacation to do so. They travel to where the 206 is and do a period of intensive flying for a variety of conservation organizations. It may be anything from spotting illegal vacation-home construction in protected areas of coastal Costa Rica to counting sea turtle nesting sites in Panama to doing the annual manatee count in Belize.

A few LightHawk flights have had dramatic impact; a group in Chicago felt that a local politician with a
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