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Operation Airdrop in Texas: A Homegrown Response to Disasters

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Tony Maples Photography


Doug Jackson is a recreational pilot in Texas who volunteered to haul a trailer of supplies to Rockport from North Texas to assist Hurricane Harvey victims. This got him thinking. Why couldn’t we use planes to airdrop supplies to people who are stuck in inaccessible areas? It was the question that would launch a wonderful project. Jackson called a fellow pilot and friend, John Clay Wolfe, and both of them agreed to seek help across a number of pilot Facebook groups they were aware of, hoping to recruit 10-15 pilots for the task. “Pilots are always looking for a reason to fly,” said Jackson. “If they can do something while enjoying their planes, then that’s even better.”

Their request on social media caught the eye of roughly 300 pilots across 38 states and began the development of Operation Airdrop – a group that transports supplies to those areas that have been affected by natural disasters within hours of being contacted. “We bridge the gap between when the incident first happens and when the government can come in,” he explained. “The government can sometimes move a little slow. We can react and get things to them within a couple of hours.”

Operation Airdrop in Texas: A Homegrown Response to Disasters

Photo: Facebook/NATCA

Since its development, Operation Airdrop pilots have made close to 700 trips, delivering 250,000 pounds of food, diapers, water, and additional supplies to those in need. They helped dramatically in the 10 days following Hurricane Harvey. Then they were contacted to assist in parts of Florida following Hurricane Irma. After that, they partnered with Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Texas Rangers Hall of Famer who is from Puerto Rico, in order to deliver much-needed supplies after Hurricane Maria. “When it started in Texas, it was just pilots literally going to local Wal-Marts and grocery stores, buying supplies and flying it there out of their own pocket,” Jackson explained.

At its fall awards dinner in Arlington, Virginia, the National Aeronautic Association recognized Operation Airdrop for the number of aid flights they accomplished this past year. Their group continues to recognize that more help is needed in southeast Texas, especially in rural areas, and a small group of their pilots flew more items down there in early December. They also plan to take home repair supplies to rural locales sometime in the new year. Jackson has noted that the group plans to continue its aid flights wherever and whenever they’ll be needed. “We now have a pretty big pilot database, and we have a mechanism for dispatching them and calling these pilots up as we need them,” he explained. “It may be a hurricane, tornadoes, forest fires or floods. We can assist in any disaster.”