Flying Turtles at Norwood Airport
By Michele Taranto
When the Norwood Memorial Airport was built in 1942 to support the war effort, its role was clear: the two 4,000 foot runways would provide the Naval Air Station Squantum with a facility where pilots could practice take-off and landings. Once relinquished by the federal government and voted through Town Meeting to fall under Town’s ownership, it was likely intended to service private citizens, corporate flights, and training. But turtles?
On January 24, 13 sea turtles received the benefit of Norwood’s local airport, when they were boarded onto a flight bound for New Jersey and Georgia. The rescued animals were transported by volunteer pilot Bryan Wilson through the Turtle Fly Too non-profit organization. The 12 Kemp ridleys and one loggerhead came from the New England Aquarium. Four of the Kemp ridleys and the loggerhead disembarked at the Essex County Airport in New Jersey, and the remaining eight Kemp ridleys finished the flight to Dekalb-Peachtree Airport, in Georgia. The entire carefully coordinated project took five hours from Norwood to Georgia.
The animals each had their own private seat safely tucked away in banana boxes or crates, and while silent with their personal requirements, according to Wilson, all their personal needs were happily and successfully met.
“Turtle are more sensitive than humans to temperature variations,” Wilson explained. “The main concern is keeping the turtle warm, so they are loaded into the pre-heated plane while it’s still in the hangar. Then once the plane is fully loaded and the banana boxes with turtles are secured, the plane is towed from the hangar for immediate engine start.”
Wilson has been a private pilot for 31 years and owns his plane with three partners, all retirees interested in flying compassion flights for charity. They not only volunteer their time and aircraft, but also directly pay all expenses. According to Wilson, many airports and service centers will also waive airport fees and reduce fuel prices for these charity flights.
Last year, 38 turtles caught a ride with Wilson who flew them to Orlando, Florida to Sea World, but Wilson and his partners also volunteer for other organizations who could benefit from their generosity. For example, they have flown for Patient Airlift Services (PALS), Angel Flight, and Veterans Airlift Command.
“Being able to help others by flying my plane doubles the joy of owning a plane,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s plane is faster than a typical volunteer aircraft, so he often chooser longer flights, such as flying patients from the Mid-West or Southeast.
As one of 37 public use facilities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Norwood Memorial Airport services a wide variety of uses: corporate, charter, and personal transport, flight training, aircraft fueling and maintenance, medical evacuations, organ donor flights, law enforcement (State Police Air Wing), military and homeland security support, weather reporting, aerial larvicide (Norfolk County Mosquito Control), electronic newsgathering (ABC, NBC, FOX0, aerial photography and videography, U.S. Department of defense research and development, and lastly, as we all know, animal rescues.
The state of Massachusetts had a lot to do with the founding of Turtles Fly Too. In 2014, sea turtles on Cape Cod beaches were stranded during a bitter cold snap. Pilots from around the country offered either their planes or co-piloting services Canada, England, and France. Typically, animals are brought by Wildlife sanctuaries to the New England Aquarium for medical care and stabilization and later transported, by ground or by air. But this year, the facility had already reached their 80-turtle capacity and was overwhelmed having already reached their emergency 80-turle capacity. Kate Sampson, the sea turtle stranding coordinator for NOAA, reached out to Leslie Weinstein, founder and manager of True-Lock, an aviation fastener company, who had extensive ties to the general aviation community, and eventual founder of Turtles Fly Too.
It is estimated that more than 200 volunteer mission are flown from Norwood Memorial Airport with volunteer pilots each year. In addition to Turtles Fly Too (www.turtlesflytoo.org), organizations served but not limited to include: Above the Clouds Kids (www.abovethecloudskids.org), Pals Sky Hop (www.palsflight.org), Angel Flight (www.angleflighteast.org), Pilots N Paws (www.pilotsnpaws.org), and STEM Aviation (www.stemflights.org).