Five on the Fly: Don Sumple

Five on the Fly: Don Sumple

Five on the Fly: Don Sumple

WHO: Don Sumple

Executive Director,
Angel Flight Central

Kansas City, MO



1. Can you summarize the mission of Angel Flight Central (AFC)? 

Angel Flight Central serves people in need by arranging charitable flights for health care or other humanitarian purposes with the help of volunteer pilots. Angel Flight Central serves 10 states in the mid to upper Midwest. Ninety-three percent of our flights are medical while the other 7 percent consist of the humanitarian variety. Our humanitarian flights are primarily flying children to special needs summer camps. These children typically have HIV/AIDS, cancer, heart disease or are burn victims. The camps are free however the parents cannot afford the transportation costs to get their child to and from camp. When needed, Angel Flight Central also flies disaster relief flights. 

The organization was formed in 1995 when founder, Jim Stevens, flew a young boy from his church who was suffering from a heart ailment to a medical facility for lifesaving treatment. The parents were not able to obtain the treatment needed in their home area. The young boy’s mother was so appreciative and gave Jim a huge hug with tears flowing down her face. Jim was so touched that he said to himself, “I need to do this again.” Twenty-three years later, Angel Flight Central pilots have flown over 26,500 flights and counting. 

2. Why is this transportation so beneficial to these patients and their families? 

Many AFC passengers would not be able to afford the transportation costs to receive, in many instances, lifesaving treatment. There are many cases where an individual is suffering from a disease such as cancer and it is a 7 to 10-hour car ride to a medical facility, which would be unbearable in his or her condition. Angel Flight Central will fly an individual to treatment as many times as necessary. 

A secondary benefit: While the organization provides air transportation to medical facilities, it also enables families to maintain a quality of life that they wouldn’t be able to if they had to pay for airline tickets to reach their treatment facility. They can now use those dollars for the necessities of life such as food, shelter and clothing.   

3. What is a typical mission? 

The maximum distance for an Angel Flight Central flight is 900 nautical miles (a 3-leg flight). We never ask our pilots to fly more than a 300 nautical mile leg, so each can be home before dark. However, the pilot has the ability to take as many legs as they would like. During AFC’s 2018 fiscal year, the “typical” flight was two legs averaging 460 to 550 miles in distance, with a flight time of roughly six hours. Passengers are both adults and children. One of the misnomers that we face is that Angel Flight Central just flies children, which is not true. As a matter of fact, more than 60 percent of our flights are for adults over the age of 18.  

4. How many pilots and aircraft are currently affiliated with the organization? What is the process for registering? 

Currently, Angel Flight Central has 330 dedicated pilots in our region. Each pilot either owns his or her plane or has access to one. The organization does have special requirements that each pilot must meet. Angel Flight Central stresses a culture of safety and is very concerned about the safety of not only our passengers but our pilots as well. We routinely tell our pilots they can always cancel a flight but cannot cancel a poor decision. 

If a pilot is interested in becoming a volunteer pilot for our organization, they can log into our website at and click on “Pilots.” I can tell you for certain that there are individuals alive today because of the generosity of these men and women who give their time, treasure and talent to our organization. 

5. Can you share an example of one of the patient stories? How did the network provide the care he/she required? 

Mike C. is a single father of a high-school Junior. Mike runs his own home inspection business, mainly so he can set his own schedule. Mike was involved in a terrible car accident that left him with a threat of never walking again. To continue his miraculous progress, Mike is charged with traveling to a specialist in Minneapolis every two months. The drive to-and-from is debilitating, and usually requires a week or more to recover from, before feeling strong enough to return to his business. The process has left Mike financially and emotionally bankrupt.  

During the Kansas City Better Business Bureau’s Annual Meeting in January 2018, Brendan Sneegas, the AFC director of operations and development, unknowingly sat at the same table as Mike. Brendan learned of Mike’s story and offered to set him up with an “angel flight” to determine if free air-transportation could make a difference in Mike’s ability to recover and get back to his business quicker and with less pain. Mike more than agreed.

On January 28th, 2018 Mike and his son Zach took off from the airport with a local pilot and landed in Minneapolis 90 minutes later. Mike attended his appointment while the pilot waited at the FBO. At 8:30 p.m. the very same day, the plane touched down in Kansas City. Mike returned to his Independence, Missouri home and was able to be back, running his business the next day. Angel Flight Central hopes to repeat this story every two months as long as Mike needs us.   


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