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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedFly For Life: Profiles in Caring

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Dr. Robert N. Cleaves was awarded a National Public Benefit Flying Award in 2004 for his service as Distinguished Volunteer Pilot. The awards are presented annually in the United States Capitol Building by the National Aeronautic Association and the Air Care Alliance. Profile: Following stints as a fighter pilot and missionary pilot, Robert founded and funded the Wilderness Conservancy and flew anti-poaching and medical missions to remote villages in southern Africa from 1986-96. In 2000 he began the Conservancy’s Project Care, flying humanitarian missions to villages in Baja California, Mexico. There Robert furnished an ambulance and medical clinic, and provided two school buses, computers, and educational supplies to local schools to improve life in impoverished communities.

Name: Dr. Robert N. Cleaves, bob@wildcon.org and http://www.wildcon.org
Wilderness Conservancy

Type/model aircraft operated in mission or public benefit flying? Where is most of your flying activity?

(1) Locally: (USA/Mexico) 1972 Cessna U206F upgraded to a TCM IO-550-F27B engine and McCauley BlackMac three blade prop model D3A34C401-C; (2) Africa: (South Africa and previously Zimbabwe), 7 aircraft - 4 Bellanca 8GCBC “Scout” aircraft, 2 American Champion 8GCBC “Super Scout” aircraft, and until 2000, the 1972 Cessna U206F mentioned in (1) above.

When did you become involved in mission or public benefit flying and why?

During the years of the bush war in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), I had flown extensively in that nation. When the war ended in 1980, I continued to fly there and saw the commencement of extensive poaching - the wanton killing of elephant and rhino for tusk and horns - and in 1986 initiated Wilderness Conservancy’s antipoaching operation with our first Scout aircraft. It was hugely successful and led to more aircraft in both Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Over the years, and while conducting antipoaching operations, Wilderness Conservancy often became involved in responding to humanitarian needs. Humanitarian assistance escalated and when the Cessna 206 was introduced in 1994 (it was operated by the South African Police Endangered Species Protection Unit), and was often used to respond to humanitarian needs in South Africa’s bushveldt and in Mozambique when hurricane’s devastated the coastal regions causing human loss and injuries.

What is the most memorable flight you have ever had and why?
All my work has provided tremendous satisfaction. However there are really two experiences which I consider worth mentioning:

(1) Antipoaching: I had flown hundreds of antipoaching missions and been responsible for the capture of many well-armed poachers. But on one mission, while flying in KwaZulu’s Ndumu Game Reserve I spotted three poachers who had killed an endangered black rhino and cut off its horns. Ndumu’s northern border abuts Mozambique and the poachers were fleeing to cross the river into the safe haven of Mozambique. I obtained the GPS coordinates and called them in to game scout operations and loitered keeping the approaching ground team apprised of the location of the fleeing poachers. Contact was made and the poachers were taken into custody along with their AK-47 rifle and the two rhino horns. There was a small grass airstrip not far from the location of the capture and I asked that the poachers be taken to that strip so that I could face them. The game scout capture team complied with my request and I landed and had a “face-to-face discussion” with the poachers. It was very rewarding as they spoke enough English for me to communicate.

(2) Humanitarian: In 2000 I returned the Cessna 206 from South Africa to California, had it extensively upgraded and placed it into humanitarian service. It was based at Santa Monica, California, and I flew medical supplies and equipment as well as school supplies, sport equipment, and toys to several small villages in Baja California, Mexico. One of the villages was Todos Santos (between La Paz and Cabo San Lucas), which has a handicapped children’s school. The school had virtually nothing but a dedicated teacher. Wilderness Conservancy’s Project CARE provided several computers and Spanish language computer games for the children, as well as school supplies, pediatric wheelchairs, wood working tools, clothing, and more.

Within a few months the children became very good at using the computers and it was most rewarding to see the smiles on their faces and to see how greatly they improved and how much they enjoyed learning to use the gifts provided. There are several photos of the handicapped children’s school on Wilderness Conservancy’s web site (www.wildcon.org). You can also see the one room elementary school, which had no electricity, 15 miles south of Todos Santos, where Project CARE provided a generator and a TV with VCR player so that educational tapes could be played.

Project CARE also provided school supplies and a school bus so the teacher could pick children up and bring them to school and take them home. He had been doing it previously with his very old pickup truck at his expense. Children really like school if given a chance and the facilities to learn. If one visits the website you will also see the support Project CARE has rendered to the old age home at Santa Rosalia (medical supplies, wheel chairs, walkers, adult diapers, bed pads, nebulizers, defibrillator, EKG machine, etc.), and the humanitarian supplies furnished to the farm workers and their children who pick the crops we import.

What would you like EAA members to know about the type of flying you do?
The economic downturn in the USA has impacted charitable organizations like Wilderness Conservancy and its Project CARE. The flying we do is supported by tax-free donations, 100% of which go to accomplish the mission. Not one cent goes to anyone, as there are no salaries, expenses or other benefits except the satisfaction of helping those in real need. Everyone affiliated with Wilderness Conservancy and its Project CARE donate their own expenses and skills. Flying is the key to accomplishing our goals in antipoaching and humanitarian work.

Why is the Fly For Life program important to EAA AirVenture 2009 attendees?
We share a common thread - aviation. It is that which makes our success possible. Fly4Life provides EAA members and others a wonderful opportunity to discover the rich rewards pilots can enjoy by using their aircraft and skills to help those less fortunate than ourselves. We are very thankful to EAA for providing us this forum to tell our stories.

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