Wings of Hope: Air group serves Guatemala

Date: December 24, 1976
Location: Irving, TX
Newspaper: Irving Daily News
Page: 7

Christmas in Guatemala – if local businessman Bob Hensleigh’s plans go according to schedule, he’ll spend part of next month in the Central American country.

Hensleigh, owner of Hensleigh Lighgting Corporation at Mangham Airport, is a volunteer member of the “Wings of Hope,” a non-denominational, humanitarian organization which works with missionary groups and airplanes in remote parts of the world.

“One of the airplanes needs an annual inspection before the end of the year,” he said. “So I may go down there (Guatemala) on my vacation and give the plane its inspection – and carry a load of freight.”

Hensleigh became involved with Wings of Hope when engineers, Charles Hunt and John Guthrie, helped overhaul an engine from a Wings of Hope plane based in Guatemala.

“They asked me to take some publicity pictures of the reconditioned engine,” he said, and afterward became involved with the group himself.

Wings of Hope, a non-profit organization begun in 1962, is based in St. Louis. Hensleigh’s hangar at Mangham Airport serves as the group’s local home base.

Nearly all the organization’s membership and contributions came from the aviation industry. Wings of Hope’s sole purpose according to Hensleigh, is to “supply airplanes, parts, maintenance, advice and continuing support for airplanes” in various locations around the world. All the aircraft and equipment are furnished through donations.

Although the organization does have a few airplanes of its own, it usually turns over the ownership of the planes to local missionary groups, Hensleigh said.

But not every group who wants an airplane gets one. “We have to make sure an airplane is the answer to their problem, and their organization must have the personnel and facilities are used to move freight and natives back and forth across the jungle. Wings of Hope has helped move more than 25,000 people to new homes on the Caribbean side of the country, Hensleigh noted.

“But nobody gets something for nothing.” he continued. “It’s a self-help type operation. The price charged for hauling freight helps pay for the airplane’s operating costs, the pilot’s pay and the maintenance of the airplane.”

Hensleigh, who sometimes flies loads of freight to Central America for Wings of Hope, has had 30 years of flying experience. He bought a new Navion aircraft in 1946 which is still in good flying condition. In fact, he had a birthday party for the plane on its 30th birthday last September.

He enjoys working for Wings of Hope because he feels it is both worthwhile and efficient. “For all the money given to the organization at least 95 per cent gets into the hands of the final recipients,” he said. “We spend nothing on publicity. Several of the aviation magazines give us free advertising space.”

“But the nice thing is they make the people they halp pay for part of the service. That way the money just goes on and on,” Hensleigh said.

Charles Hunt local flight engineers who are active in the organization.

Hunt also spent some time in Guatemala last year when he and another member of the group, John Guthrie, delivered a new Cessna 185 to the country. The plane was pressed into service after the disastrous Guatemalan earthquake in late 1975, and was used to transport emergency supplies to remote communities inaccessible by land.

There’s nothing routine about Wings of Hope’s ongoing program, Hunt said. They don’t even have regular meetings. But if a need arises for airplanes, parts or service from one of the missionary groups they associate with, the organization usually hears about it.

“We’re sort of a go-between for missionaries and the aviation industry.”

Vernon Brown, a retired American Airlines captain who now lives in Arkansas, spearheads most of the local Wings of Hope group’s projects.

Through the combined efforts of many local groups, around the country such as the one Hunt and Hensleigh belong to, Wings of Hope has been able to keep its administrative costs to a minimum. Even the national executive director is a volunteer.

“We’re well-published in aviation periodicals. People that need help contact us directly or through a friend or knowledgeable person,” Hunt said. “The word just kinda gets around.”

Not all the contributors to Wings of Hope give money, he explained. The group is currently trying to arrange a flight to Roswell, New Mexico to pick up some donated survival equipment.

They also have some surplus radio equipment on display at Hensleigh’s hangar that will be sold. The proceeds, of course, will go directly to Wings of Hope.

Although both Hunt and Hensleigh are somewhat modest about their involvement with Wings of Hope, they’re obviously very pleased with the organization itself. “They really do a lot of good work,” Hunt said.

Scroll to Top