Twice the Fun*

By Brad McFarlane

Tucked up at the high end of a verdant valley in the mountains of Papua, Indonesia lies the village of Tauban. Brad McFarlane, a pilot with YAJASI—a JAARS missionary aviation partner—had never flown into this village before. Along with another pilot, Brad flew into Tauban to “open up” their runway for YAJASI’s flight department. 

Tauban village in the mountains of Papua where pilot Brad McFarlane recently went for the first time. The plane is parked, perched at the top of Tauban’s steeply sloped runway. Photo credit Brad McFarlane

Brad circled overhead in the Pilatus Porter, preparing to land for the first time. The Tauban runway is 1,100 ft. long with a steep uphill slope that measures 15% at touchdown and 26% overall. The plane touches down at the less steep bottom of the slope and then rolls out up the steepest part to the flat turnaround area at the top. Brad made a mental note: ‘Don’t forget to add power after touchdown. Lots of it.’ He didn’t want to get stuck halfway up the runway with no momentum left. But he also didn’t want to add too much power—he could easily miss the parking area that looked no bigger than a postage stamp from the air. 

Brad would be committed to land after a certain point on final approach—with no flying back around. He needed to figure out just where that committal point was.

The landing, rollout, and parking all turned out to be uneventful. “Just the way I like it,” Brad said. But the people made an event out of it! They celebrated the opening of the airstrip by chanting and dancing in traditional dress. They presented the two pilots with a special noken (string bag), a gift that shows appreciation and respect. But Brad’s favorite part was when the local pastor prayed and thanked God for his blessings to them, which, of course, included the arrival of the airplane. 

Pilot Brad McFarlane poses at the top of the runway with some local men dressed for the occasion. Photo credit Kars Kroneman

The next day Brad found himself two valleys over from Tauban circling above a larger village called Bime. Although YAJASI pilots had been there countless times in the past, this flight was the first time to land with their larger plane, the PC-12. A recently completed runway-paving job had made it possible to land the PC-12 there. Previously, springs welling up beneath the touchdown zone had often made the grass runway too soft and muddy for this aircraft. 

People gather on the runway at Bime for a celebration of thanksgiving. Photo credit Kars Kroneman

Bime is situated deep in a narrow valley with limited ways to abort a landing approach. The chief pilot and Brad practiced several different go-around options that would keep them safe and provide adequate margin. Even though the runway is only 1,500 ft. long, the 10% upslope helps the pilot stop the aircraft. 

Once they landed, the Bime villagers treated them to another joyous reception. And again, Brad was encouraged by the attitude of thankfulness of the pastor and people.

The people groups in both of these villages speak the Ketengban language. They already have the New Testament and are currently hard at work translating the Old Testament. The drafting team is trying to finish before the translator retires in about two years. As Brad says, “It’s a fulfilling ministry for me to be able to serve these remote people with our planes. And soon we can deliver God’s Word to them in its entirety. That’s a special day that I’m looking forward to.” 

Your gifts to Aviation Solutions provide the training these pilots need to land at some of the trickiest runways in the world so that all people can have God’s Word in a language they understand best. Thank you! 

*A version of this article was originally published in August’s issue of Centerline.