Mission pilots face challenges and daily 10-hour flights to bring home a mission plane
December 15, 2015
Teresa Costello with additional reporting by Wendy Roberts
[Photo courtesy of Gary Roberts]
Normally, when you need to replace something, you save up, make a quick trip to the store, find what you need, pay for it and bring it home. It’s a pretty simple process unless what you need is a bush airplane to be used for mission work.
For Adventist Aviation Indonesia (AAI) pilot Gary Roberts, this meant that he needed to fly a Pilatus Porter (PC-6) airplane from Vienna, Austria to its new home at the AAI headquarters in Papua, Indonesia – a trip that would involve stops in almost a dozen countries, permits for 17 countries, and more than 80 hours of flight time.
This type of trip is not new for veteran missionary Gary. In fact, when he and his family lived in South America, he flew several times between South America and the United States in various planes. He has also flown a Twin Comanche from the U.S. state of Tennessee to the Philippines, and a Caravan from the U.S. to Angola. However, this flight from Austria to Indonesia was much longer, so much so that by the time Gary reached home, he had actually completed a flight around the world in a small aircraft by lines of longitude.
In order to accomplish a trip of this duration, Gary relies on prayer, planning and some practical guidelines. He flies during daylight hours if possible, travels with extra fuel, employs a tracking system, and brings emergency equipment such as a life raft, life jacket and other survival gear.
For part of the journey, his friend and fellow pilot Dwayne Harris of the Philippine Adventist Medical Aviation Services (PAMAS) served as co-pilot. Gary flew from Vienna to Croatia and then on to Athens, Greece where he picked up Dwayne. From there, they flew 10-hour segments from Athens to Egypt and then Egypt to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The second segment provided an unexpected adventure. The Pilatus does not have auto pilot so requires concentration by the pilot-in-command since the plane has a tendency to drift off-course without observation. As they continued their journey that day, their flight path was over Saudia Arabia. Dwayne notes that “across the desert, you…think it would be nice weather because you’re over a dry desert but, it was the worst weather of the whole flight that we ran into. It got fairly rough. We were up at 10,000 feet and started picking up ice. So we had to request to change our route and ended up down around 9,000 feet below the freezing level to get out of the icy conditions.”
During situations like that, Dwayne shares “it was nice at that point to have two pilots to share the load. On a normal flight, it definitely reduces the load on each of you. Often times, when you’re flying in a new area, you don’t know things real well and they’ll reroute you. If you have another pilot that can figure out where you need to go and enter the data into GPS, it makes it a lot easier while the other one just flies.”
“It would get fairly intense if you had to reroute and fly at the same time [especially during bad weather],” he adds with a quiet grin. Even with two pilots, the snowy weather and ice caused them to divert from their intended flight plan and eventually land several hours after sunset.
Although Gary had obtained the necessary visas for all the countries that required them, Dwayne was unable to obtain a visa for the stop in India. As a result, he had to return to the Philippines from Abu Dhabi and Gary flew solo for the rest of the journey.
Bolstered by the many people around the world praying for the journey, Gary ventured from Abu Dhabi to India, India to Bangladesh, Bangladesh to Thailand, Thailand to Borneo and then on to various points in Indonesia until reaching the AAI headquarters on Tuesday, December 8.
Gary is especially thankful for those who prayed during his journey. “Thank you to everyone and for all your prayers,” he says. “Ultimately pray for the countries and the people we are leading… that God will bless them and give them the truth. There is still a great need in many of the countries [we flew over]. I just ask you to continue to uplift them and our church administration there as well.”
Now AAI can continue its work of spreading the gospel in practical ways by expanding its services in transporting pastors, bible workers, missionaries and literature to areas inaccessible by vehicles. In addition, they will be able to provide more medical flights for seriously ill or injured people in remote areas so they can access the needed medical care available in the larger towns.
Dwayne explains, “We don’t necessarily always engage in the direct Bible work yet in the remote mountain areas, [our services] help open the way; it’s also a huge timesaver where there is work going on in remote areas. The workers will spend a day hiking to get in and out or even longer.”
“Mission aviation is not a luxury but an essential here in the 10/40 Window,” he emphasizes. “Many people don’t realize that there are still areas, big areas in Indonesia, maybe a little smaller in the Philippines and Malaysia too. There are tribal groups who are essentially unreached and have never heard of the gospel. Aviation is a key to opening those areas up.”
Likewise, Wendy and Gary see their mission as multi-faceted but with one underlying purpose. “By looking around in the world, it leaves no doubt that the devil is angry because he knows his time is short,” comments Wendy. “We are really feeling this in Papua and despite having the gospel here for many years, the devil still has a strong hold. But God’s Spirit is also working here and people are searching for light. We pray that this airplane will carry the light as it flies to and fro in Papua and that many will be saved for eternity because of this tool God has given us to reach those in remote places,” she concludes.
For more information about the work of AAI, please view an Adventist Mission video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnwJ-5aZmj8. You may also contact the Roberts at email@example.com