By: Marisa Gottesman Associate Editor
Manfred Brecker said his passion for flying began when he was serving in WWII. Even though he wasn’t a pilot, he was fascinated by flying.
After the aerial gunner was honorably discharged, he said he delved into working forgetting about flying until his retirement.
“I decided the rest of my life would be spent playing golf, traveling and playing cards,” he said of his retirement.
That is until he bought a computer and Microsoft Flight 98, a flying program. That is what propelled him into learning how to fly and ultimately becoming a volunteer pilot for Angel Flight Southeast, a nonprofit that provides free air transportation to people who need to get to life-saving medical appointments.
He estimates he has performed about 100 missions for Angel Flight transporting people across the state in his Diamond Star plane. He is being honored as the “Pilot of the Year” honoree for the Southeast Florida region this month.
“I thought when it is raining, I may play it,” he said of his simulator. “I found myself playing with that flight simulator even on a nice day. I didn’t wait for it to rain.”
Over the years, he upgraded programs and systems. One day, he ran into a friend who was a WWII pilot and told him about his simulator and asked him how close it is to really flying.
“He said, ‘It’s as close as you will get to the actual thing but the simulator doesn’t have the same weight of the plane,’” Manfred said recalling his friend’s opinion.
So, he said he went to the Lantana airport and took what is known as an acquaintance flight with an instructor.
“When I got into that airplane I recognized all the things in my simulator,” he said. “I came down and I signed up for lessons immediately.”
That is after he convinced his wife to allow him to pursue flying with a piece of jewelry.
“I started taking lessons every day,” he said. “My wife would say, ‘if you were to study this hard when you were in school you might have been a professor.’ I said, ‘Maybe, but I would never have been able to afford an airplane.’”
Eventually, he said he took all the tests necessary to be a licensed pilot. He said he has logged over 4,000 hours of flying.
“Playing golf and cards is not a substitute for me,” he said of flying. “It’s so mundane. When you’re flying you’re like a king. You have the freedom. You can go wherever you want.”
But when flying around to grab lunch got boring, he said he found Angel Flight in 2004.
“I decided it was a worthy cause,” he said. “It became my favorite charity.”
Angel Flight arranges about 3,000 flights annually. It can arrange the flights 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Passengers can fly as many times as they need. Angel Flight Southeast qualifies each passenger for medical and financial need, ability to fly and more than 20 other criteria.
He said he has taken patients from Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport as far as Tallahassee and Amelia Island in his Diamond Star plane.
“The people are very grateful that you take them,” he said.
One flight he took a woman with terminal cancer from Key West to Jacksonville.
“Three weeks later, I got a letter from her mother saying she passed, but she remembered the flight,” he said.
He said one time he was flying a man who was legally blind. He said the man handed him an envelope and said to open it after the flight. Inside, he said there was $100.
“I said, ‘I can’t take any money,’” he said. “He said, ‘Give it to your favorite charity.’ I said, ‘You are my favorite charity.’”
Brecker will be recognized on April 7 at the Dr. Franklin G. Norris Pilot Awards Gala at the River Ranch Resort and airport in River Ranch. For more information about Angel Flight Southeast, visit http://www.angelflightse.org or call 352-326-0761.