Flying high

Since 1993, Challenge Air for Kids & Friends, Inc. (Challenge Air) has enriched the lives of children and youth with special needs through its unique aviation program.

The community-driven program, “Fly Days,” brings together special-needs children, ground crew volunteers and volunteer pilots to provide the gift of flight. It took flight May 10 at McKinney National Airport.

The event was hosted by McKinney Air Center, the airport’s fixed-base operator, and organized by a group of 12 local volunteers and Challenge Air staff and trustees.  

“It was wonderful to be a part of such an amazing event,” said Mark Jaraczewski, McKinney Air Center general manager, in a release. “It was truly inspiring to see the smiles flight brought to the kids and families involved.”

Steve McCarter, former Challenger Air board trustee and current McKinney Airport Development Corporation board member, said, “I’ve had the privilege of being a volunteer pilot since 2005. It is truly an outstanding organization that provides a unique opportunity.”

A mother of one of the children who participated in Fly Days said her husband, daughter and autistic son attended the event and were “pleasantly surprised” by the size and scope of it. The pilot let her daughter ride in the passenger seat and take the pilot’s wheel for a few minutes, the mother said.

“All three enjoyed the flight and talked about seeing the world from above,” she said in a release. “They had a wonderful experience.”

The event had more than 150 volunteers help throughout the day. Volunteers and 22 planes helped 123 children experience the gift of flight.

“At Challenge Air we believe that special needs children must be provided with opportunities to expand their individual perspectives and renew their faith in themselves,” said April Culver, executive director for Challenge Air, in the release. “Parents have told us time-and-again that the knowledge their children obtain after a day with us often manifests itself into a passion to learn more and pushes them further than they ever have before.”

A network of nearly 3,500 volunteers nationwide enables Challenge Air to serve children/youth with special needs. Volunteers serve as pilots, ground crew, fundraisers, planning committee members and in numerous other capacities.

To learn more about Challenge Air, visit the organization’s website at

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