Taking to the sky with some very special kids

Whether it’s the desire to share our passion for flight, or the need to show compassion for our community, the Challenge Air program for kids and friends provides Jeppesen an opportunity to give back to others in a rather exceptional way.  Challenge Air Fly Day, held at Centennial Airport in September, allowed 70 special needs children and youth to experience the thrill of flight with free 30-minute airplane rides flown by a group of local volunteer pilots, including members of Jeppesen Employee Flying Association (JEFA). 

“I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday…seeing the excitement on the kid’s faces after returning from a flight is priceless!”  Terri Jackson, volunteer

Flying in single-engine aircraft, the program focuses on the abilities of the special needs participants and the many possibilities available to them.  The young pilots participating in the event are invited to take (supervised) control of the airplane to help build confidence and self esteem and look beyond their perceived limitations.  Their excitement and pride is shared by the volunteers.

“I had the opportunity to fly some of the kids, and to see them get out of the airplane after flying is like no other feeling,” said Tom Letts, functional analyst, Airborne / Navigation.  “They are so excited about what they just did that it shows in their smiles.  It is very rewarding to be a pilot at a Challenge Air event.”

Volunteer pilots, with their volunteer airplanes, took to the sky among squeals and laughter, while 45 volunteer ground crew members took registrations, taught ground school and scheduled/dispatched aircraft.   Another welcome sight at the event is Canine Companions for Independence.   These specially-trained dogs support their owners in a number of ways.  

“I volunteer as a way to give back to my community.  My passion is aviation so anytime I have the opportunity to help out with an event surrounding aviation it makes it that much more fun.”  Tom Letts, volunteer

The Challenge Air program empowers and inspires all participants and their families in a fun-filled day of activity.  The program consists of an educational ground school where participants learn about the forces of flight and learn how pilots with physical challenges fly with specially equipped airplanes.  The day then includes an inspirational flight in the co-pilot seat, flying over Denver-area points of interest.

“I think one of the most memorable moments was seeing Bob Benda put a wing pin on his co-pilot.  He had one for each child.” Stacey Vince, volunteer

For Stacey Vince, executive assistant, GNS & Marine, the event left a lasting impression.  She hopes to organize the event for next year. 

“A teenager, Brandon, and his dad came in at the last minute,” Stacey said.  “His dad forgot to register online and was hoping to get in – luckily for them we had a cancellation.  Brandon was so excited that he hurried and put his shirt on – ready to fly— plus he was going by himself this year since he was 18.  His dad spoke very fondly of the first year flying a couple years before with pilot, Mark Van Tine.  As they were leaving, Brandon had this big smile on his face – and his dad yelled ‘SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!’” 

This is the fourth year that Jeppesen was the title sponsor of The Challenge Air Fly Day event, hosted by X Jet and Centennial Airport.  Challenge Air is a 501 (c) nonprofit organization established in 1993 and has inspired more than 30,000 children and youth living with special needs in 36 states.    


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