Announcing our New “Dream Flyover” Program! Sure, the current crisis prevents the kids from coming to the airport, but ATC solves that problem with our new Dream Flyover Program by bringing ATC’s special brand of joy to the kids! One thousand feet of social distancing  and support for a future Dream Flyer. ATC offers Dream Flyovers to kids whose Dream Flights have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Watch the video below to see our latest Flyover Adventure!

After starting 2020 with an amazing January Dream Flight Day for a group of kids from Dedham, ATC’s regular activities came to a grinding halt in March. But when the COVID-19 pandemic forced ATC to postpone kids’ Dream Flights this spring, we pivoted to offer “Dream Flyovers” to bring the flights to the kids. We changed from operating as an airport-based program, to a “road and air show”. Local firefighters and police generously partnered with Above the Clouds’ to add a Drive-by component to the planned Flyovers to create full ground-to-air friendship missions. Since April, the Dream Flyovers / Drive-bys have benefited more than 200 children in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The Flyovers helped keep their hope alive and planted the seeds for kids to envision themselves as a Dream Flyer, Discovery Flyer or Cadet Flyer when it is safe for Above the Clouds to resume airport-based programming.

That was the summary, but the equally important story of the ATC Dream Flyovers is that, more than at any other time, the Flyovers validated ATC’s belief in the transformational power of joy, and the enormous impact a small act of kindness can make… on everyone involved. 2020 created enormous stress, along with widespread yearning for joy. As major airlines cut flights, the Dream Flyovers gave ATC the privilege to offer hundreds of people a chance to experience joy through aviation in action.

In April ATC began planning the first Dream Flyover. A volunteer pilot and his wife would circle their helicopter over the home of Jake, an Andover boy with a serious medical condition. To insure everyone stayed safely distant on the ground, our Joymakers were just three people from one household and one person from another. We notified the local Fire and Police department in case they got calls concerned about a circling helicopter. The first responders immediately offered to lead a drive-by parade. One firefighter drove from Norwood to Andover on his day off to participate. When we told friends about the plan, mothers and kids from Boxford called saying they wanted to decorate their cars to participate in the drive by parade. The kids were so excited to drive between the fire engines, waving balloons, signs and stuffed animals from their sunroofs. They had driven 10 miles to participate, and none of them knew Jake or ATC.

That day Jake and his family were treated to a heartfelt Dream Flyover / Drive-by parade that involved fire trucks, police motor cycles, a dozen families they had never met, neighbors who joined on front lawns along the route, and a best friend who played his trumpet out the window of his Mom’s car. Jake’s family was interviewed for the local paper, and Above the Clouds was put on the map in Andover. That first Dream Flyover had been a truly joyful and safe event that raised the spirits of dozens of people in the middle of a pandemic. We realized we were on to something.

Word of the Flyovers spread quickly and more volunteers offered to help, including Boston Executive Helicopters and a professional aerial photographer. For the May Flyover day we simultaneously deployed teams of volunteers to 3 locations. One of those sites was the Italian Home for Children, a Jamaica Plain residential program for 30+ kids who are in long-term foster care. Interestingly the Home had been founded 100 years before to house orphans who had survived the 1918 flu pandemic. For almost 3 months those kids had not left the Home’s small property, and had seen no one except the staff. As ATC’s Joymaker ground crew was quietly setting up for the Flyover and writing the kids’ names in large chalk letters on the driveway, the kids spotted us and started shouting out the windows, “Don’t forget me! Write my name in green / blue / pink! Here’s how to spell my name!“ There was not a dry eye among the ground crew as we finished the set up and stood back as the kids raced outside, jumping up and down, finding their names, laughing and high-fiving. The Flyover that day was the most exciting thing that had happened at the Home in months – the helicopter circling and emerging from behind the building ever closer on each loop, and the firefighters sharing the event alongside the kids. The Italian Home had been the pilot’s third stop that day, after flying over the Roslindale home of a girl who has medical issues, and over another school for inner city low income kids. NBC-TV and local online and print news covered the May Flyovers that day, casting a new and unique spotlight on aviation community resources and ATC programs. Two months later the schools reported that the staff and kids could not stop talking about their Flyover day and they look forward to sending kids to ATC programs as soon as we can resume.

In June we reached out to more organizations and residential schools that served kids who had disabilities or who were in state care. For a few of the summer Flyover events, to protect the safety of kids in state care, ATC could not take photos of kids faces, so we skipped the media coverage. Kids in Freetown asked, “Are we famous?  Are you famous? Can you LAND that helicopter at my school?” Pilot Bill talked to those kids through the radio and a loud speaker and heard dozens of kids shouting his name, asking questions about the plane, and how fast and high he was flying. They wanted to know what they looked like from the sky. The kids sent Bill got many hand made thanks cards.  Again, the schools were thrilled to have a new partner to provide novel opportunities for kids during and post-pandemic. More ATC Joymaker volunteers wanted to get involved.

David, a New Hampshire based pilot, flew with his son taking photos from the copilot seat, to provide Flyovers in 3 locations in Laconia, New Hampshire. At every Flyover additional pilots joined the ground crew so kids could talk to real pilots and answer their questions about the planes and helicopters. The family of two former Dream Flyers volunteered at several locations. The brothers, Arman and Jahan both have serious medical challenges, but they have been safely volunteering as ATC’s superstar sidewalk chalk artists. They can’t wait to be old enough to learn to fly.

ATC’s November Flyover was hosted at the League School in Walpole, where the pilot actually was able to LAND the helicopter. The kids got to see, hear and feel the wind from the helicopter as it circled closer and landed. Kids and their grown-ups, checked out the helicopter, posed for photos and spoke to the pilots. A Norwood firefighter brought an engine and gave a detailed tour to the kids after the helicopter took off. The Joymaker ground crew filled the parking lot with the colorful chalk art and the names of all the kids who attend the school, so that even those who missed the Flyover would see that they had been remembered at the event.

In just over 6 months ATC hosted Flyovers at 15 locations and brought joy through aviation to more than 200 kids, along with at least that number of grown-ups who care for them, and the dozens of volunteers who participated. The sites were as diverse as a residence on a cranberry bog, to an apartment complex in Laconia, to a school where kids communicated in sign language, and another that ran a bubble machine during the event. The kids in the schools represented more than 60 hometowns. Some of the kids had no family at all. All of the kids face major challenges, but all were able to experience the Flyovers, just like ATC’s Dream Flights, as the ultimate inclusion activities.  EVERYONE feels special when a helicopter is circling above his or her home! For some kids, the Flyover was a prelude to future ATC aviation opportunities to come.