Nothing Can Stop the Eco-Air Force

When environmental activists need to get a bird's-eye view of land they want to protect, sprawl they want to document, or even illegal environmental activities they want to stop, they've got they're own fleet of planes and 140 pilots ready to get them into the air. LightHawk is a volunteer organization of pilots that provides free flights for the purpose of observing and documenting environmental situations. Since the organization's founding in 1979 by pilot Michael Stewart, they've made thousands of flights in support of protecting natural resources around the world.

Today the nonprofit is the largest and oldest volunteer-based environmental aviation organization in North America, flying some 700 missions each year. About half of the missions are flown over Central America and Mexico. ...

The volunteers fly to help investigate a variety of issues, such as deforestation, threats to watersheds, and energy and pollution problems. Also, urban sprawl is becoming an increasingly common issue.

"You name it, we've probably flown for it," said Sama Blackwell, the program manager for Lighthawk, who is based in Boulder, Colorado.

Most of the organizations that use Lighthawk are conservation groups and other environmental activists. But Blackwell stresses that Lighthawk does not take sides when it comes to a particular environmental issue.

"We want to make sure that our partners are interested in solutions," she said.

"We don't want to come into an area and say, Here's what you should do. What we try to do is provide the information so people locally can make the decisions."

LightHawk has been so successful in its efforts that it's inspired at least one other group of volunteer environmentally-active pilots to form: South Africa's Bateleurs has over 100 pilots and flies 30-40 missions a year. :: Lighthawk via National Geographic News

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