Flights and Friendships

By Karissa Uhlig

Missionary pilot-mechanics with overseas assignments face vastly different conditions than those encountered by traditional pilots who work in the U.S. When the overseas partner organizations of JAARS lack the vast resources needed to train them, how will their pilots and mechanics learn the unique skills necessary to fly and work in these remote places? 

JAARS provides a solution to this problem: our Pre-Field Orientation (PFO), which simulates the flight conditions pilots will face at their assignment before they get there, as well as the maintenance situations they may encounter. 

Our PFO program also serves participants like Matt Cousins, who will not be going overseas like the two other participants. Matt will be transitioning into a management position in the JAARS Aviation Maintenance department. “The PFO training course is tailored to each trainee’s specific assignment,” Matt said. “For me personally, PFO is tailored to focus on management projects and aircraft maintenance operations here at JAARS in Waxhaw.”

Matt poses in front of his worksite.

Matt had been interested in mission aviation since he was fourteen, but it wasn’t until 2016 that he started to pursue that call. Before coming to JAARS, for the previous eighteen years, he worked as a civilian for the United States Air Force in aircraft maintenance and program management.

The friendships he built with people when he visited JAARS for a JAARS Day in 2016 cemented Matt’s desire to fulfill his calling at JAARS. “It was the relationships I had developed with Terry Heffield, JAARS Aviation Research and Development Manager; Felton Bollinger, the former Aviation Business Manager; and Rick Nachtingal, the Director of Aviation, that really were catalysts, [that prompted us to serve at JAARS].” 

These deep relationships have continued throughout PFO. The instructors not only help the students aspire to excellence in their work, but also care about their personal and spiritual lives. “These people [have] already walked through a similar process at some point in their life. They care about us,” Matt said. He appreciates that the PFO instructors ask how they can pray for their students, and they encourage the students to share their stories with them.

PFO has helped Matt develop both personally and professionally. He had never served in a missions context, so PFO has helped him adjust to working in this environment. At JAARS, he’s surrounded by people of faith who depend on the Lord when making challenging decisions in addition to adhering to aviation standards, unlike many people in the USAF, where decisions are simply based on military standards.By the end of PFO, Matt will have received classroom instruction on situational awareness, aircraft maintenance, aviation shop procedures, JAARS standards, the PT-6 turbine engine, and Cessna 206 maintenance. 

Clearly, Matt will continue learning the professional skills necessary to do his job well through PFO. However, it is the pairing of flight and friendships, both with instructors and colleagues, that will help him engage in the work. JAARS is blessed to provide Matt and the other PFO participants with the tools they need to engage in their callings and form friendships that will last across oceans. 

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