Story by: Chris Sloan
Five years ago today, I kissed my son goodbye for the last time. On April 13, 2014 just a week after his seventh birthday, my son Calder Jacob Sloan was instantly electrocuted and killed in our backyard pool. My wife and I were at a friend’s birthday party when we received the call that our son was dead .
We went immediately into survival mode, dodging our way through crowds of people at Miami Beach’s Pride Weekend to drive to the hospital to face the unfathomable. Words cannot explain what it’s like walking into a morgue to see your lifeless son. And only being given a short time to kiss his by then cold body and stroke his hair for the last time.
This freak accident, caused by a cascade of failures principally from negligent electrical work and an electrical short instantly became national news that shocked the community. The loss of our beloved Calder nearly destroyed us but thousands of people wrapped us in love: family, friends, strangers, and many we never knew or to this day have met. We owe them everything.
Calder’s mantra was Adventure. Laughter. Kindness. He was a big-hearted, loving, athletic, talented, spirit filled, brilliant and beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy. His list of adjectives is so long that we had nicknamed him Mr. Awesome. Because he was.
A LEGACY OF #AWESOME
They say in unfathomable times like this “There are no words”, but there are pictures. And deeds.
In the immediate wake of his death, Calder’s self portrait project from school inspired an inspiring global viral campaign created by dear family friends Jim Cahill and Dana Zuckerman that unexpectedly spread worldwide.
His smiling self-illustration projected on Times Square Jumbotrons and sports arenas, posed with celebrities, appeared on TV shows like Ellen and The Today Show, billboards, with people on vacations, on t-shirts of marathoners, even posed with Tibetan Monks.
And of course, being the son of an #AvGeek and a budding one himself, Mr. Awesome even flew in the front office. This image was taken by our dear friend United Captain Bill Sabelsak, who along with his wife Delta Captain Susie Sablesak met for the first time at Calder’s funeral.
And now his Mr. Awesome portrait adorns a plane, but more on that later.
We were told by many and knew instinctively that Mr. Awesome would change the world. In the dark days, week, and years after his death we learned how much he would change not only our world – but the world at large.
We wanted to ensure our son would never be forgotten. His name would be eternal, his smiling punim face would be forever present, and that his loving spirit would forever contribute to the world.
The site of seeing my son’s casket lowered into the ground and the sound of dirt landing on his wooden coffin will be seared in my memory forever. But for Calder, the words “Rest In Peace” wouldn’t do. And though his life was over, his work was just getting started.
The uplifting Mr. Awesome campaign became the catalyst to create a non-profit foundation honoring him and his equally awesome brother Caleb: forever dedicated to spreading Calder and Caleb’s positive mantra of doing good in an increasingly toxic world. Calder’s heart provided the energy and hundreds of people including his brother Caleb, became his hands.
Over the last four years, because of the support, donations, and generosity of thousands, Caleb and Calder Sloan’s Awesome Foundation has made a tremendous difference in our world.
It’s succeeded in changing pool safety codes and laws in the state of Florida, annually beautifying schools attended by disadvantaged children with our annual Give Back Day, Annual Toy Drives, exhibits and installations such as at the Miami Children’s Museum and their synagogue, supporting causes like the Parkland High School students and their families in the wake of the deadly tragedy.
In the wake of Hurricane Maria, the foundation led Operation Puerto Rico Care Lift and Operation Puerto Rico Gift Lift. In association with co-Founder, Lara Richardson, Spirit Airlines Lufthansa Technik, and many other partners and donors, it provided over $500,000 worth of aid and toys to the suffering victims of Puerto Rico.
Calder’s good works continue with our annual House of Awesome activation events with television marketing organization Promax. House of Awesome has purchased and packed lunches for 5,000 of LA’s homeless people with Hashtag Lunchbag and last year purchased and packed backpacks of school supplies for 7,000 homeless kids in New York with Operation Back Pack. Calder’s not done yet, not by a long shot.
BORN TO BE AN #AVGEEK
Our son Calder “Mr. Awesome” Sloan was named after a plane, but not just any plane. Our boy was named after a priceless flying piece of art, a Braniff Airlines Boeing 727-200 commemorating America’s Bicentennial in 1976. Christened The Flying Colors of the United States, this airborne masterpiece was designed and partially hand-painted by renowned artist Alexander “Sandy” Calder.
