BLOOMINGTON — Growing up in Bloomington, Ed Eisenberg was fascinated by airplanes, particularly those he saw flying into and out of Central Illinois Regional Airport.
“I used to be one of those kids that would come out and hang on the chain link fence and watch the airplanes take off and land,” he said. “I never got bored."
His interest carried into adulthood and in the late 1960s, he studied for and received his pilot’s license. Then, he bought his first airplane.
“I flew it for a number of years and eventually sold it and bought a Cherokee 180, which I have kept ever since,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of great people from this area because of this plane. It was the best purchase I ever made.”
But on Tuesday, Eisenberg donated the plane to Wings of Hope, an aviation nonprofit organization based in Chesterfield, Mo., that delivers resources to people in need.
“It’s been a great plane, a great hobby, a great pastime,” he said. “Flying to me, is like a mission of love.”
Eisenberg, now 83 and retired from a career in sales, last flew the four-passenger plane about 18 months ago, he said. Health issues forced him to retire from active flying.
“The government doesn’t want you flying if you aren’t able to do it,” he said. “They are very involved when it comes to safety for the planes and the pilots.”
So, Eisenberg considered selling the plane, but found a better option.
“I looked around a little bit and then made up my mind,” he said. “I had known about Wings of Hope for a long time and I know it’s a great organization that does a lot of good. So, I made the call.”
The organization was founded in 1962 and accepts about 20 donated aircraft each year, said spokeswoman Carol Enright.
“We use some in the field for medical air transport in the U.S. or overseas. Those that we cannot use for field work, we sell to raise funds to support our programming.”
Don Hoerstkamp, a pilot with Wings of Hope, met Eisenberg Tuesday morning at the old airport terminal. Officials inspected the plane to make sure it met FAA standards and then it was flown to St. Louis.
“Donations like this are what keep us going,” said Hoerstkamp. “We have very few paid positions. Most are volunteers. We have an extensive medical air transport system that operates out of St. Louis because there are a lot of sick kids around, and adults. Donations like this go virtually 100 percent toward that.”
Eisenberg said the plane travels about 140 mph at altitudes up to 4,000 feet. Cherokee planes are still being produced today, although there are more than a few variations.
“I would guess that if you bought this plane new back then, it would have cost about $40,000,” he said. “Today, with air conditioning and analog equipment, it would probably be between $350,000 and $400,000. Things have changed.”
Eisenberg said that planes similar to this one, range on the open market from $30,000 to nearly $60,000.
“It’s a neat airplane and a good starter for someone,” he said. “This plane has provided me with a lot of great memories. I had some property in Minnesota and I traveled back and forth in this. Donating it to Wings of Hope though is a good opportunity for them and a good opportunity for me. My dog and I won’t starve just because I donated it, instead of selling it.”
Follow Kevin Barlow on Twitter: @pg_barlow