How God is working in the life of Fred Chambers, a mission-minded jet pilot. He declares…

Archive: Jesus Takes You Higher!

by Randall Nulton United Methodist College Student

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome aboard American Airlines flight 677 from New York to Sanjuan, Puerto Rico. Estimated arrival time will be 10:56. Weather in San Juan is clear. Temperature is a mild seventy-six degrees. We will be cruising at a speed of approximately 575 miles per hour, at an altitude of 33,000 feet. …

Twenty flights a month, American Airlines Captain Fred G. Chambers speaks over the intercom of the massive red, white, and blue Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet he is commanding. And during off-days and vacations, Chambers puts his 40 years of aviation experience to work for the Lord.

Chambers, a member of Trinity United Methodist Church in Hackettstown, New Jersey, pledges himself “anew to Christ” each day, asking the Lord to give him something special to do. “Don’t ever say that unless you mean it,” the trim Captain testified. “You’ll really get some assignments!” Those “assignments” for him have included inspecting missionary pilots the world over, “smoke jumping” into dense jungles, skydiving at exhibitions, and numerous speaking engagements.

Having logged over 20,000 air hours in everything from the Piper Cub and helicopter, to the enormous 747, Chambers is qualified to fly almost anything short of a rocket. During the 1960s, he served as superintendent of American Airlines flight training when the airline was making a transition from propeller planes to jets.

Doors suddenly opened for mission field service after Fred and his wife, Winifred, had put their sixth child through college in 1970. Fred was asked to serve on a Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) Committee that was taking a “fresh look” at the missionary pilots’ accident records.

“We have always had an interest in missions and we knew a little bit about a couple of mission boards,” said Chambers. “When we became available, the Lord used us.”

In May of 1972, Fred and Winnie traveled to New Guinea and Indonesia. There he tested MAF and Jungle Aviation and Radio Service (JAARS—air-arm of Wycliffe Bible Translators) pilots from an “outsider’s point of view.” He made six or eight suggestions to “the best pilots in the world flying in the poorest conditions.”

In March of 1973 and 1974, Chambers traveled to Zaire and Liberia, Africa, where he conducted safety seminars and proficiency checks for pilots in the Mission Aviation Fellowship and United Methodist Missions.

“The United Methodist pilots (Robert C. Bennett, Billy Davis, Leonard Woodcock, Kenneth Kuhrt, Fay Smith, Ken Enright …) were a bit critical at first, but then they agreed it was a good idea,” said Chambers. He passed along hints on flying techniques. Often, he takes a whole staff of Christian flight instructors along on these overseas trips.

“We’ve established a whole new procedure to mission flying,” Chambers continued. “We have inspectors going to the field every year. And at least every other year, each missionary pilot participates in a safety seminar. As a result, we are seeing improvements in the accident record.”

In 1963, Fred and his oldest son Fritz took a habit-forming plunge from an airplane. “We found our first parachute jump so thrilling, we took the whole free-fall training course,” explained the bald pilot (some friends call him “Bald Eagle” or “Kojack of the Air”). Immediately hooked on skydiving, Chambers has now made over 500 jumps.

“There is no sensation of falling, height, or speed,” said Chambers, describing a typical jump. “There is more a sense of weightlessness. It’s a big thrill to fly the 747 with all of its controls, but in skydiving it’s just me flying my body within the physical laws of God’s universe.

“At first I asked God: ‘Why this added bonus?”‘ Chambers went on. “The answer soon came, ‘You’ll use it for Me!”‘

A photographer made a 25-minute skydiving film featuring the Captain’s trim 5-foot-11-inch, 160- pound frame gliding and zooming through the air 7,500 feet above the ground. For years, once or twice a week, Chambers has used the film as a vehicle to share Christ to youth and adult church and civic organizations. Chambers also crusades with his movies of the aviation missions’ work in Indonesia and Africa.

In 1970, Chambers mastered the “smoke jumper’s” art of parachuting into trees. In Peru and Colombia, South America, Chambers has taught JAARS pilots how to “bail out” into low dense jungle as an emergency readiness measure. In 1971 and 1973 Chambers ventured to Colombia where he joined parachute squads building an emergency landing strip near the headwaters of the Amazon River.

