21-year-old James Gullett during flight training with MATC (credit: James Gullett)
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James Gullett – MAF UK’s youngest pilot – is heading to Arnhem Land

26th February 2024

21-year-old James Gullett during flight training with MATC (credit: James Gullett)

21-year-old James Gullett during flight training with MATC (credit: James Gullett)

21-year-old James Gullett – MAF UK’s youngest pilot and the first to graduate from MAF’s Future Pilot Programme – has announced he’ll serve with MAF Arnhem Land in Australia’s Northern Territory in October. In MAF’s latest episode of the ‘Flying for Life’ podcast, James shares his incredible journey so far

In the ‘Flying for Life’ podcast (episode 6), Josh Carter chats to MAF UK’s newest and youngest pilot – 21-year-old James Gullett – and director of the Mission Aviation Training Centre (MATC) Marco Koffeman about what it takes to become a MAF pilot and the highs and lows of learning to fly.

From an early age, James – a self-confessed plane-geek – has always been fascinated by flying. His brother, dad and grandad also share the same passion.

James aged 8 (back) and brother Ben (front) in a Cessna 206 aircraft in Kenya (credit: James Gullett)

James 8 (back) & brother Ben (front) in a Cessna 206 in Kenya (credit: James Gullett)

His grandparents’ house backs onto RAF Halton in Buckinghamshire where, as a boy, James was mesmerised by airshows and flypasts. Today, his parents live next door to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire – aviation has never been far away.

When James was seven, the family moved to Nairobi, Kenya for four years on account of his dad’s work in Christian publishing. Little did James know that this period would have a profound impact on the trajectory of his life.

In Nairobi, he met several MAF pilots and at school, met his future wife Danielle. God’s plans were beginning to take shape:

‘I thought to myself wow, maybe mission aviation is something that I could do when I’m older, and I was starting to get a small idea of what that could look like.’

Big dreams, small steps

James aged 13 having fun during Air Cadets (credit: James Gullett)

James flies with the Air Cadets aged 13 (credit: James Gullett)

Shortly after returning to the UK, James joined the Air Cadets at the age of 13 where – under the supervision of a RAF pilot – he took control of an engine-powered plane for the first time.

He won a scholarship to learn how to glide (flying without an engine) and by the age of 16, was flying solo in a glider. James was one step closer to achieving his dream:

‘Gliding was where I got an initial understanding of flight and how the basics worked. This would become really important later on during my entry assessment for MATC. Even back then, God was using that experience.’

James taking gliding lessons at 15 (credit: James Gullett)

James taking gliding lessons at 15 (credit: James Gullett)

In addition to building technical skills, James joined MAF Youth at the age of 15 where he built up public speaking experience and met his hero, MAF co-founder the late Stuart King.

Stuart signed James’ copy of his book ‘Hope Has Wings’. God was at work in so many ways says James:

‘I was also reading books about MAF pilot Nate Saint who was martyred by a remote tribe in Ecuador. A sad story but one that we can rejoice in now as that community were finally reached after Nate’s death. What an inspiration!

‘Later, I met MAF co-founders Jack Hemmings and the late Stuart King. God was placing these people in my life and giving me an understanding of what was to come. He was slowly drawing me towards MAF.

‘As a teenager, I went on mission trips to Kenya and Zambia. By the time I started my A levels, I knew that I wanted to do something for God – something in mission, aviation and potentially Africa. That sounded like the perfect combination to me.’

James Gullett – MAF UK’s youngest pilot


James meets 102-year-old MAF co-founder Jack Hemmings AFC (credit: Simon Dunsmore)

James meets MAF co-founder Jack Hemmings AFC, aged 102 (credit: Simon Dunsmore)

Prayer and pounds

Whilst studying his maths, physics and geography A-levels, James kept in touch with MAF with the hope of becoming a MAF pilot. But MAF’s Future Pilot Programme (FPP) – a scheme to support upcoming British mission pilots with their training and costs – was yet to be launched.

Up until then, there was no clear, affordable pathway to become a MAF pilot straight out of school. James was about to become MAF UK’s FPP guinea pig but first he needed to pass his A-levels and entry assessment at MATC – MAF’s European flight school in the Netherlands.

Three grade As and a successful MATC entry assessment later, James was finally on his way to turn his dream into a reality, but how would he pay for the £75K training costs? James explains:

‘The FPP is fantastic – it takes you all the way to being MAF ready and it’s of no financial cost to the trainee. The money is raised through fundraising and support. In year one we were able to raise £15K, £21.5K in year two and in year three (if you’re married like me), we’ll raise £25K, which we’ll continue to raise as I serve with MAF. Without the FPP, it would be impossible to afford the training.’

For some of us, the idea of asking people for money is a frightening prospect. Fortunately for James and Danielle, they have a strong team of supporters behind them and Danielle’s nationality really helps!

‘From the beginning of the FPP, I went to friends and family. We also have four churches in the UK who support us, plus another two in the US after marrying Danielle. Prayer is incredibly important and we have been so encouraged by the prayer of our supporters.

‘Having married an American, asking in the US is a bit different to asking in the UK. Americans want you to ask directly, whereas Brits are gentler. Normally I just say, if God places it on your heart to give, then please do. Ultimately, that’s how it’s going to work and God has provided. We have met our targets so far and we are trusting God for this year. We are really thankful for our supporters – we couldn’t do this without them.’

James has enjoyed his two years at MATC (credit: James Gullett)

James has enjoyed his two years at MATC (credit: James Gullett)

Great things don’t come easy

Even for James who has met his fundraising targets so far and has qualified as a pilot after two years of studies, there have been some real struggles along the way – especially the 25 exams, which understandably, caused some anxiety:

‘Some of the exams were really tough and last year I was really struggling to study all of the content. I failed some exams and had to re-sit them. I wondered if this was still for me. Ultimately, I came to God and asked him for help and direction. He brings comfort and guidance as he did in my situation. It’s a challenge, but you do it one bit at a time.

‘Everybody has challenges on the course. I looked at year one and thought how am I going to get over all of these hurdles?  I looked at year two, which started about a year ago and I thought there’s no way that this training is going to happen, but it’s miraculous watching God work.’

For anyone considering becoming a MAF pilot, James has got some great advice:

‘Keep knocking on the door! God’s going to either open or close it. He drew me towards MAF and He will make it clear for you too, so come to Him in prayer. It’s really important for people to pray for you. Danielle has been great, but my mum and dad, wider family and friends have been incredibly supportive too, which I have really appreciated.

‘Do some gliding to give you a taste and get involved with MAF Youth. I kept knocking and asking God what he wanted for me, and he brought it all together in a way that I could never have imagined. He will put things in place for you and will be there to help you. It certainly won’t be easy. It will be hard, but if God is your foundation, then you can have full reliance and trust in Him.’

If you fancy becoming a MAF pilot, why not apply to MAF UK’s Future Pilot Programme?

Listen to episode 6 of the ‘Flying for Life’ podcast featuring James Gullett and MATC Director Marco Koffeman.

Follow James’ journey on Instagram @missionaviationbushpilot_jg

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