Wright Has The Spirit

Date: July 1, 1965
Location: Lock Haven, PA
Newspaper: The Express
Page: 9

Ron Wright has a definite problem with his image.

Considering what he does, he should swagger with a super-macho gait, chew nails, carry a big knife, wrestle snakes, smoke cigars and talk like a character in an Ernest Hemmingway novel.

He should not wear a coat and a tie or look like a preacher’s son.

But that’s what Wright looked like, and what he wore, yesterday when the 29-year-old bush pilot showed up at a hangar at Weir Cook International Airport to take command of the “The Spirit of Indianapolis,” a new Cessna 185 Skywagon that will soon bring hope and a hint of civilization to the remotest jungle areas of Paraguay, In South America.

In fairness, Wright was obviously uncomfortable in a coat and a tie. Back home in Suriname, on the north coast of South America, he never wears such “civilized” garb. He wore it yesterday because he thought he was going to be prominently featured in a formal dedication ceremony for the plane, but the ceremony was scrubbed by the weather.

The blue and white plane was purchased with a $75,000 grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc., which suggested the name for the aircraft. Dr. W. Brooks Fortune, a retired group vice president for Eli Lilly & Co. and a longtime Indianapolis aviator, came up with the idea of approaching the foundation for funds to buy the plane for Wings of Hope, a St. Louis-based organization that has acquired 32 planes in 14 years for humanitarian groups in hidden corners of the world.

“I painted ‘The Spirit of Indianapolis’ on the engine cowling and I was scared to death I would misspell it,” Wright said. “I must have looked it up three times. Even when I was a kid, I wanted to be a bush pilot. Lots of people laughed at me. They said there was no such thing as bush pilots.”

The fraternity of bush pilots – people who fly in and out of remarkably small clearings under extraordinary conditions – remains small, he said, because “you have to be a pilot, a mechanic and an electronics expert. You operate on your own and you have to fix everything that goes wrong all by yourself.”

Wright joined Wings of Hope 1 1/2 years ago after piloting corporation planes for several East Coast companies.

“Wings is a nonprofit, nonpolitical, nonsectarian organization that is supported mainly by people involved in aviation. We assist missionary, charitable and relief groups in South and Central America, Africa, New Guinea, Alaska and Canada,” he said. “We set up a mini-airline for the groups and after a year or so, when we’ve trained them to operate and maintain the plane, we give it to them.”

Wright normally flies 600 to 800 hours a year ferrying missionaries, medical personnel, educators and agricultural specialists in and out of remote jungle villages. “That’s quite a bit, and these planes take quite a beating. This airplane can lift a good 2,000-lbs. more than it weighs. The planes takes awful abuse in the dirt, the extreme climate, the heavy loads and the rough landing fields.”

When you fly as a bush pilot, Wright added, “you have to do it right every time. When you commit yourself to land in a small open jungle patch that ends at a mountain, you are committed 100 percent. You don’t get a chance to fly away and try another landing.”

Wright’s boss, William Edwards, was grounded by the weather yesterday and couldn’t make it to Indianapolis, but he said by phone that finding bush pilots for Wings of Hope is difficult.

“They have to be experienced pilots and mechanics but they also have to be motivated in the heart. You really can’t hire a person to do what we want done. He has to be humanitarian, to want to help people. It requires a human input that a lot of people don’t have.

“We don’t go lolly-gagging around the world into areas that can be reached other ways. If you can get there by truck or boat or Land Rover, we won’t be there. It’s hard for most Americans to believe but there are millions of people who live in places that are inaccessible except by airplane,” Edwards said.

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