Mountain Week: High Altitudes, Short Runways–and More

By Richard Shipman

Strawberry Ridge is a grass airfield cut into the top of a North Carolina mountain. The runway is 1,000 feet long, 40 feet wide and has a gradient of 16 percent. Who would dare fly into a field like this? Pilots undergoing JAARS aviation training during Mountain Week– that’s who.

Aircraft are the key to introducing God’s Word into many of the remote regions of the world, but the airfields missionary pilots must use are frequently nothing more than primitive grass patches. That requires specialized training.

For years, JAARS has supported mission aviation with this needed training. Mountain Week is the culmination of a 16-week program missionary pilots undergo at JAARS to prepare them for overseas challenges.

Mountain Week (ten days, actually) has been a JAARS tradition for more than 30 years. This training gives pilots high-altitude operational experience while exposing them to a variety of unusual runways. The staging area is the Avery County airport at Spruce Pine, North Carolina. But the real training is done at several outlying fields, each with unique challenges.

On final at Strawberry Ridge

But Mountain Week is about more than flying. This invaluable training would not be possible without the community’s support. The fixed-base operator at the county airport shuts down his operation so JAARS can transform the hangar into a combined operations center, sleeping quarters, and dining hall—saving precious Kingdom dollars. Local farmer Fred Brown leases his land with the provision that crops grown there must be harvested in time to convert his hay field into an airfield before JAARS arrives. On occasion local churches sponsor a spaghetti dinner to raise funds for JAARS and host students on the Sunday they are in the mountains.

In short, Christian spirit permeates Mountain Week. This unique training is made possible through the generosity of long-time friends and strangers alike: the provisions of the Lord and the Body of Christ working together. Mountain Week—demanding flying, but so much more.