More Than Landing on the Side of a Mountain

By Richard Shipman

The JAARS Aviation pre-field orientation (PFO) is a “master’s degree” training program for mission pilots and mechanics preparing to serve the Lord overseas. This 16-week program introduces students to a variety of flight environments and simulated missions via the JAARS simulator, culminating in a trip to the North Carolina mountains for practice on challenging high-altitude runways. But the training is more than “stick and rudder” practice. Dan and Rachael Stoner completed PFO in 2014, with the distinction of being the only married couple to complete PFO together. Dan elaborates on the non-flying benefits of the training.

Rachael and Dan Stoner with friends in Cameroon

 “The flying skills we gained at JAARS PFO were definitely important, but the training was much more than ‘just’ practicing how to land an airplane on the side of a mountain. Probably 75 percent of the learning for us [focused on] operational knowledge and how to create a safety margin within our [flight] operations. It helped us realize some of the challenges beyond flying that we were going to face—things like how we would set up our runways and how to think through our overall operation.”

Rachael Stoner flying in Cameroon

The Stoners served in Cameroon after PFO. When asked what challenges they faced and how prepared they felt, Dan again gave credit to his JAARS training, which people like you helped make possible! “I would say planning and coordinating the flights was one of the biggest challenges. PFO helped us prepare for this process by emphasizing the need to think through the flight—diversion options, weather, fuel reserves, and all the other variables we might face.”

A final benefit of PFO for Dan was an intangible one.  “We listened to the stories of those who had ‘been there and done that,’” he recalled. “Hearing real-world stories of veteran mission pilots was invaluable. For example, a sick woman shows up unexpectedly at a remote airstrip and needs an evacuation. Is there weight and space available on the plane? How much daylight do I have left? What happens to the rest of the schedule? How the veterans handled situations like this was a great learning experience.”

The Stoners will serve the next two years at JAARS in Waxhaw, NC. Rachael will be serving as a pilot on the JAARS Missions at the Airport team, which visits airports and other venues all over the US to share about the work of JAARS.  Dan will continue working on the Cameroon 206 aircraft project and assisting with other aircraft maintenance needs.  In the meantime, JAARS launched another pre-field orientation in March to prepare a new group of mission aviation workers who will make Bible translation possible in the remote regions of the world. They are facing their own challenges as they grapple with utilizing technology to overcome the restrictions posed by the COVID crisis and how to remain safe while performing actions that can only be done in an aircraft.

Please pray for wisdom for the aviation team at this time and consider giving to Transportation Solutions so this integral training can continue.