Thanksgiving is just around the corner! For many people, Thanksgiving means family, food, football, and of course, parades. The annual St. Louis Thanksgiving Day Parade will be extra special this year, as the St. Louis Moolah of Shriners International will be debuting a brand new float, made out of an Embraer 145 fuselage. Waving to the crowd from the windows of the plane will be children currently undergoing high quality orthopedic treatment at Shriners Hospital for Children in St. Louis. The Shriners are a fraternal organization dedicated to providing care for children free of charge. In addition to orthopedic care, this St. Louis hospital also treats burns, spinal cord injuries, and cleft lip and palates, as well as provides other complex surgical needs.
Trans States’ own, Sam Curless has been involved in this inspiring project since its inception. Sam was in the process of joining his local chapter when he heard about the Shriners’ Air Patrol parade float – an old, dilapidated Charlie Brown float from the 1960s that was in sore need of replacement.
Some members had mentioned that an aviation-inspired float would be especially fitting, as it could shine a light on the important work done by the Shriners Moolah Air Patrol.
Children with severe orthopedic needs often have to travel far from home to receive care, which can be draining on a family’s finances. That’s where the Air Patrol steps in. As Air Patrol Director John Cordell explains, “We are a division of the Shriners that is transportation focused. When families need to get to St. Louis because a child requires orthopedic care, we find a way to fly them here at no cost.” Volunteer Shriner pilots fly children and their families to St. Louis on their own time, via their own planes or borrowed private aircraft. If the Air Patrol doesn’t have a plane or pilot to accommodate a family, they will fly the family in commercially, or coordinate with Wings of Hope, another charity that provides air travel to families in need. Once families arrive in St. Louis, the Air Patrol transports them to the Ronald McDonald House, Haven House, and other places where they can stay during the duration of their child’s treatment.
When Sam heard about the Shriners Air Patrol’s wish for an aviation-themed float, he knew that he could help. While finding a company to donate an aircraft fuselage for most would be a challenge, it wasn’t for Sam. As the Managing Director of Strategic Sourcing and Materials at Trans States, Sam works with aircraft manufacturers, lessors, and parts vendors all over the world. Sam put the Shriners in touch with AeroVision International, an aircraft lessor and Embraer 134/145 parts distributor, who donated a fuselage for the float. It was then gutted and fitted with custom chairs donated by aircraft manufacturer Embraer.
Everything about the float was created with Shriners kids in mind. “This is not a Mardi Gras party barge,” says Sam. “This is something special for children undergoing treatment, some of whom may never have been on plane before.” John agrees. “We really wanted to go for that, ‘wow factor,’ with this float,” he said. “On the outside, it looks like a brand new plane. But on the inside, it’s all about the kids.” The aisles are wide, to accommodate wheelchairs, and the interior includes lights and air conditioning. During the parade, children can sit in either the fuselage or the cockpit. “We even raised the seats in the cockpit eighteen inches, so that the kids can see out of the windows and look at the crowd,” John added.
All in all, the project required over six hundred hours of labor, and the joint efforts of many. “This project was not just isolated to St. Louis,” Sam stressed. “All around the country, people associated with the Shriners chipped in to help with this project.”
To see the final results of this amazing project, be sure to watch the parade on Thanksgiving Day, broadcast live on KMOV-TV Channel 4 in St. Louis.
The Shriners are always looking for volunteers, including pilots for the Air Patrol. Click here to learn to more about how you can get involved with this incredible organization.
Update (November 28, 2016):
Check out the photos below of the float in action at the 2016 St. Louis Thanksgiving Day Parade!