Edinburg pilot nominated for national award

Nevin Showman

Nevin Showman, 57, of Edinburg, has been nominated by Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic to represent the region at the fifth-annual Endeavor Awards for his dedication to charitable flying.

Angel Flight, a nonprofit that arranges free air transportation for those in need, has a fleet made up exclusively of volunteer pilots. They transfer those who either can’t afford airfare or who are unable to deal with the stress and restrictions of commercial flights.

Showman has been flying for the program since 2009. He summarized how he felt about being nominated for the national award in three words: “honored, humbled and undeserving.”

“(I was) surprised. But anybody, really, would be surprised, because it’s quite an honor to be in such a small group for an elite award,” Showman said.

Angel Flight launched the Endeavor Award in 2014 to celebrate its volunteer pilots who best represent the organization and best spread awareness. The awards are presented in the California Science Center every May below the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Showman’s co-pilot, John Billings, 94, previously won the award in 2015.

“The real honor, to me, is flying with him,” Showman said. “If it wouldn’t be without Capt. John, I wouldn’t be doing probably anything with Angel Flight, I wouldn’t definitely be as active as I am. We’ve done some amazing things together, which has gotten attention, so I owe him a lot of credit for me even being up for any award.”

For Showman, it hasn’t always been about charitable flying. He’s been a licensed pilot for 19 years, but only got into volunteer flying in the latter half of his career. He started off as a fair-weather, private flier, who routinely bought $100 hamburgers.

“The $100 hamburger is a joke among pilots. You know, if you get your license, and you just need a reason to fly, you fly to another airport that has a restaurant and you buy a hamburger,” Showman said, laughing. “The total cost of everything used to be $100, now it’s about $200.”

That paradigm shifted abruptly one day in 2009 when a new customer came into Showman’s store, Edinburg Electronics TV Repair. The customer, Billings, mentioned that he was also a pilot, and the two got to talking.

Billings explained that he routinely flew cancer patients and other people in need to where they needed to go. He paid for his own fuel, plane, hangar fees, maintenance, everything, and volunteered for flights as often as he could.

Showman joined him for a flight in December of that year, and was immediately hooked. He was enamored with the concept of flying for a humanitarian purpose with the need for a fast turnaround.

“It’s not like waiting a week, waiting a month. If you know somebody on Monday who needs a flight on Friday, chances are they can get it,” he said.

Showman and Billings became fast friends, and before long, Showman was accompanying Billings on every single Angel Flight. The two alternate who sits in the pilot seat and who runs communication and navigation from the co-pilot’s chair.

Unfortunately, not every trip ends well. The two often fly the same patient on multiple trips, and sometimes they witness their passenger “go from bad to worse.” Showman said that since all passengers become like family, those situations are heartbreaking.

But he says they try to be a “bright spot” for everyone they fly. The two pilots have an arsenal of stuffed animals and model airplanes for first-time passengers, and for recurring passengers, Showman gives them framed pictures of their first trip.

Every time, he’s struck by how positive his passengers are.

“(They) have such a positive attitude. I mean, you would just look at them and not realize, unless you knew, that they were going through such a hardship. It’s like they set it aside,” Showman said. “It makes you think about yourself, if you want to complain about something in life. Look yourself in the mirror and slap yourself hard before you let it come out, because, boy, what you’re dealing with probably is so much less than somebody else.”

Showman and Billings took a two-week flight around the country in 2015 to raise awareness for Angel Flight, distributing business cards and flyers and working with local media outlets to generate area interest.

The blog Showman kept from that flight became the prototype for the duo’s website, www.wingsaroundamerica.com, where Showman posts photos and descriptions of every charity flight they run.

Showman said he believes this personal touch may work in his favor at this year’s Endeavor Awards.

“The thing that makes a good candidate, I think, is the number of flights that they’ve volunteered for, and little things that they do, like we document all of our stories, and a lot of people know that,” Showman said.

Showman doesn’t fall behind on the number of flights completed, either — in 2017, Showman and Billings completed 52 Angel Flight missions, covering more than 20,000 nautical miles.

But Showman emphasizes that, for him, it’s not about winning.

“It’s not like a football game where you hate the other players. I love the other players, because they’re doing the same thing we’re doing in a different region,” Showman said. “I’m happy no matter what. I’m happy and I’m honored just to be there.”

Still, if he does win, Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic will receive a grant of $15,000. That money goes toward funding the paid staff who manage the organization’s overhead, matching those in need with volunteer pilots.

Regardless of the outcome, Showman said he hopes the publicity surrounding the competition alerts people who are in need that this service exists, and encourages pilots with expendable time and money to volunteer and “fly for a cause, a reason to fly, more so than getting that $200 hamburger.”

Online voting plays a crucial role in the Endeavor 2018 Award. Voters can cast their ballots for their favorite nominated pilot on the event’s website at www.endeavorawards.org/vote.

Voting closes on Wednesday.

“Nobody loses, because all those grants go someplace around the country to help people get from point A to point B. And that’s what really matters,” Showman said.