Flight Talk with Volunteer Pilot Bruce McGregor: Manatee TIS

Why did you decide to donate a flight for iLCP photographer Neil Ever Osborne to document manatees in Florida’s coastal waters?

Beyond my desire to support environmental causes through LightHawk missions, I have a special fondness for manatees. My experience swimming among them (prior to the current interaction restrictions, of course) revealed their gentle and affectionate nature. I recall one youngster who loved having her belly rubbed. As a resident of Florida, I am only too aware of the dangers that manatees face from habitat loss and errant boaters. Hopefully projects like Neil’s will educate the public to make room for these wonderful creatures.

How was this flight different from your normal flying?

I also volunteer for Angel Flight which provides air transport to distant medical centers for low income patients. Otherwise, my wife Suzanne and I fly around the U.S. and Caribbean for pleasure and exploration.

Why do you fly and how did that start for you?

Growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, I was fascinated by the books and movies about early aviation and the aerial events of World War II. At about fifth grade, I started building static model airplanes and progressed to gasoline powered flying versions. After college and the military, I took flying lessons. Forty years and a series of single- and twin-engine airplanes later, I am flying more than ever. You could say that I am living my childhood fantasies!

How long have you been flying donated conservation mission for Lighthawk?

Rudy Engholm, LightHawk’s Executive Director, recruited me at a meeting of Columbia aircraft owners in 2007. Missions were few at first as that airplane has a low wing, which is less desirable for the photo and observation missions that are most common in my area. Since I switched to a high wing airplane last April, my LightHawk missions and hours have soared.

What’s one of the most amazing things you’ve seen while flying?

On a LightHawk mission out of New Orleans last July, I flew three videographers out to the BP oil well spill. Two monstrous rigs were drilling relief wells while a third captured most of the leaking oil and burned it in two enormous flares with flames shooting 100′ into the air. Fireboats sprayed streams of water to cool the lines feeding the flares. At least 60 other boats floated on a sea of iridescent blue-black oil film while supporting the big rigs. As we circled, the airplane periodically flew through the black smoke billowing from the flares with an acrid, sulfurous smell. This was a scene from Hell!

Bruce McGregor has been a LightHawk volunteer pilot since 2007. He has flown 13 donated missions including the one for iLCP photographer Neil Ever Osborne. He currently flies a Cessna P210N Silver Eagle.