Date: February 1971
By: George E. Haddaway
Magazine: Flight Magazine
Would you believe a Skywagon operating in East African deserts can compress a year’s grueling land travel into two or three weeks of flying time?
Or that deep in the Amazon jungle of South America a Cessna 206 on floats can carry a native just bitten by a deadly bushmaster snake to a well-staffed hospital in less than an hour while the same trip by boat would take more than two days?
Or that an American-made light twin taking off in the mountain vastness of New Guinea at a 10,000-foot elevation can fly a woman dying in childbirth to a seashore village hospital in 20 minutes and save her life because the only other method of transport would be by mule or Land Rover bouncing over 18 hours on mountain trails?
Flying accomplishments such as these are easily understood by airmen but what grabs even the most seasoned of aviation folk is the tremendous number of these documented human dramas being enacted daily all over the world by flying missionaries in modern general aviation airplanes, most of which are made in America.
The three cases listed above are from the records of Wings of Hope, Inc., St. Louis-based, aviation-oriented charity. Completely non-denominational, this tax-exempt, interfaith group is especially unique because more than 95 per cent of all donated funds have gone entirely to supplying airplanes and the support services that go with them. The organization offers its services to any legitimate missionary enterprise regard less of affiliation. For example in one case a Wings of Hope airplane sponsored by a Canadian religious group has been assisting the Wycliffe Associates (including Jungle Aviation and Radio Service), the Seventh Day Adventists and Roman Catholic medical missions all on the same route circuit. The youngest Wings of Hope pilot is a Mennonite.
No one can hire or charter Wings of Hope aircraft. Every service is completely gratis. While some flying doctor services, notably in Australia, are supported by government funds, no government involvement is sought by Wings of Hope.
During the past seven years of operating aircraft over all sorts of terrain and under every possible type of climatic cond itions, the organization has experienced about every conceivable flight, mechanical and communications problem found anywhere. And the key to success has been the ability to work out the solutions and apply them to operations world-wide.
Putting the right people, technically trained, into the right airplane for the job at hand isn’t as easy as it sounds. Missionary flying has no room for improperly trained, undisciplined or starry-eyed do-gooders regardless of their deep religious or humanitarian dedication. With the wide range of American uti lity aircraft to pick from, it’s not too difficult to find the right airplane for any specific mission under any and all operating difficulties. It’s not as easy however, to find the special kind of manpower required for the missionary fie ld. One Wings of Hope pilot not only does all routine maintenance on the aircraft and engine but also has become adept at pulling teeth because painful, rotten teeth are a major plague and agony to the natives in the area he serves.
First Appeal for Funds
As word has spread around the world, more and more requests for aircraft and trained personnel pour into Wings of Hope headquarters. Because of this upsurge of requests, many of which are in most critical situations, Wings of Hope is making its first massive appeal for funds and equipment as described in contributed advertisements now being run in the American aviation trade press. Donated funds that accrue this year will be allocated to new operations in other remote areas as well as to beef up current operations.
While requests for assistance will always outnumber the organization’s ability to provide aircraft and logistical support, the move from highly limited and more personal solicitation of funds to a broad national campaign in the U. S. and Canada more comparable to other major charitable groups means that the neediest cases now ready for action can be taken care of, perhaps this year.’
Requests for Assistance
A typical example of requests for assistance is one from Nigeria just now emerging from one of the most catastrophic civil wars in history. The appeal comes to Wings of Hope from Rev. F intan Kilbride, who spent thirteen years as a missionary in Biafra and built the first mission hospital in the Port Harcourt Province. This hospital serves the medical needs of over 100,000 in a very remote jungle area.
In the same Niger River delta an addition al 500,000 people go without hospital or medical facility of any sort in an area roughly 5,000 square miles. The only means of communication is the slow-moving native canoe and dug-out. Even with an outboard motor it takes four days of tedious travel from the town of Brass (pop. 30,000) to the nearest hospital at Port Harcourt.
The flying environment in this malaria-infested jungle area is approximately the same as experienced by the Wings of Hope operations in the Amazon River basin and will require the same kind of float-equipped aircraft as employed in South America. A minimum immediate cash requirement for the Niger River basin is $100,000. This expenditure includes establishment of a jungle radio network which is an essential part of missionary services.
Twin Needed for Safety
Late last year Wings of Hope delivered an airplane to Father Ivo Ruiter, who learned to fly in 1950 and has been flying in New Guinea for thirteen years, logging more than 9,000 hours over some of the world’s most hazardous terrain. His area of service contains some 250,000 New Guineans many of them still living in a stone age culture.
