Aerial patrol  to monitor a quarry on the Hudson River
Image by Giles Ashford with aerial support by LightHawk

A mission to “champion environmental protection through the unique perspective of flight”.

LightHawk grew from a seed planted in 1974 with a simple suggestion to use aircraft to educate legislators and reporters on the potential environmental damage of a proposed coal-fired power plant near the Grand Canyon. Those flights led to the power plant project being abandoned. And though it would be another four years before the nonprofit was officially born with the donation of a Cessna 210, the concept of an aviation organization that could influence policy and decision makers with irrefutable evidence gained from a bird’s-eye view had been validated.

Now more than 30 years later, with its all-volunteer corps of more than 180 pilots and twelve staff members spread throughout the United States, LightHawk flies more than 1000 missions each year. They do not see themselves as an advocacy organization espousing a singular political point of view, but are willing to let the aerial “testimony” produced by their flights speak for itself.  Lighthawk works with hundreds of partner organizations across the US, Mexico, Central America and in parts of Canada to provide missions that help protect and preserve the environment.

For partners like The Nature Conservancy and Riverkeepers, LightHawk donated flights help gather scientific data, perform aerial surveys of endangered and threatened wildlife, and fly aerial patrols to track pollution and deforestation. The organization has also formed a unique and very productive partnership with the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP), a nonprofit group of photographers dedicated to “translating conservation science into compelling visual messages”.

The pilots who volunteer their time and use of their aircraft to fly for LightHawk defy easy categorization. They are entrepreneurs and lawyers, homemakers and retired military and airline pilots. Many have flown multiple missions in demanding conditions, and their work is carefully coordinated with LightHawk program managers to create opportunities for educating those whose decisions could have long-lasting effects on land, water and wildlife.

Early on the group set their pilot qualification standards high with a minimum of 1000 hours PIC time, and they require an extensive orientation interview for new volunteers. Due to the nature of their missions, pilots often fly in remote areas at 1000 feet AGL, and with the need to maneuver to provide critical views for passengers and photographers, LightHawk only wants pilots with excellent command of their aircraft.

Pilots are in a unique position to witness the natural wonder and beauty passing beneath their wings, and to see the damage and devastation too often visited upon the land and waters below. The pilots of LightHawk have committed to go beyond simply decrying injury to the earth by donating the valuable resource of flight to help protect and preserve land, water and wildlife. For more information or to volunteer, visit LightHawk.