Pilot Michael McFadden, president of the Maryland Chapter of Pilots for Christ, hopes his work will spark the interest of local youths and lead them to a career path in his beloved industry.(Courtesy Photo)

By H.R. Harris,
Special to the AFRO

While Michael McFadden flies between San Diego and Seattle Washington as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, Air Force pilot Todd O’Brien is often busy escorting government officials in a Cessna-17 overseas.

This past weekend, however, both men reported for duty on a mission of love as the Maryland Chapter of Pilots For Christ celebrated their annual Youth Day at Tipton Airfield in Fort Meade, Md. 

“It was scary and fun,” said 12-year-old Joshua Morris after he exited the Piper Cherokee plane flown by O’Brien, a member of the Fort Meade Flight Club.  

Joshua was one of the Youth Day participants that took to the skies for the first time during the event designed to demonstrate the wonder as well as the science behind aviation. Youth Day is also a time for the parents of young participants to experience the marvel of flight with the flight simulators available at Tipton Airfield.  

The pilots and volunteers, who staff the Youth Day events, like their young participants continue to be fascinated by both the physics and the feeling of being weightless above the clouds.  The hope for the Pilots for Christ group is to plant seeds that will blossom into a career in aviation through the airplanes on display, test flights, and other activities offered to youth and parents who attended the event.   

 The seed was planted for Isaiah Harris, 15, one of the youth participants. “I can get my pilot’s license by the time I’m 17,” Isaiah said to family members who accompanied him to the Youth Day event.  

“This was a wonderful day,” said McFadden, president of the Maryland Chapter of Pilots for Christ. When he isn’t flying, McFadden is the minister at the College Park Church of Christ. 

But McFadden wasn’t always a pilot. Just like the youth gathered for the Pilots for Christ Youth Day, the love of flight and aviation was a small seed that the husband and father of three hoped would grow when he was hired at Southwest Airlines as a flight steward.  

While flying across the US in a Boeing 737 as a flight steward serving customers, McFadden continued his quest to fly, and over time obtained three pilot ratings, and an instrumental flight rules rating– a designation normally taught in bachelor’s degree aeronautics programs. McFadden’s accomplishments came through hard self-taught study and on-the-job training.   

“Before Pilots For Christ (PFC), I would struggle with the idea of how I could combine my two greatest passions in life- aviation and ministry,”  McFadden said.  “I didn’t know how, but I figured that there had to be a way to do it.”   

The Maryland chapter of Pilots of Christ involves close to 20 military, airline, and general aviation pilots who are part of a national network of people shuttling the sick to hospitals and other venues in times of need. 

One of McFadden’s most memorable missions came when Jamila Nelson, 24 and living in South Carolina at the time, battled bone marrow cancer and needed to get to Bethesda, Md., for treatment. Nelson nor her family had the finances for a commercial flight from South Carolina to Maryland. 

Nelson reached out to the South Carolina Chapter of Pilots for Christ who arranged for McFadden to transfer the ailing Nelson to Bethesda, Md. where she successfully underwent treatment.  

That flight from South Carolina to Maryland changed everything for McFadden, who now faithfully organizes the Youth Day events for the Maryland Pilots for Christ organization.  He, like the other pilots, gladly gives up precious time off from professional flights to create that spark for the next generation, hoping at least one of the youths who attend their annual event will yearn to fly high above the clouds.

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