Propeller blades whirling to life, six Florida Institute of Technology airplanes loaded with Hurricane Ian disaster supplies started taxing across the ramp at 8:45 a.m. Friday, embarking on a student-pilot relief mission to Naples.
Cargo included perhaps 600 to 700 pounds of donated household goods: jugs of Clorox bleach; boxes of Luvs diapers; bundles of Irish Spring soap; 12-packs of SpaghettiOs.
“I’m excited. It’s really fun doing cross-countries. But having a purpose and a mission is really exciting and really rewarding,” Emily Summey, a sophomore majoring in aviation management with flight, said before boarding her Piper Warrior bound for Florida’s Gulf Coast.
The planes took flight from Florida Tech’s Emil Buehler Center for Aviation Training and Research at Melbourne Orlando International Airport. The trip to Naples Airport typically takes about 90 minutes, Jay Arcemont said.
Arcemont is deputy executive director of FIT Aviation. He said his organization — comprised of 22 full-time staffers, about 60 flight instructors and more than 400 students — quickly assembled roughly $2,000 in donated supplies after receiving a call for help from the Naples Airport Authority.
After landing, Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida officials handled distribution of the Florida Tech supplies. The nonprofit operates a distribution center in Fort Myers and a Collier County center in Naples.
“We are grateful for the generosity of Florida Institute of Technology and FIT Aviation students who are using their training to bring much-needed supplies to Southwest Florida,” Naples Airport Authority Executive Director Chris Rozansky said in a statement.
The 8:45 a.m. Florida Tech relief mission involved four Piper Warriors, a Piper Archer and a larger twin-engine Piper Seminole. A second university-owned Seminole left for Naples earlier in the morning.
“Our initial plan was to deliver supplies to Fort Myers, but they’re overwhelmed with support right now and activities,” Arcemont said.
“These are instructional flights that we’re doing — they’re cross-countries. They’re an instructor and a student going on, essentially, a lesson plan that they’re required to do for their training,” he said.
After Hurricane Michael struck in October 2018, Florida Tech flight instructor Christa Robison fundraised more than $4,400 and flew a 1,300-pound payload of disaster supplies from Melbourne to Marianna Municipal Airport in Florida’s Panhandle aboard a university-owned Piper Chieftain.
Arcemont said Friday’s Ian supply flights constituted FIT Aviation’s first relief mission since a baby spider monkey was relocated from Dallas to Brevard Zoo in September 2020.
The 7-month-old spider monkey had been seized from a suspected smuggler at the United States-Mexican border in Hidalgo, Texas, where U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers found him hidden inside the center console of a Ford F-150 truck.
“We are overwhelmed with gratitude for this support from the Florida Institute of Technology,” Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida spokesperson Ryan Uhler said via email.
“We are out in the community everyday distributing food and supplies to affected areas quickly and efficiently,” Uhler said.
This content was originally published here.