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Some Roadrunners can fly

United Airlines had a cockpit, ramp and airline gate full of Roadrunners – not something you see every day.

November 30, 2016

Steve Klodt

When United Flight 763 to San Diego pushed back from its gate at Denver International Airport on the day after Thanksgiving, there were four Roadrunners in the cockpit.

They didn’t belong to the species Geococcyx californianus, however (the kind that Wile E. Coyote chases). These Roadrunners were Homo sapiens and also happened to be alumni of Metropolitan State University of Denver, where the sobriquet Roadrunners describes the school’s athletic teams, students and faculty.

Two of the Roadrunner quartet were father and son. Scott McMillan and his son C.J. headed to San Diego together – Scott as the flight’s captain and C.J. as an observer, who as part of his United Airlines internship gets to ride on the flight deck of two domestic flights and two international flights.

The younger McMillan recently graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver’s aviation program and would like to be a pilot. His father, who received his bachelor’s degree from MSU Denver in 1986 has had a long career as a pilot, certified flight instructor, pilot evaluator, recruiter, among other airline positions. He has flown for a cargo carrier as well as Aspen Airways, but has spent most of his time with United.


Corralling Roadrunners for the flight

Joining the two McMillans in the Airbus cockpit were two other MSU Denver alumni: Amy Maddox as 2nd pilot and Travis Hastings, who is completing his internship at United Airlines. Their assignment to the San Diego flight was no coincidence. It was the creative outcome of an idea Scott McMillan had about his son being at United. “We were going to try to find a flight we could fly together,” he said. Thinking more broadly, he realized, “If we could take both interns and find a first officer MSU graduate and get an all MSU crew. ...“ The outcome would be an MSU Denver Roadrunner flight – not something that would happen serendipitously through the airline’s scheduling operations – and it could really promote their shared alma mater. McMillan was able to find Roadrunner alumni who were gate agents for the flight and who worked in operations and on the ramp getting the aircraft ready for departure.

“With the growing amount of opportunities available in aviation, I really wanted to show that there’s a lot of value in attending MSU Denver,” McMillan added. “There is potential for success in an aviation career and MSU Denver has many degree tracks available to give students options.”

Maddox agreed. “Right from the start I knew MSU Denver was a great school for me! I started full speed ahead with the aviation courses and flying at the Buckley Aero Club. I quickly moved through my private, instrument, commercial and CFII ratings. The courses in the aviation program complemented my flight training exceptionally well.”

Maddox joined the Air Force after graduating from MSU Denver and became an instructor for the T-38, a two-seat, twin-engine supersonic jet trainer. She joined United Airlines in 1992.

Airline takes schooled Roadrunners under its wing

The younger McMillan said that he had made a great career choice by attending the University. “I have met so many professional pilots from the aviation program that have had amazing careers and opportunities,” he said. Both he and fellow-intern Hastings learned what a complete commercial flight entails – from the preflight check to post-flight crew operations at the destination airport and then embarking on the return leg to Denver.

“The United Airlines internship has been the highlight of my aviation career so far,” offered Hastings, who works at the United Airlines Flight Training Center in Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood. Before the flight he said, “I’ve had a couple of opportunities to fly the Airbus simulator, and I’m anxious to see what I’ve learned.”

MSU Denver’s Aviation and Aerospace Science Department, about four decades old, has produced a steady stream of talented, qualified graduates who have achieved notable careers in aerospace and aviation.

Many have taken advantage of the department’s internship program. “Internships are a valuable tool for students.” said Professor Kevin Kuhlmann, the department’s associate chair. “The direct industry connection is priceless in value. It is an honor to assist and mentor our students in their aviation aspirations and a pleasure to work with the professionals at United Airlines – of which many are MSU Denver alumni.”

So, when Flight 763 was cleared for takeoff on Nov. 25, no one was surprised to find Roadrunners in the air.

Travis Hastings (left), an MSU Denver student intern at United Airlines, learns the procedures of a preflight check for a commercial flight to San Diego. Amy Maddox, a UA pilot and MSU Denver alumna, shares her experience and knowledge.

A ramp crew (all MSU Denver alumni) and a recent graduate of the University who works in operations prepare a United Airlines Airbus jet destined for San Diego.