A Fresno State mathematics professor used his skills as a pilot to play Santa Claus this week, helping deliver Christmas presents to a northern California family in need. 

Unlike Santa, though, Dr. Tamas Forgacs wasn’t flying a sleigh. He was in the cockpit of a Piper Warrior, appropriately adorned with red and green stripes.

Dr. Tamas Forgacs (left) and another Angel Flight West pilot.

Dr. Tamas Forgacs (left) and another Angel Flight West pilot.

For Forgacs, the mission was his 79th with Angel Flight West, an organization based out of Santa Monica that provides free air transportation primarily for patients traveling to and from non-emergency medical treatment, but also for veteran support programs, specialty summer camps, disaster response and medical supply transport. 

The group has flown over 96,000 missions in its 39-year history.

Forgacs, who has been with the Fresno State Department of Mathematics since 2007, said flying is a dream realized for him, and he loves that he can be part of an organization in Angel Flight West that allows him to use his aviation skills for the greater good. 

This past fall, Forgacs said, Angel Flight West sent an email to its pilots asking if there was any interest in flying “Santa missions” to provide for deserving families. Most of these families already had a connection to the organization, having been the recipients of its flight services.

“We buy all the presents, then fly them to wherever the family lives,” Forgacs said. Almost every pilot in the network jumped at the opportunity.

Forgacs shared the story with his Mathematics Department colleagues, Carmen Caprau and Oscar Vega, who along with three Fresno State alumni, gather regularly to play cards. Every year around Christmas time, the group has a white elephant gift exchange, but this year, they decided to put all their presents toward the Angel Flight West Santa mission.  

“Our Fresno State group took care of all the gifts,” Forgacs said.

Forgacs and two other pilots drew the assignment of helping a Crescent City family of five – a single mother and her four children, the oldest an 11-year-old girl who had undergone a heart transplant. Forgacs flew the first leg, Fresno to Sacramento, along with one of his former Fresno State students. Two other pilots finished the mission, flying from Sacramento to Crescent City, to deliver the gifts. 

“For pilots,” Forgacs said, “we love to get up there, so anything that gives some meaning to what we love to do anyway is icing on the cake.” 

Forgacs has been flying missions as either a command pilot or mission assistant since October 2019. For more information on Angel Flight West, visit www.angelflightwest.org.