Maryland Pilots for Christ on a higher mission
FORT MEADE, Md. — Michael McFadden, a general aviation pilot, routinely travels across the country as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines.
Air Force pilot Todd O’Brien regularly flies a C-17 filled with refugees from a war-torn country or a Gulfstream Jet carrying members of Congress on an official trip.
The Maryland PFC chapter is made up of about 20 military, airline and general aviation pilots who are part of a national network of men and women who shuttle people who are sick to hospitals and other venues in times of need.
In August, they also sponsored a youth day. In addition to airplane rides for young people, parents and older teens got to practice flying on flight simulators. Isaiah Harris, 16, was so happy he told his father, “Dad, I can get my pilot’s license by the time I’m 17.”
O’Brien has helped the younger Harris set up a study schedule and serves as his mentor.
“It was scary and fun,” said 12-year old Joshua Morris after he got out of a four-seat Piper Cherokee.
“This was a great day,” said McFadden, a resident of Laurel.
The husband and father of three worked on a ground crew loading planes before becoming a flight attendant and general aviation pilot more than a decade ago. Now, mentoring youth and ferrying cancer patients is just an extension of McFadden’s work at the College Park Church of Christ where he is the minister.
“Before Pilots for Christ, I would struggle with the idea of how I could combine my two passions in life that inherently shared nothing in common—aviation and ministry of the gospel,” McFadden said. “I didn’t know how, but I figured that there had to be a way to do it.”
“Before Pilots for Christ, I would struggle with the idea of how I could combine my two passions in life that inherently shared nothing in common — aviation and ministry of the gospel. I didn’t know how, but I figured that there had to be a way to do it.”
That combination became clear five years ago when he was called on to fly Jamila Nelson from South Carolina to Maryland for cancer treatments. Nelson, 24 at the time, was battling bone cancer, and neither she nor her mother could afford the commercial flight to Maryland. Her mother reached out to the South Carolina Chapter of Pilots for Christ who made the arrangements.
McFadden has earned three pilot ratings: single engine, multiple engine and an instrument flight rating where he had to take off and land a plane seeing nothing but instruments.
Melanie Ballard, another member of the College Park congregation, was there to meet the plane when the Nelsons arrived. Ballard is vice president of the Maryland chapter and drove the two ladies to a Bethesda hotel.
“I know I have found the answer to my deepest desire!” McFadden said. “Through PFC, I can use my aviation skills to help those who need urgent transportation but lack the resources.”
PFC is open to anyone on Youth Day, and participants came from several cities across Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania, including members from several Churches of Christ.
More recently, the Maryland chapter hosted the organization’s national convention at the Embassy Suites hotel near Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
The singing group Straight Company sang an old gospel song “On the Wings of a Dove,” and participants were moving their hands like birds flying as singers brought them in for a landing. The group’s leader, Jesse Murray, preached the Sunday sermon the next day.
On Saturday night of the convention, Caleb Smith, 17, a high school junior and the only certified African American glider pilot in the U.S., talked about his adventure of becoming both a single-engine and glider pilot. He hopes to get a Congressional nomination to the Air Force Academy or Naval Academy or may attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
“I like to integrate everything I do with God,” Caleb told the audience. “When I’m up in a glider it’s total dependence on the elements of weather, and we know who controls that.”
Smith and his father, Chazz, attend Cornerstone Assembly of God in Bowie, Md., and enjoy being part of Pilots for Christ, because, the elder Smith said, “We fly together.”
“Before we leave the house we pray, and there is no fear at all in God,” he said.