Some missionary pilots had been slashing and slogging their way through thick jungle for as much as two weeks to inspect new airstrips. Though crises requiring use of the strips have developed only a few times, the airborne missionaries have completed dozens of flights in threatening weather. Before Chambers came they wouldn’t even have been attempted.

Recently, Chambers displayed his skydiving skill in a series of exhibitions. They called it “Missions Day at the Airport.” These were designed to raise money, and interest recruits for the work of the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service.

“When the speaker drops in from the sky—people listen!” he laughed.

In his desire to keep abreast with the mission aviation scene, Chambers has recently earned his helicopter operator’s license. Mountainous mission fields often require the use of whirlybirds. In 1975, Chambers scarred his accident-free career. His helicopter’s rotor blades hit some tree limbs when he was practicing a confined area landing. He had to set it down in the brush.

“Once in a while the Lord shows us that we really are dependent on Him,” Chambers remarked. “No one’s perfect. We have to learn God’s laws, spiritual and physical, and stay within them. I had no business being in that tight area.”

The very next day the chopper was to be used in a JAARS “Missions Day at the Airport” exhibition. Footing the repair bill himself, Chambers calls the accident “A $5,000 lesson in humility.”

Fred Chambers accepted Christ as his Savior 36 years ago, after hearing Dr. E. Stanley Jones on the shores of Lake Erie at a Churchman’s League retreat.

“I wanted to use one of the fellow’s airplanes,” Chambers mused. “I couldn’t help but go to the retreat with him.” Later he joined the Fellowship of Christian Airlines Personnel, founded by United Airlines pilot Bob Burdick.

Chambers was born and raised in a Christian home, but the message had never gotten through. He had never asked Christ into his life nor made a personal commitment to Him. Looking back over his years with Christ, Chambers said, “Often the path seems narrow, but as long as I keep my hand in His, nothing touches that peace and security, and ultimate destination that I have.”

Chambers’ wife, Winifred, is a talented musician, endowed with perfect pitch. She uses her gifts when traveling with her husband. “You can whistle a tune for her and she can sit down and write out a score for the organist, the pianist, and the four-part chorus,” said Fred.

Winnie works with the indigenous music of the native people, often rewriting new Gospel songs in their musical modes. In one Point Barrow, Alaska, Eskimo church hymnbook, you’ll find 27 hymns that say: “Music by Winifred Chambers.”

“We’re in this together, continually talking about and praying for missionary friends, problems, and needs,” said Mrs. Chambers. “Also in planning how, when, and where to do things, according to God’s timing.”

Prior to his missionary travels, Chambers served for many years as junior high youth leader of their Pacific Palisades, California, Community United Methodist Church. He was also a member of the Beverly Hills Christian Businessmen’s Club. On moving to New Jersey in 1975, the Chambers joined Trinity United Methodist. When home, Fred serves on the mission board. Winnie serves on the music committee and often substitutes at the piano and organ. She also sings in the “real going choir.”

Though Fred is retiring from American Airlines in September, it will be a long time before the rocking chair gets the best of the 59-year-old pilot. Chambers jogs a few miles each morning and fasts each Monday. He believes physical discipline carries over into professional and spiritual life.

“The world’s worst thing to do is to sit around and wait to die,” Mrs. Chambers reflected. “Life gets more exciting all the time.”

Chambers hopes to return to Alaska where he landed his first job as a bush pilot 38 years ago. “Alaska is the logical place for me because I know the weather conditions and terrain,” said Chambers. “It takes two years to break in a new pilot.” This time he will be flying for the Missionary Aviation Repair Center, an organization he has helped occasionally during the past several years.

“If Christ can use something as ‘far out’ as my skydiving, He can use all of our lives if we turn our talents over to Him,” the Captain emphasized. “Jesus will take us higher, but we have to keep our eyes open, our ear to the wall, and keep getting trained in our field. I just use airplanes to launch my Christian service.”

The next time you wonder if … “IT’S A BIRD. IT’S A PLANE. …” don’t be fooled. It’s probably Fred Chambers free-falling toward the earth at 200 miles per hour on another “skydive for Jesus.”


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