Date: August 26, 1966
Location: Lockhaven, PA
Newspaper: The Express
Piper aircraft, and well-known flier, Max Conrad, have both played a part in a new airline in the African desert country of northwestern Kenya, where missionaries of all faiths are being served by Brother Michael Stimac of the Catholic Society of Mary, as pilot, and United Missionary Air Training and Transport (UMATT).
Extension magazine in an edition earlier this year featured the East African ecumenical airline in a story about “God’s Bush Pilots in Africa,” written by George Barmann.
Over the lonely expanse of Turkana Desert, to its remote airstrips, UMATT is now, in its second year, providing an essential cargo service to Catholic and Protestant missionaries who would not be able to work in the isolated area without plane linkage.
Desert famine, said the Extension article, sparked the airline. Until late in 1961 the Turkana Desert was a politically “closed area” for missionaries.
The nomadic people, their goats, donkeys, cattle and camels moved across the wide desert in search of food. Then in 1961, the “short rains” failed, and army worms struck, bringing widespread famine and disease. The United States sent emergency food. Famine camps were opened and mission relief workers welcomed.
The Medical Sisters of Mary, from Ireland, sent three nuns, the first white women ever to live in the Turkana Desert. Their convent was a tin shack, in searching swirling sand, 10 miles from water.
A priest in the United States heard of the hardships at this mission, passed the word to two airline pilot friends, with the result that a Piper Super-Cub plane was purchased, and Sister Michael Therese from Boston became the flying nun of the desert.
Her trials with Evil took as one form, the struggle to keep hyenas from entirely chewing up the fabric of the Piper plane. Very soon it became a patchwork of repairs.
The need for an all-metal plane prompted an aviation publisher of Dallas, Texas, a Protestant, to spearhead the effort to buy a new one, a $30,000 Cessna Super Skywagon.
This plane, called “69 Foxtrot” was to be based in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, as a hub of aerial enterprise to keep all the missions supplied, transport the sick, and fly personnel in and out of the desert.
When it was dedicated at St. Louis, Mo., Max Conrad took the controls to fly it on its 9,000 mile journey to Kenya.
Internationally – known Flyer Conrad is a Catholic, regular in his attendance at Lock haven churches when he visits this city.
On its arrival in Nairobi, “69 Foxtrot” was given a grand reception by members of Protestant and Jewish communities, and representatives of the Catholic bishops who were then in Rome.
Government personnel have flown in the roomy plane to study health needs and housing at the mission outposts. One flight carried an official 180 miles over a dry river bed searching for water sources and irrigation opportunities.
Still another flight took plumbers to work on the facilities in the operating room of the medical Sisters.
Brother Mike Stimac is now the bush pilot. Flying is not easy in Africa, he says. “Maps are a headache. They are incomplete, and often one goes 150 miles between possible landmarks. You do a lot on intense staring at the horizon and must religiously watch the compass.” he told writer George Barmann.
UMATT is pioneering to give training in the principles of aviation to the Africans.