HOT SPRINGS, Va. – 16-year-old T.J. Kim is flying planes when most teenagers his age are just learning how to drive a car.
“It’s been a dream of mine since I was 9 years old," Kim said. “I want to be a fighter pilot in the Navy, so I’ve always had a dream of flying.”
Kim has piloted planes for a year while accompanied by his flight instructor. Once COVID-19 started spreading, he decided to put his wings to work by spreading much-needed medical supplies across Virginia.
“It’s just something I felt that needed to be done," Kim said. "It’s also a way for me to keep flying, which is really fun.”
The Leesburg teenager and his flight instructor made a 145-mile flight to Ingalls Field in Bath County Saturday morning. Kim dropped off a bundle of masks, respirators, and other assorted medical equipment for Bath Community Hospital.
Hospital manager Amy Phillips is still in disbelief.
“We were actually quite skeptical at first," Phillips said. “We thought, ‘Is this for real? Is this a scam?’ The fact that a 16-year-old took that initiative on himself is just a great community service.”
Kim is making deliveries solely to rural Virginia hospitals. Before his trip to Bath County, he delivered supplies to hospitals in Luray and Winchester.
“There are seven critical access hospitals throughout Virginia, and we’ve been going through them, one by one," Kim said. “A lot of people are thinking about ways to donate to their own hospitals, like the bigger city hospitals, so that really left the rural hospitals at a disadvantage.”
Kim is still taking online high school classes in between his deliveries, but he will continue flying out supplies as long as they are needed.
“We try to do at least one flight a week, depending on if we’re able to source the supplies," Kim said. "We’re going to keep going.”