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One Man’s Dashed Hopes Leads to Moody Aviation

  • June 29, 2022

Moody Aviation founder Paul Robinson


For more than 75 years, Moody Aviation has been training professional pilots, mechanics, and avionics technicians for mission and humanitarian relief work around the world. Since 1946, alumni have served in more than 60 countries on six continents with over 110 mission organizations.

Moody Aviation is impacting the world for Christ. But the school may never have started if it wasn’t for one Moody grad’s dashed hopes to serve as a missionary jungle pilot.

The case for missionary pilots

In 1936 Paul Robinson, a pastor in western New York, learned about Violet Herron, a young Bolivian missionary wife who died in childbirth after a five-day journey by boat and oxcart to the nearest mission hospital. “This dear woman needed more than medicine. She needed transportation,” said the pastor, who began seeking the Lord about becoming a missionary pilot.

The story of the woman’s tragic death propelled his decision to start taking flying lessons in hopes of serving in Brazil.

Four days after Robinson’s first solo flight, Pearl Harbor plunged the United States into World War II, and civil aviation was grounded in the US. He joined the Civil Air Patrol, which provided for his flight certifications. By the end of the war he was 35 years old—too old to be a missionary pilot, the missions board told him.

“My plans, which I thought were God’s plans, were dashed,” Robinson said.

Yet he kept thinking about the need for missionary pilots. One night, while drying dishes with his wife, Lillian, the idea of an aviation training program began to unfold in his mind. He dropped the towel, went to his desk, and began writing. “I wrote most of the night and all the next day, until I thought I had it,” he said.

To give his plan wings, Robinson submitted his proposal to Moody Bible Institute—his top choice for a training school—and in 1946 the flight program was launched.

“God used that redirection in his life to form a vision of building into young people who had a passion to be a missionary using the tools of aviation to impact the world for Christ,” said Jim Conrad, Moody Aviation program manager.

Moody Aviation’s impact

Moody Aviation began with 12 students, two Piper airplanes, and Robinson as the sole instructor. Today, with a fleet of planes, flight simulators, and experienced maintenance and flight instructors (many on loan from missions organizations), Moody has trained close to half of the missionary aviators overseas, according to Conrad.

Moody Aviation


“Today, our core purpose remains the same: to equip and invest in the lives of young men and women who have a passion to serve the Lord as a missionary using the tools of aviation,” he said.

One of those Moody Aviation graduates, David Holsten ’98, joined Mission Aviation Fellowship and spent 18 years as a missionary pilot with his family in Indonesia, transporting supplies, medical patients, and newly printed Bibles translated by missionaries there. Now he serves as the president/CEO of MAF, a partnering organization with 200 missionary staff serving overseas and in the US with 500 Christian and humanitarian organizations worldwide, even in restricted access countries.

Moody Aviation graduates are well equipped to fly in support of indigenous churches and evangelists for a range of needs, including disaster relief, medical care, and community development.

“Mission work is a life of sacrifice,” Holsten explained. “You have to give up relationships in a certain way, certain conveniences and comforts, and you enter into a lot of unknowns. I believe Christ followers need to be challenged to do that.

“I’m praying that I can be used to stir people’s hearts to look beyond their present environment and consider the situation that others are in and to realize that God’s call for us to go into the world and make disciples is as present today as it’s ever been.”

Whether you go or support those who go into all the world with the good news of Jesus Christ, your gift of any size to train the next generation of missionary aviators is needed and appreciated!