MIDWAY, Ark. (AP) — "Purple Passion" touched down just past noon on a recent Wednesday at Ozark Regional Airport in Midway. A small crowd gathered to watch as the pilot, 74-year-old Jim Davis, got out of the experimental aircraft, removed his hat and kneeled on the ground. Next to the small plane, Davis bowed his head for a moment of prayer.
In a little more than four months, the Mountain Home man flew to all of the lower 48 states in his custom-built plane, giving cancer patients (and survivors) a ride, but also — more importantly — hope.
Davis is battling Stage 4 lung cancer and said the goal of his amazing journey was to show that a cancer diagnosis "is not an automatic death sentence."
"Even if you're dying, you don't have to quit living," he said in April before his first flight in Arkansas with Susan Payne, a local cancer survivor.
He started on the eastern half of the country, came back home in June and left again to fly west. Prior to the start of his "Passion Flights For Life," Davis was given approximately nine months to live after a doctor found a spot on his liver, one on a lymph node and another on his right lung in December, The Baxter Bulletin (http://bit.ly/1OazATz ) reported.
Nine months later, well, miracles do happen as Davis has just completed the 48-state flight.
Davis says a CT scan in June showed that the spots had disappeared from his lymph node, lung and liver. Some people view it as a coincidence; Davis sees it as the power of faith. With each person he meets, Davis encourages them to go see a doctor for a check-up on a regular basis.
"Thinking I didn't have long to live, I began to prioritize, thinking about things I wanted to do before I leave this world. Topping the list was flying that little purple airplane around the lower 48 states," Davis said. "As I begin to think further, of having my funeral, I wondered what people would remember about Jim Davis. I couldn't think of very much. The idea came to me that I could encourage cancer patients."
At least 40 people — men, women and children — rode with Davis in his purple Savannah XL experimental plane. Davis says he logged 75-100 hours flying around the east and 125-150 hours flying west, covering more than 10,000 miles to complete the mission. He received his private pilot's license in 1972 and built the Purple Passion himself a few years ago.
Davis' last ride was on Monday with Kris, a cancer patient from DeKalb, Illinois. But instead of riding in Purple Passion, Kris gave Davis a ride in his own plane. For the first time in years, Davis was a passenger.
"When I met him, it was just like meeting my long lost brother," Davis said, noting that Kris, like himself, is a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association. "It was quite enjoyable. I sat there and looked at the scenery. Great man."
Davis said he was able to meet his goal for the 48-state journey thanks to Experimental Aircraft Association chapters and a three-man team back in the Twin Lakes Area — Steve Johnson, Jim Baker and Lyle Holland — who helped arrange meetings with cancer patients and survivors, track weather patterns and keep up with his health.
Several friends welcomed Davis in Midway.
"Essentially, what we did from here was he would be in places where he didn't have computer access to check his weather and view his planned flight course," said Holland, a retired doctor. "We had the advantage of being here and having that available, so we did that and passed it on to him so he could make his decisions for the day as far as his weather and route considerations.
"He's covered a lot of ground."
Though Davis has completed his Purple Passion flights, he's looking to the "bright side." Part of his future plans include building another aircraft, and he hopes to continue writing about his experiences on his blog, Flyinggem in Purple Passion.
"Hopefully this is not the end, but just the beginning. I love to talk to groups of people. Churches, organizations, clubs," Davis said. "If I can encourage some cancer patient that is down in the dumps, if I can get one tough old boy to go to the doctor for an annual physical to detect cancer early, then I would say my mission is accomplished."
Information from: The Baxter Bulletin, http://www.baxterbulletin.com
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