A lifelong love of aviation gave Ed Galkin, D61, a way to honor his older brother while raising money for Alzheimer’s research
When Edwin Galkin, D61, was growing up in New Jersey, his parents would take him and his older brother Samuel to Newark Airport every Sunday. Together, they watched airplanes take off and land, and by the time he was 6, Galkin was smitten with aircraft. A couple of years later, he started building model airplanes. “I really always wanted to fly,” he says.
Fast-forward some 80 years to September 2022. Now a retired periodontist, Galkin can, indeed, fly. He recently flew his own airplane around the world, as he already has three times before. Dubbed Fly for the Cure, the nearly two-month flight, completed with co-pilot Zvi Mosery, raised money for the Alzheimer’s Association and made Galkin the oldest person to circumnavigate the globe in a single-engine plane, as far as anyone can tell, including Guinness World Records. And although Samuel Galkin died from Alzheimer’s in 2016, he was there in spirit—the more than $20,000 raised for the cause are in his memory.
Ed Galkin’s first flight in a private plane wasn’t nearly as epic as his Fly for the Cure. It happened in 1970, about five years after he and his wife Bobbie moved back to his home state of New Jersey. One day, he told a friend with a private pilot’s license, “Gee, I’d love to fly with you.” The friend agreed, and it was everything his 6-year-old self had imagined. “You look down at how small things are, and you realize you’re not as big as you think you are. It’s just really therapeutic up there,” he explains.
The next day, he started taking flying lessons and Galkin’s childhood dream soon became a hobby. In November 1970 he earned his pilot’s license. In rapid succession, he also earned the instrument rating that allows pilots to fly in cloudy conditions; his multi-engine rating; his commercial pilot’s license; his seaplane rating; and his flight instructor’s certification.
The hobby was a serious passion. Seven years after his first lesson, Galkin bought a Cessna 210, the six-seat, single-engine, one-propeller airplane he had been hoping for since buying a Cessna 182 with a friend about four years earlier. Galkin’s new plane opened the world to him and those close to him.
The Galkins took their daughter and son on voyages to Alaska, then Edinburgh, Scotland in the 1980s via Canada, Greenland, and Iceland, all in the Cessna 210. Bobbie earned her pilot’s license, then so did their son, and later, their son-in-law.
Galkin flew to Australia with his friend Bob Zuber. When they returned, Galkin had yet another adventure in mind. “Well, we flew halfway around the world. Why don’t we go all the way around the world?” he remembers asking Zuber. “And so we agreed to do a trip around the world in 1988. It was my first; I was a happy camper–and I had no desire to do it again.”
In the early 2000s, his close friend and fellow pilot (and circumnavigator) Dick Sollner encouraged Galkin to go around the world one more time. “You never flew westbound,” Sollner said, so another circumnavigation followed in 2004. This time, Galkin realized their trips offered a perfect fundraising opportunity. He had learned about Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva, a genetic bone- and muscle-condition, through a family friend, and raised about $50,000 for the International Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva Association on his second global circumnavigation.
Then, in 2016, his brother died. “Sam was a neat guy, we were very close. We went to college together in Connecticut,” Galkin says. Sam, already in dental school in Philadelphia, encouraged his younger brother to pursue dentistry at Tufts, advice that Galkin has never regretted taking.
When Sam returned to New Jersey after orthodontics school, he opened his own practice in Woodbridge. And when Ed and Bobbie moved there three years later, Sam suggested having a building constructed for a joint practice.
“I’ll do ortho on my level and you have your whole floor and your do perio down there,” Ed Galkin recalls his brother saying “So we built the building in 1968, the two of us, my brother and I.”
Sam’s Alzheimer’s symptoms started decades later, when he was in his late 70s. “Watching him suffering, not knowing who he was, not knowing what he did for a living, not knowing he had children or grandchildren, was difficult,” Galkin says. So for his 2018 trip around the world, with co-pilot Marty Balk, he raised money for the Alzheimer’s Association–then decided to do one final trip in honor of his brother last year.
With new co-pilot Mosery, Galkin took off from New Jersey September 18. They flew east to Newfoundland, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, the Pacific Islands; then to California and Oklahoma before returning to New Jersey on November 4. It was a trip, like each of Galkin’s circumnavigations, a year in the making, complete with increased physical training and sponsors who provided flight planning and GPS charts. It meant ordering 200 gallons of fuel for delivery from New Zealand to Samoa a couple of months ahead of time, to ensure they would have what they needed for the flight over the Pacific to Hawaii.
Things went well, but not always according to plan. In Sardinia, off the coast of Italy, a bolt failure resulted in a massive flat tire and other damage. The Cessna was grounded. Balk, Galkin’s former copilot, flew from the United States to Sardinia with a replacement tire, arriving 10 days later. “If we shipped the wheel to Sardinia, it would have to go through customs, and we’d never get it,” Galkin explains. “Marty had the whole wheel put on in less than two hours.”
Later, taking off at night from Abu Dhabi, bound for Bangkok, the air traffic controller told Galkin and Mosery that the plane wasn’t high enough to clear the mountains ahead. Galkin recalls him saying, “You guys have to go 500 feet higher; you’re at 12,500. I can’t clear you any further until you get to 13,000 feet.” So they circled for half an hour to lighten their load. “Maybe I burned off 100 pounds of fuel, and that was just enough to get us to 13,000 [feet] and then we were on our way.”
As they traveled, the pilots met local residents and fellow travelers. They gave out cards with Galkin’s name and their trip itinerary, explaining Fly for the Cure. While the Alzheimer’s Association has received more than $20,000 in donations on the flight’s fundraising site, Galkin is certain that the trip raised even more money for Alzheimer’s research.
“People knew the money was mainly going to the United States, so they said, ‘We’re going to donate, but we’re going to donate to Italy, Sardinia, whatever,’” he says. “We were with people when they were at their phones, donating to their local Alzheimer’s group. We had no way of calculating how much that brought in, but we think it was significant.”
With Fly for the Cure’s fundraising page still open, Galkin is giving presentations about the trip and the disease, a fitting tribute to a brother who so carefully included his younger brother in their shared work and life. “So it’s not over yet,” Galkin says.