Greg's Flight Notes/Images:

Hurricane Katrina Relief

First, see to see how GA (General Aviation, i.e, private pilots), small and cheap as it is, has contributed to the relief effort. Also, refer to for more on Operation Brother's Keeper.

Additionally, the journals of other pilots:

500,000 people is a huge number. I don't know of any organization that could have prepared to handle this number of untrained, unprepared people. Consider that even the U.S. military, masters of logistics that they are, took 6 months to build strength in Saudi Arabia to prepare for the first Gulf War. They moved 500,000 personnel and their associated equipment. Ice, whether people had to sleep in tents, and pumping out flood waters were worries they didn’t have to face, either.

So it seemed obvious to me that no governmental organization was going to be up to the task of Katrina clean up. Whether it was smart or not, people were going to have to volunteer to get some of this cleaned up and survivors back on their feet again.

I attempted to volunteer as a freight pilot in the belief that moving people around is not the answer. (Okay, you moved them. One year later, do you move them back? And what did they do to survive for that year in that place you moved them to?) No one was biting on the offer. Trucks and airplanes were moving people and moving goods, but no one was picking up in the smaller communities. New Orleans was the focus, but it wasn’t the whole story.

From the beginning, Vacation Rentals for Families ( had managed to get past a number of hurdles and was approved for flights into the storm ravaged areas to transport supplies and people under the program name of Operation Brother's Keeper. They showed up on the AOPA site and a few other aviation oriented sites very early on. And that’s where Air Chappie found a way to help out.

We didn’t move huge amounts of cargo, we didn’t move any evacuees and we didn’t do countless missions. But we did do what we could. We did haul medical supplies and we did remove the flight coordinator from the remote site as the last mission of the initial relief phase. We clocked nearly 22 hours in the air.

[Editors note: For clarity, by saying “We”…Greg is humbly referring to himself and his plane, Air Chappie.]

Here’s how it went...

I left 5k6 at Wilmot, Wisconsin at noon.

A cold front passed through earlier that day. It was mildly violent in Wisconsin so I waited for passage and plotted with Flight Service to gauge how long the front would hold its energy. By the time I lifted off, the squall lines were less intense and continuing to diminish. But I still had to cross that front.

We met the front just past Gary, Indiana. From there until we reached the Ohio River, we were running some high level scud at about 2,000' above the ground. As we passed Fort Knox, the scud gave way to heavy haze.

566 miles after departure, we land in Atlanta at Dekalb Peachtree Airport. After finding some food and a room, I call Sheila Nickels of Operation Brother’s Keeper to find out how and where to start work the next day.

Unfortunately, all that evening’s planning was for naught; I was ill all night and in no shape for flying in the morning. This actually worked better, however. Instead of having a heavy bulky load of people, there was a large lot of material with which to pack the plane and head west.

Three Canadian midwives were disappointed as a result. They had booked an Air Canada flight into the region but, somehow missed their flight and there was no way to Baton Rouge...we were the golden hope. They promised that they were light and had only 6 bags.

Well, when I and the other pilots got a look at the bags, we realized that those 6 bags alone were going to take 2 Cessna 172s; they were huge!

We found them another, larger airplane to go in. For me, we loaded with medical supplies and headed to the airport.

The route was simple in that we plotted a straight GPS course to Hammond, LA (KHDC) with a fuel stop at Wetumpka, AL (08A) just north of Montgomery. The trip was one way at 404 nautical miles.

[Editor's note: Due to lack of fuel donations for the OBK team, Greg paid for all his own fuel, throughout. However, some of his Houghton Mifflin co-workers have since sent him some private donations to help out.]

In the air, we activated our flight plan and picked up a new call sign – Lifeguard 6931X. This call sign meant we were involved in relief and rescue activities and that we were ‘live’. Using this call sign, we engaged Flight Following for routing into and around Temporary Flight Restrictions and special airspaces (especially when the president is around the area...and he was that day). We felt kind of special.

Private pilot Greg Chapman in route to Hammond, Louisiana with needed hurricane relief supplies.

I was met in Hammond by Operation Brother's Keeper’s on the scene flight coordinator, Jeremy Virts. Jeremy is a devout fellow with quite a few ratings and a strong interest in things flying.

