VP David Cole (Meeker, Colorado)
On May 29, 2011, I flew a donated flight for Ninos y Crias to survey flamingo populations along the northwest Yucatan coast, what we saw that day surprised even the scientists on board.
We met at 0600 for breakfast that morning and Dr. Xiomara Galvez Aguilera introduced me to the rest of the group so we could discuss how to minimize disturbance to the nesting birds. Once at the airport, we emptied the airplane of unnecessary gear, removed the cargo doors according to approved procedures for the Cessna 206 and briefed the flight. Then we lifted off bound for the coast.
My passengers were in very high spirits, exuberantly anticipating this opportunity to view the status of the flamingo colonies they were studying. I was privileged during the flight to gain, through their animated conversation, what amounts to a personalized college lecture about the preservation of the Yucatan flamingos.
With photographer Leonardo Guerro sitting in the open cargo doorway and Xiomara sitting behind me, we flew along the estuaries. All of a sudden, Xiomara was laughing and very excited. She had discovered a second colony of nesting flamingos exhibiting some very unusual behavior. This was a huge discovery for their study.
It was unusual for these flamingos to be nesting amongst vegetation, rather than in the open sandbars where they could observe predators. Some of the outstanding photography from that flight includes one where you can actually count the eggs in the nest. This picture was taken on the second pass, as Leonardo was airsick during the first. After his airsickness he did not miss a beat and continued taking excellent pictures during the rest of the flight. They were ecstatic about the results of this survey and I felt great to be a part of it.
As with other LightHawk conservation partner groups I've flown, I really enjoyed the informal interaction with this group pre and post-flight. On this trip, Leonardo spent part of the next day with me sightseeing and sharing his culture. For me, the most remarkable difference in flying LightHawk missions versus other flying is experiencing the enthusiasm, passion and professionalism of our partners for their work. I feel deeply rewarded by the relationships developed with the partners, the fantastic opportunities to learn and participate in their work, and by seeing precious parts of our world through their eyes as we fly.
Volunteer Pilot Spotlight on David Cole
David Cole, Volunteer Pilot
“My first flight, with my teddy bear, was at the age of five with a family friend,” remembers David Cole. “After takeoff, I stood up, looked out and was hooked.” With parents who met while learning to fly, it’s there’s no mystery how Cole ended up with avgas coursing through his veins. “As I grew up, I heard stories of their exploits in J-2 and J-3 cubs.”
As luck would have it, a high school teacher who flew P51s during WWII ran a flight school. “He spotted me the cost of lessons and I paid him back by pumping gas and working as a busboy at the local country club.” Cole then earned his commercial, CFI, ME, instrument ratings and ran an aero club at the Glynco Naval Air Station, GA while serving as an air traffic controller in the U.S. Navy. After the service, he flew an Aztec to Madagascar, taught glider flying in the Austrian Alps and spent two years flying air taxi service out of Bielefeld, West Germany.
From Avgas to Jet Fuel and back again
Returning home to Colorado, Cole began his airline career with the original Frontier Airlines which was then bought by People Express. He worked briefly for Continental Airlines and became an FAA aviation safety inspector before being recruited by United Airlines as a pilot instructor. After retiring from the airline industry, Cole ran a college flight program in western Colorado then spent time traveling extensively with his wife Martha before joining the LightHawk Volunteer Pilot Corps.
“I learned about LightHawk from David Kunkel whose hangar adjoins ours,” says Cole. Kunkel, a longtime LightHawk volunteer pilot and board member, flies a Maule, Cessna 340 and Cessna 185 on floats. Since joining LightHawk, Cole has donated many flights, including quite a few in Central America. “The work of our partners is spectacular and worthwhile,” says Cole. “In addition to being able to enjoy this type of flying, the greatest joy for me is our partners sharing their stories and watching their enthusiasm for the flights. You don't get this kind of feedback or interaction during a 747 flight with 450 passengers.”
On Airsickness and Limes:
In addition to his pre-flight safety briefing where Cole points out the outstanding general aviation safety record as compared to that of ground transportation, he also makes sure his passengers know that there is no shame in being airsick. Cole’s advice if they are feeling ill: look ahead to the horizon, get plenty of fresh air and breathe deeply. Oh, and bring a lime. “One of my passengers shared this trick and it seems to work if you chew on the rind of the lime.”
Over 24,000 flight hours.
Has piloted the CV-580, B737, MD-80, B747-4, B757, B767, B727, DHC-6 and the A320 as a line captain, line check airman and pilot instructor.
Has owned a D-18 Beech, Beech Bonanza, C182, Piper Pacer, Piper Aztec and is currently part owner in a Cessna 172XP.
Involved in the Commemorative Airforce flying low-level airshows at the controls of the AT-6, HE-111, DC-3, L-18, DC-B26, L10 (Electra - sister to Amelia Earhart's), P-40 and T-28.
Your support is the reason David can put his considerable piloting skills to work for conservation groups through LightHawk. Thank you!