The Special Olympic team has been transported to the Special Olympics USA National Games via private jets since 1985. The Textron’s 2022 Special Olympics Airlift project is looking for volunteers to shuttle these athletes to the games. Continue reading to learn the history of this event and how you can get involved.
In 1985, two Cessna Citation business jets coordinated by the Cessna Aircraft Company transported the Special Olympics Kansas delegation to the International Winter Games in Salt Lake City, UT, and the company’s “Special Olympics Airlift” was born.
Today, the Textron Aviation Special Olympics Airlift has grown into a national effort that has transported nearly 10,000 Special Olympics athletes and coaches from across the U.S. to participate in the Special Olympics USA National Games. Since travel is the largest expense for athletes, this event not only helps teams attend and compete but also gives many of the athletes and coaches their first and only experience flying on business aircraft.
“For the 2022 airlift, we are expecting around 200 owners of Cessna Citation, Beechcraft King Air, Beechcraft Premier, Beechcraft Beechjet, and Hawker aircraft to participate,” said Stephanie Harder, Textron Aviation Special Olympics co-chair. “We currently have more than 130 registered, so there is still room for others to join. Our amazing customers donate their aircraft, fuel, and pilots to transport athletes from across the country to the national games and back home again.”
The airlift happens every four years to coincide with the Special Olympics USA National Games and is a monumental undertaking for both the company and volunteer owners.
“Planning begins more than a year in advance and requires coordination with every part of the company, with local airport authorities, with the FAA, and many departure and arrival points,” Harder said. “Hundreds of people are involved in planning and organizing the event, and hundreds more come out to the arrival and departure events to help us to put everything in place and welcome all the incredible athletes to the games.”
Through the generosity of volunteer owners and pilots, the airlift provides a unique opportunity for the athletes and coaches as they arrive at the games without the overstimulation of a commercial flight.
“To say you’re a part of something like this is rare because you can impact the lives of so many athletes with the use of your aircraft,” Harder said. “Many of the pilots involved in past Airlifts say it’s one of the most rewarding flights of their career. The personal connections make it incredibly meaningful, and everyone enjoys seeing the smiles on the athletes’ faces.”