When 32-year-old Reagan McLean was a little boy, his dream was to become a pilot and on his first flight to drop his mother off at a Walmart in Miami to go shopping and pick her up later in the day.
It may not have been Walmart nor Miami, but the child who grew up to become a Cayman Airways pilot did get to take his mother, Stephanie McLean, on a flight from Little Cayman to Grand Cayman on one of his first flights last week.
After her son got the job as first officer on the Cayman Express plane that flies between Grand Cayman and the Sister Islands, she said she wanted to surprise him on his first trip but his flight was full. So she decided to do the next best thing, catch an earlier flight to Little Cayman and await his arrival.
“Oh no, you did not,” her son exclaimed with surprise when Stephanie rushed onto the airstrip to greet him after he touched down in Little Cayman, she said.
After greeting his mother, sister Shannon Broadbelt and niece Skylar, he told them he would be right back to get them after he made the next leg of the flight to Cayman Brac and back.
“It might not have been Miami, but he did come back for me. He didn’t leave me,” his mother told the Cayman Compass.
“It was one of the crowning moments for me when I was able to fly her back home,” Reagan McLean said. “The emotions I can hardly put into words because it was such a special moment. Knowing what I went through to get where I am and being able to … actually have her on a plane that I am the pilot of, makes it a dream come true.”
From a young age, at school when he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he would say a pilot.
He said he was maybe 4 or 5 years old when he decided to become a pilot. At the time, his family was on the plane to Miami and he got to visit the cockpit and get a set of plastic pilot’s wings. When he came back to his seat, he said, “Mommy, one day, I am going to fly you to Miami, drop you off so you can go to Walmart, and then in the evening when I finish with the people, I will come back and take you home.”
He told his bemused mum, “Just watch me and see.”
“I recall the plane taking off and it was like the whole world opening up,” he said of that first visit to a cockpit. “There were many buttons and many levers I didn’t know what to do with, but it was intriguing to watch the pilots push buttons and pull levers … I felt I needed to know what they knew.”
For the next years, he focussed on his schooling but continued to remind his mother of his childhood ambition whenever he wore his favourite shirt with ‘Pilot’ written on the front.
After attending Bodden Town Primary, George Hicks and John Gray High schools, and graduating from Forest Lake Academy High school in the U.S. at age 17, he returned to Cayman to find work.
His career trajectory did not take him immediately into the aviation field, though he did work with Cayman Airways early on.
His first job was with his brother Johnny in his auto shop. Months later, he moved to Cayman Airways Express operations and cargo, and from there he went to Walkers. After leaving Walkers, he travelled a bit and on his return, he took up a post with Scotiabank. Later on, he would move to Conyers.
He left Conyers to attend CTI Professional Flight School in Fort Lauderdale and started training in 2016. In 2018, he received his commercial pilot licence and started flying with Cayman Airways this year.
The first time he ever flew a plane was on his 20th birthday – an island tour with a local flight school. “It was exceptional,” he said.
Although he describes being able to fly his mother on a plane he was piloting as a dream come true, he says the most fulfilling moment of his flying career so far was when he went flying with his 2-year-old son Caleb Chadwick.
Just hearing his son so excited and looking out the window at the clouds and saying “Up, up and away,” that was the icing on the cake, he said. “I took him in the cockpit, and he was asking all these questions … ‘What’s that?’ and ‘What’s this for?’ …. That was the one that really got me,” said McLean.
He said he loves flying but each day is slightly different. “You challenge yourself every day, whether it’s dealing with the passengers, bags, the weather, or just flying the plane,” he said.
Flying is somewhat of a family tradition – McLean has three cousins who are Cayman Airways pilots with CAL, Rex, Jeffrey and Jeremy Miller,.
When he is not flying, McLean fills his day with studying flight manuals, getting more familiar with operations and the aircraft, and spending time with his family, as well as some auto racing and diving.