Ever since he was a kid, Mike Samp wanted to fly.

"I aspired to go to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and I was going to be a fighter pilot," he said.

However, after not being able to do that, Samp found a better cause for his flying: helping patients in need of transport to hospitals and clinics.

Samp is a member of LifeLine Flights and Angel Flights, two charities that provide free flights for patients in need.

Learning to fly

After learning he would not be able to go to the academy, Samp started taking flying lessons on his own and had his pilot's license by 18.

"I've been flying pretty much ever since," he said.

Flying became harder for Samp, though, while he worked at Caterpillar. He said that the constant moving made it hard to build relationships with local airports to fly.

In addition, Samp moved overseas twice, where he wasn't able to fly at all.

After retiring, Samp settled down and was able to buy a 2005 Cirrus SR22, which he said is the newest airplane at Marshall County Airport.

"It's like a told someone yesterday, to be able to afford an airplane like this and have the skills to fly means I've been pretty dog-gone blessed in my life," he said.

Recently, Samp earned his commercial pilot's license, which he said brings his a step closer to being a flight instructor.

He also got his instrument rating in 2006, which allows him to fly in bad weather. It was during this time that he got introduced to the charities.

Introduction to charities

While getting his instrument rating six years ago, Samp's instructor was the start of his work with LifeLine and Angel Flights.

"I told the instructor that someday, I'd like to find a way to use this to help other people," he said. "She said, 'Well, you want to start now?'"

A month later and he was on the email list for both groups.

Samp said that he gets an email every day from the groups with available flights to take each day.

Before he retired from CAT, he said he used to only be able to take flights on the weekends which fill up quickly. However, he called his retirement a blessing because it allows him to take flights during the week.

Currently, he said he does about two flights a month. All flights that Samp does he provides free for the patients, with any money donated going to the charities.

The main organization Samp helps, LifeLine, is based out of Peoria.

"I actually was on their board of directors for a couple of years," Samp said. "That was OK, but I realized that wasn't where my heart was. My heart was really in flying and helping the people instead of helping run the organization and fundraising.

"I told Karen (Halverson), 'You know, I have to resign from the board because the time that I would have invested in that I'd rather be available to you.'

During his flights, Samp has been to Columbia, Ohio, to The Ohio State University, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., the Illinois Cancer Institute in Waukegan, Iowa City, Memphis and more.

However, one thing he said he hasn't seen is a flight of patients into Peoria.

"With the St. Jude affiliate in Peoria and the Children's Hospital, I'm just amazed that I don't think I've ever seen a mission coming into Peoria for whatever reason," he said. "I've got two neighbors that are doctors at OSF. I said to them, 'Don't you get children from Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky or Indiana that would come?' and they said, 'Yeah, we do.' I said, 'Are there maybe some that don't come because they don't have a way to get here?' They said, 'I'm sure there is, but I don't know.'"

He added that one thing he would like to see is the local medical community becoming more aware of the need of patients to see them and working with the charities to get them to Peoria.

During his years of work, Samp said he has met some "awesome" people, both patients and pilots.

"LifeLine has close to 600 volunteer pilots in their network. That's over about an eight-10 state area," he said.

Since starting work for the groups, Samp has flown between 12-15 flights for LifeLine and 20-25 flights for Angel Flights.