November 29, 2011

Profile: Helen Hagg pilots humanitarian aid mission

By Rae Hodge–

An instrument-rated pilot is one who is qualified to fly solely by the instrument readings on their dashboard. This ability is invaluable when flying blind through a rainstorm in the middle of the night out of the Kingdom of Lesotho in South Africa, across the Drakensburg mountains, while carrying someone with critical injuries toward the capitol city of Maseru.

That’s a world University of Louisville liberal studies major Helen Hagg knows all too well. Hagg has piloted planes through South Africa and other countries, dropping supplies and transporting wounded people in what she calls “a passion and a calling from God.”

Hagg became involved with aviation in August 2010, and then took lessons to become a pilot at Bowman Field through Louisville Aviation, earning her license June 2011. Then she went to South Africa and Lesotho to work with missionary pilots and the Mission Aviation Fellowship, delivering supplies and transporting people to clinics.

Hagg’s experiences also went beyond the wing. She volunteered in soup kitchens, serviced AIDS patients, built weather towers which transmit navigational information to other pilots and assisted a social worker in creating medical records for village children.

Among other pilot certifications, Hagg is pursuing her A & P, which “ensures that [a missionary pilot] can fix [their] plane if [they’ve] broken down in the middle of nowhere. In the mission field, the pilots are usually mechanics.”

The path to piloting is a long one, and often expensive. Hagg is committed though, and said she “would love to work for M.A.F. in Lesotho or in another country but directly after college I’ll be doing more flying so I can get the required hours of experience that I need in order to work for them. I’ve been thinking about the National Guard and the Air Force which would do that, and also help me avoid going into debt.”

Hagg, is currently working toward her pilot’s instrument rating, while completing her self-styled, interdisciplinary bachelors degree program, which she’s titled “Missionary Aviation.” The program combines a minor in geography with concentrations in aviation, health education and religious studies.

She is currently studying cartography, navigation, climatology, and hydrology– all vital in the perilous world that she is about to return to.

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Photos courtesy Helen Hagg

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