Due to the mountainous terrain with peaks rising above 14,000 feet, Ruiter desperately needs a light twin and his plight is high on the Wings of Hope list because of his broad experience in actual flight operations over some of the roughest terrain imaginable. Additionally, Ruiter is able to carry his operations costs through support of his own religious groups with no burden to Wings of Hope.
According to Wings of Hope President Joe Fabick, St. Louis businessman, pilot and plane owner, the ideal situation for the organization in future years would be to serve as a provider of aircraft and related equipment to self-sufficient sponsoring organizations, to enlist and train personnel, to serve as a logistical supply source, or purchasing agent, and as a clearing house for all missionary aircraft operations throughout the world.
Training for Bush Pilots, Mechanics
An important step in this direction has already been made. One of the finest schools of aviation technology is, at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois. Heading up the aviation technology department is E. A. (Tony) DaRosa, who serves as technical advisor to Wings of Hope. Plans are being worked out for bush pilot training and new maintenance and repair systems primarily designed for bush operations. DaRosa is steeped in knowledge of jungle flying, having been training missionaries to fly and providing technical assistance and supply services for New Guinea operations for more than 20 years.
The missionary aviation training program is unique in that the student receives a comprehensive one and one-half to two years of flight instruction as well as training in practical mechanics. The graduate also receives the FAA license as a commercial pilot as well as the airframe and powerplant mechanic license.
This in-depth training has aided the flying missionary to make better judgment in respect to the airworthiness of his aircraft, to establish protective and corrective measures against adverse climatic environments, to insure structural integrity when operating from inadequate fields, and to perform repair and maintenance on the aircraft.
In some locations a fair amount of such maintenance is being performed by the natives under the supervision of the flying missionaries. This arrangement appears to give the natives a feeling of participation and usefulness as well as provide some relief for the missionaries for other tasks. The heart and soul of any bush fl ying operation is in developing the technical expertise that guarantees safe and effective utilization of the aircraft. Missionary flying history is splashed with tragedy and failure in those cases where this fact of life was not admitted and followed.
U.S. Dominates Mercy Flying
Why has the United States accounted for the bulk of humanitarian use of aircraft operations throughout the World?
Aside from being the wealthiest nation on Earth, it’s obvious, especially during this century, that it also is the most generous and far in the vanguard of relief efforts and money whenever disaster strikes.
Just as significant is the fact that the American free enterprise system has led the world in the number and variety of civil aircraft. Our aircraft, engines and avionics have become the standard of the aviation world. In recent years more than 25 per cent of U. S. and Canadian civil aircraft production has been for export. We would hazard the guess that some ninety per cent of all aircraft going into non-aviation-manufacturing countries are out of American factories.
It is also widely recognized that American missionary flight operations have had tremendous influence on the ready acceptance of American equipment abroad. These unsung heroes of the “war for peace” unintentionally and perhaps unknowingly have helped to tie U.S. aircraft and equipment to the developing countries, making it difficult if not impossible for products from other nations to penetrate the market place. This is especially true as far as U. S. aircraft engines, accessories and avionics are concerned in those cases where non-U.S. airframes are involved.
Credit also must go to the flying missionaries and our various medical corps operating throughout the world for contributing substantially to the American image abroad. It is best summed up in a statement made by a m1ss10nary pilot flying in the early days of the East African operation after he had rushed an old Turkana desert chief’s baby to a hospital in Nairobi, Kenya. The baby’s life was saved by emergency surgery.
Said the pilot: “Out here on the desert you don’t have to do any propagandizing about the United States. You just do your job of looking after these poor folks when the emergencies arise. They know where the assistance is coming from. And that’s why a lot of communist infiltrators who poured into newly independent, emerging countries in the 1960’s found such barren ground for their insidious propaganda against the free world. They came, they lost, they left.”
In these days of world turmoil with its background noise of hatred preached against us by our enemies, a breath of fresh, clean air comes drifting through the gloom, straight out of the wilderness where mercy instead of bombs drops from the sky, where life will be a lot better for the least of God’s chilluns because a great nation and industry created and perfected the flying machine also for peaceful and humanitarian uses. Wings of Hope is the embodiment of that mercy and helps measurably to point up not only the present accomplishments but also a glowing part of the future destiny of our general aviation fraternity.