Flying High

Two McKendree University supporters take to the skies to offer a lifeline to those in need both domestically and abroad.

Captain Dave Philip ’70 has enjoyed flying and photography since he was a student at McKendree. The current commander of the Civic Memorial Senior Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), based at the St. Louis Regional Airport in Bethalto, Ill., Dave flies search and rescue missions and performs photo reconnaissance. “I enjoy using my skills as an airborne photographer that I learned, in part, by being a campus photographer,” said Dave. He also honed his skills as a U.S. Army combat photographer during his service in Vietnam in 1967-68.

Dave’s CAP aircrew has worked with FEMA to document all of the bridge structures and other structures that cross the Mississippi River, along the New Madrid fault, for reference should a major earthquake occur. “In the past, I was involved with documenting all of the bridge structures along Interstate 24 from I-57 to the Kentucky state line,” he said. “This was a request by the Illinois Department of Transportation. It was a funny moment watching the traffic slow down when we were overhead at 1,000 feet in our marked CAP aircraft. I guess they thought we were the state police clocking speeders.”

In 2011, he took part in a three-state FEMA mission that spanned over three days, taking photographs of the flooding along the Mississippi River from St. Louis to Cairo and up the Ohio River. “This was the time they had to blow up the levee in Missouri to save the city of Cairo,” he said. “We were the only authorized aircraft in the area along with the state police helicopter."

CAP is the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. It is a nonprofit organization with more than 60,000 members nationwide. In its Air Force auxiliary role, CAP performs 90 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and has been credited with saving more than 100 lives this fiscal year. Its volunteers also perform homeland security, disaster relief and counterdrug missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. Performing missions for America for more than 73 years, CAP members play a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to over 25,000 young people currently participating in CAP cadet programs.

Other missions he has participated in include searching for lost children, searching for Emergency Locater Transmitter’s on downed aircraft, and directing ground teams during searches. His squadron also provides orientation airplane rides to the young CAP cadets, who twice a year are given a chance to control the aircraft and receive instructions on flying.

When not volunteering with CAP, Dave gives back to his alma mater through his service as an elected member of the McKendree Alumni Association and as a member of the William McKendree Society. He is also active on the Union UMC Fine Arts Committee, sings in the Union UMC choir, acts in community theater productions, and spends time perfecting his photography hobby.

RETIRED COLONEL FRANK ALMETER spent over 30 years as an Air Force pilot. His passion for aviation was sparked when one of his high school teachers gave him a stack of airplane magazines to read and he found a coupon advertising how to become an Air Force pilot. Raised on a dairy farm in Washington, N.Y., he joined the Air Force after graduation and flew 123’s in Vietnam spraying anti-foliate Agent Orange in the jungles of Southeast Asia. In his retirement years, he now volunteers to fly around the country to pick up planes and other equipment that people have donated to the non-profit group Wings of Hope, based at the Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield, Mo.

A member of McKendree’s community advisory committee since 2011, Frank’s involvement with the University started in the late 1980’s when he was elected as mayor of Lebanon. He served as mayor until 1997 and is currently the Ward 1 Alderman.

In October 2014, Frank was sent to a remote area of Nicaragua to replace an airplane engine for Wings Over Nicaragua, a project run by Clint and Marilyn Hanley. The couple and their two young children have spent the last ten years providing emergency medical evacuation supply and transport to small communities up and down the Rio Coco River, which is the border of Honduras and Nicaragua.

Their Cessna 172 was donated by Wings of Hope, which also helps with maintenance and the continued operation of the airplane in Nicaragua. Since it is still registered in the United States, any maintenance and repair work has to be signed off on by a certified inspector. An airframe and power plant mechanic and inspector certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, Frank volunteered to replace the engine, which had a damaged oil filter full of metal shavings, so the mission could keep supplying medical flights to the Miskito people in the northeastern jungle of the country. Wings of Hope shipped the engine to the mission’s headquarters in La Tronquera in northeast Nicaragua. Frank flew from Managua, across the country, to Puerta Cabezas. He then took a four-hour ride to go the 70 miles to Clint’s air strip. He stayed in the family’s guest house, a room about four feet off the ground to keep the local animals out of the room.

With assistance from Clint and a native helper, Ervin Pantin, the engine replacement went smoothly. “It took one day to take the old engine off the plane and a couple more days to install the new engine,” said Frank. “Ervin didn’t speak English, but I would point to the part and use my hands to show him what he needed to do and he was able to pick it up quickly.”

Frank has volunteered for Wings of Hope since 2002. For a year-and-a-half in the mid-2000’s, he served as the organization’s full-time hangar director. He coordinated much of the operation in the hangar, including upkeep, maintenance and rebuilding of the organization’s small fleet of Cessna airplanes, as well as the efforts of the hundreds of volunteers who lent their expertise to the mission. Frank has participated in several domestic mission flights, including flying children to and from Shriners Hospitals for treatment, flying a couple who were both battling cancer from Alabama to Chicago, and flying a 93-year-old Alzheimer’s patient, stranded in Gulfport, Miss. after Hurricane Katrina, to her family in Ohio.