Jeremy Virts, Operation Brother's Keeper local flight coordinator

He made arrangements with a host family to provide a place to stay.

He also arranged for a local church group to pick up the supplies.

This gentleman is Harold Walls of the Calvary Christian Center. Harold and his son, [Isaac below in the back of the truck] took the supplies for distribution to their hurricane relief center.)

"The complex web of [relief pilots and] volunteers converged at Hammond's Calvary Christian Center, which was like an oasis in a desert of despair for [Katrina] storm victims..." *

* Read entire, above article here:

A note about Hammond’s airport; it’s normally a standard little airport of low activity. But these days it’s a temporary military airport with a portable tower on site, lots of Army, Customs and Border Patrol personnel.

I saw no one who was recognizably FEMA, but I did see lots of evidence of their presence in the form of parked semi trucks loaded with generators and looking for a place to deliver them. Hammond also suffered damage from Katrina although it was much more modest than what we’ve seen in the news. Consider that Hammond suffered under 110 mph winds throughout the storm yet the eye was all the way over in Mississippi!

Our host family are natives of Hammond. They live in a beautiful (and sturdy!) home with a lot of open spaces. It’s a family that needs that space as they aren’t a small gathering when you get them in one place. Here’s the list of immediate members of the Peters family:


Yeah, it’s a big bunch and they are friendly folks. I didn’t feel threatened once, but I did manage to control my normally free and irreverent tongue. These folks were much too nice to chance offending with my off-the-cuff humor.

They put me up in a room, which I believe belonged to one of those daughters, and never once indicated that this daughter might be doubling up some place else in the house.

When morning came, Jeremy Virts carefully tapped on the door to my room to see if I was ready to come out and fly. We planned on me flying back to Atlanta, picking up another load and bringing it to Hammond. We would then spend another night with the Peters.

But when Jeremy got a look at the weather, he changed his mind. He needed to get back to Atlanta and then back to Minnesota soon. The weather showed an advancing cold front that was expected to produce some violent storms, which would have grounded us altogether. So Jeremy went back to the Peter's home and gathered his things. We packed him into the airplane and took off for Atlanta.

Once in Atlanta, it was clear that the mission was about to change and there wouldn’t be much left for me to do. There was another small load of boxes that could be delivered, but regular commercial flights were, by now, beginning to make their way back in to the New Orleans region. They’re both faster and cheaper than my little airplane.

Recognizing my limited usefulness I spent another night in Atlanta and prepared to head back to Chicago.

Email Followup...

Margaret and Joe,

First, thank you for having me in your home last night. I really expected to be camping out at the airport which accounts for the fact that I hadn't bothered to shave or bring a change of clothing with me. Your graciousness in accepting this grizzled, dirty, old pilot at home and dinner will be remembered and I thank you sincerely for the hospitality, as well as the very comfortable accommodations for the night!

I took Jeremy back to Atlanta today and we arrived safely about 4 hours after departing your beautiful little town of Hammond.

There is one item for which I owe an apology: I'm so poor at keeping track of names that these are the only ones I can remember:
Sherry (sp?)

Who have I forgotten? And would you mind, please, extending my thanks to them, too?

BTW, if you'd like a look at what we were flying, just take a look at

Thank you, again!

Greg Chapman

Reply from Margaret Peters (host family):

You forgot Taylor and Blair who belong to Sheri.

Thanks for the pictures and we enjoyed having you. I was really disappointed that you and Jeremy had to leave.

Joe didn't get his fried chicken because we were working on something all day and then Joe ended up taking three guys to Baton Rouge to rent a car to take them back to Kentucky. They were bringing supplies down in a truck and it broke down on them. Somehow they found my brother-in-law's mechanic shop to get the truck fixed, but the parts won’t be in until Tuesday, so they wanted to go on back home and that is how he ended up taking them to Baton Rouge. They said we could see if the church wants what is on the trailer.

Again we enjoyed having you and I am going to keep your email address. If you need us again, give us a call.


P.S. I forgot to add Misty's name to one of the forgotten names. We think you did really good remembering as many as you did.