McDonald, 64, is among a group of pilots who recently have been volunteering their time, using their own planes and paying all costs to fly volunteers and construction materials to aid in the building of Zion Children’s Home for abused, neglected and abandoned children.
McDonald recently returned home from his first trip to the Caribbean island in April, as part of the biannual Bahamas Habitat’s Fly-In and Help Out Event.
“I’ve been flying for a long time, so this gives me the opportunity to feed both passions of flying and working with people,” said McDonald, a former chaplain in the intensive care unit at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite.
On his recent trip, McDonald said he ran into volunteers from McEachern Memorial United Methodist Church. In July, he plans to return to teach a Bahamas Habitat staffer how to fly a donated twin-engine plane.
The Bahamas Conference of the Methodist Church, Bahamas Methodist Habitat and Bahamas Habitat, are currently working with volunteers, donors and the Bahamas government in the establishment of Zion Children’s Home on Current Island.
“Volunteers and volunteer pilots are what make what we at Bahamas Habitat do possible,” said John Armstrong, president and chairman of Bahamas Habitat, a U.S.-based Christian nonprofit that supports relief work in the Bahamas and Haiti.
“We are blessed with so many wonderful volunteer pilots like Frank McDonald, who give of themselves to help others. As volunteer pilots they bring a unique and special talent that makes a tremendous difference. We are grateful for each and every one of them.”
McDonald flies a single-engine Kitfox plane that he built himself. He said he prefers keeping it at Cartersville Airport as opposed to Kennesaw’s busier Cobb County Airport - McCollum Field, which is home to 350 aircraft. It takes him 10 hours to fly to the Bahamas. He divides the flight into two parts, using Orlando Executive Airport as a midpoint.
McDonald learned to fly from his father, an Air Force pilot who flew special ops missions during World War II. He still remembers his first flight with his father while they were stationed in Puerto Rico. It was winter, and the cool temperatures and forbidding plane didn’t leave the best first impression on the 6 year old.
“I did not at all enjoy that flight,” said McDonald, a 28-year Army veteran. “It’s just amazing that I’m a pilot.”
Ultimately, McDonald earned a glider pilot’s license in 1971 and an airplane pilot’s license a little later. He is now an instructor and also flies multi-engine aircraft.
“You can see the world in a different way from up there,” he said of flying.
“There’s a lot of independence; you can go where you want to go and don’t have to follow the road. If you’ve ever seen the sun set or rise from an airplane, it’s just breathtaking.”
Frank is married to Phyllis and has two grown sons, Aric and Craig. Last September, he flew with Craig to Fairbanks, Alaska, his longest flight.