Fast 5: Meet Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic's Pilot Of The Year

Bob Briggs. Credit: Tamarack Aerospace

Bob Briggs, based in Germantown, Tennessee, near Memphis, has flown more than 19,000 flight hours over his lifetime, largely as a pilot for the Army and Navy Reserves, with the Flying Tigers, as a corporate pilot and as a FedEx captain. Over the past two years, Briggs has flown dozens of flights transporting seriously ill patients at no charge from hospitals around the country. Most of the patient flights on his Citation CJ1 were to and from the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for appointments and treatments. For his efforts, Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic named him Pilot of the Year for the second time. Goodwin, now retired. Briggs is also registered to fly for other compassion flight services. 

For his 50th anniversary of flying, Briggs rented a Cessna 172 and flew to every paved airport in Iowa, where he was raised, repeating the challenge when he celebrated 25 years of flying. 

 What spurred you to become a pilot? 

As a kid, I was enamored with transportation devices. I knew every bus route in the city of Des Moines. I would go to the airport on Sundays to watch the 89th Fighter Wing do their thing. My dad was a navigator on the B-24 in World War II. I didn’t start until age 21. It was a coming-of-age birthday present. If you did things wisely, you could acquire a certificate for about $1,000. I have done nothing but remain a student of aviation since. 

How did you decide to volunteer your aircraft and time for Angel Flight and other compassion flight services?  

Having been blessed to be able to acquire this airplane, I looked for an outlet where I could serve in this general capacity. I first came to the CAN (Corporate Angel Network). I was turned down because they want two pilots. I wanted to do this single pilot and enjoy myself. They directed me towards the Angel Flight groups. I’m affiliated with 10 different compassion groups, most of them Angel Flights. It was about time for me to do something for somebody else. We live in the St. Jude’s Hospital vicinity. My brother died of leukemia before he made his 17th birthday. There was a mission in mind—not just for children but for anyone with cancer-related maladies. Now, I’m in my third year of participating. I have found a niche. 

What does this mean to you? 

It gives me a great deal of self-satisfaction to be able to couple helping other people and coupling that with what I like to do best and being able to use my assets and do what I like to do and being able to do it in my own little way. There but for the Grace of God go I. 

You credit the addition of Tamarack Active Winglets onto your Citation CJ1 with aiding in your missions. How so? 

This aircraft wouldn’t go straight to altitude without the Active Winglets. They provide a smoother ride for patients and save money by going farther on fuel. I can provide more stable and safe rides with lower approach speeds, and I am to legally take off in high/hot conditions. I’d be grounded without the Active Winglets. 

You are the Guinness Book of World Record holder for the number of type ratings, with 109. What is your favorite aircraft to fly and what do you like best about flying? 

The one I got to fly last. But overall, the (Boeing) 727 was probably my favorite airplane of all. It had two of everything, three of some things. It can go fast and go slow. On the corporate side, I have to attest to the CJ line. When I got into a CJ for the first time—20 years before I could own one—I felt like I was putting on a pair of kid gloves and being able to fly the machine. (What I like best about flying is) the freedom, the gracefulness, the ability to be able to break free. It didn’t make any difference if it was helicopters in the military or flying with the big airplanes with FedEx, or the chance to go out and do the personal missions. I’ve never had a job. There were some trying nights, but I never had a J-O-B. Find something that you like to do, do it well and find something you would do for free and get paid to go do it. 

Molly McMillin

Molly McMillin, a 25-year aviation journalist, is managing editor of business aviation for the Aviation Week Network and editor-in-chief of The Weekly of Business Aviation, an Aviation Week market intelligence report.