Led by the West Michigan Aviation Academy (WMAA) Flight Department, flight students have the opportunity every December to hop in a plane and make a difference in the lives of Grand Rapids children hoping for some holiday cheer.

Operation Good Cheer is a volunteer-led, Christmas gift-giving program sponsored and coordinated by Child and Family Services, Inc. State Office. Operation Good Cheer began in 1971 by individuals who wanted to make a difference in the lives of children who reside in foster care. More than 6,000 children and youth are provided with gifts each year, and the organization draws thousands of volunteers.

WMAA student Brandon Farish was one of the West Michigan Aviation Academy students selected to make the flight. Here is Brandon’s account of the experience:

“We restarted the plane and got directed towards a truck to receive all the toys we could carry. I was immensely surprised by the number of toys our little c172 could hold.

We used the GPS and autopilot to navigate towards Ionia. After intercepting our course, an accompanying plane was vectored off of our right wingtip to follow us on the way to Ionia. This was cool seeing a plane that was flying at the same altitude, following us from behind.

Now comes the highlight of the trip, landing at Ionia and taxiing off the ramp. As I was approaching parking, we saw a bunch of kids standing behind a fence jumping up and down in excitement. This is when I realized what this trip was all about. The thought of knowing that me, as a student pilot, could help those less fortunate than I was mind-blowing.

This totally changed my mood for the upcoming weeks. I have become a much humbler person after that experience. After shutdown, we helped unload the presents and get them onto the truck that was waiting for us. Then, as quick as we came, we flew back to Grand Rapids.”