Our Calder was pre-ordained to became an #AvGeek.
Calder’s first flight was on an American Airlines Boeing 737-800 between New Orleans and Miami at two months old. He wasn’t the dreaded crying baby. He acted like a seasoned flyer. He was also an AAdvantage member who likely would have aspired to attain Concierge Key status one day.
Calder had many AvGeek adventures that belied his blink of an eye seven years on earth. He never met a cockpit he didn’t want to explore. I doubt his long curly locks would’ve met the grooming code of any airline’s pilot, though.
For his sixth birthday, Calder and his brother Caleb flew in The Goodyear Blimp The Spirit of Innovation. Calder and Caleb tried their best to commandeer the blimp.
On our last family vacation together, the boys witnessed the awe inspiring terrain of Kauai from onboard a Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Airbus EC-130.
Calder was a first class kid, so it’s only appropriate that on his last airline flight he scored an upgrade to AA First Class on the flight home from Hawaii.
Calder’s last flight was a joyride on an EAA’s ancient Ford Tri-Motor 4-AT-E in Eastern Air Transport Colors. Calder and his brother absolutely loved the bumpy, noisy ride.
AWESOME ONE: A JET TRIBUTE TO CALDER
It’s fitting that five years after our boy slipped the surly bonds of earth, Calder’s name once again adorns a graceful Boeing 727. This plane that we affectionately call Awesome One will be publicly displayed at Miami International Airport.
The 727-223 registered as C-GYND flew in Air Canada colors from 1980 until 1991. It was then converted to a FedEx freighter and re-registered N277FE. The three holed cargo hauler had another twenty-year career with FedEx before being donated to the Miami-Dade Aviation Department and George T. Baker Aviation School in July 2011. Since being retired to Miami International Airport, it has been used as a ground and emergency simulator ever since.
After sitting as a mostly anonymous aircraft for many years, MIA’s Director of Airside Operations Lonny Craven relentlessly spearheaded a project to repaint, wrap, and display the aircraft. The livery proposals underwent many changes over the course of the five years it took the project to be completed.
Because of his tireless efforts and partners AAR, Miami-Dade Fire, Miami-Dade Police, American Airlines, and 2C Media, the plane was finally completed in April 2019.
The plane’s stunning livery is a bespoke mix of Miami inspired aquatic teal and turquoise with a bold brush of pink along the forward fuselage, punctuated with a deep blue radome. The tail’s FlyMIA branding on the tail makes this plane unmistakable for anything else.
Lonny and MIA Airport Director Ken Pyatt, who became friends and stars of our Travel Channel series Airport 24/7 proposed placing Calder’s Mr. Awesome logo and name on the plane. This tribute to our son and our boy’s foundation was entirely MIA’s doing.
My long-time friend and model builder extraordinaire Roger Jarman, owner of Atlantic Models generously volunteered to print and install the Mr. Awesome decals. A few days before what would have been Calder’s 12th birthday, Roger braving windy conditions, climbed the stairs and installed the decals just below the flight deck.
Once the maestro that is Roger Jarman had completed the installation, a Calder once again graced an airplane for the first time in thirty years.
There was no shortage of tears from my immediate family when Awesome One was unveiled to them on the airfield at Miami International Airport. We’re forever blessed and grateful to Lonny, Ken, Roger, and our MIA friends for bestowing this honor on our son.
The plane will eventually be on public display at MIA at the Central Base entrance to MIA once ramp reconstruction is complete. The airplane’s number two engine works and the hope is for it to taxi on its own when it’s officially unveiled. The 727 is currently located on the west side of the airport off of N.W. 36th Street near Signature Flight Support. It is visible through the fence.
Now, I may be biased but I think this is the most #Awesome plane ever. Though this Calder 727’s triple slotted Krueger flaps will never retract again and hence will never leave the ground again, Calder’s spirit is soaring forever – flying maximum fleet utilization 365/24/7.
Calder’s grave lies just a few miles west of MIA underneath the final approach and is often visible from the air, which seems fitting to an AvGeek who rotated into the skies far too early. Here’s to clear skies, smooth air, adventure, laughter, kindness, and awesomeness. Forever.