What it Takes to be a Helicopter Missionary Pilot in Brazil

By Rachel Greco

Unexpected Events in the Life of a Missionary Helicopter Pilot

Back in 2021, Jeremiah Diedrich, a JAARS-trained helicopter pilot who was serving with Ethnos360 Aviation* in Brazil, miraculously escaped serious injury when their hangar collapsed during a fierce windstorm and destroyed the helicopter that he was working on.

Three helicopter pilots stand in front of a R66 helicopter in a hangar in Brazil
Joel, an Ethnos 360 mechanic, and Bruno and Jeremiah beside the R66 helicopter that Bruno’s training with.

This was about the time that Jeremiah was supposed to give Bruno, a Brazilian helicopter pilot, his field checkout. “This is the process of flying with a pilot who is new to the region on the different routes until they are familiar enough in that particular region to safely operate on their own,” Jeremiah explained. “They arrive on the field a qualified pilot with all of the general knowledge and skill they need, and during the field checkout, they learn how to apply that capability to flying in that particular field.”

Bruno was going to take over Jeremiah’s role of flying the R66 helicopter for Ethnos360 in western Brazil when the windstorm delayed their plans.

But thankfully, a new R66 helicopter arrived at the beginning of 2023, so Jeremiah, who had moved to JAARS with his family to be a helicopter instructor, returned to Brazil to train Bruno. The Brazilian pilot hadn’t flown in over a year, so they had to bring him back up to speed before Jeremiah took him on some of the more difficult routes.

Completing a field checkout for someone lacking field experience in Brazil usually requires flying from the dry season into the rainy season and on to the next dry season, totaling almost a year of flying.

Jeremiah and Bruno had three months.

Before traveling to Brazil, Jeremiah prayed: “Lord, make this work. Make this be a sufficient field checkout.”

And God answered that prayer!

When Bad Weather is Actually a Good Thing for Helicopter Pilots

During the three months that Jeremiah and Bruno flew together, they had the worst weather that Jeremiah had seen in 16 years of flying in Brazil. But it was an answer to prayer! “It was fantastic because we couldn’t get a legitimate field checkout with good weather. [Bruno] needed to see all the hard stuff he was going to fly through.”

Two male helicopter pilots sit inside a R66 helicopter.
Bruno and Jeremiah inside the R66 helicopter during Bruno’s field check out.

This difficult weather forced Bruno to make the type of decisions that he will face when flying across Brazil on his own. Sometimes the two made it halfway to their destination but had to decide whether to turn around or to land on a small farm field and wait for the weather to improve. They landed on small farm fields three times. One flight that normally would have taken two or three days took seven days because of bad weather.

During his entire flying career, Jeremiah has had to cancel only one helicopter flight due to a maintenance issue, and that was during Bruno’s field check-out, a decision made on the recommendation of maintenance personnel in the States. Even that was great training for Bruno. Thankfully, the maintenance issue was resolved quickly, and they were able to fly over 50 hours in the R66 helicopter.

“I would like to thank JAARS for their partnership in starting the New Tribes* aviation program here in Brazil,” Bruno said. “Thanks to this, I can now receive this training from the JAARS pilot here in Brazil. We are already serving several villages, several missionaries, from here in Cruzeiro do Sul, Acre. So certainly this mission has a gigantic impact in the kingdom of God and here in the country of Brazil.”

There’s a huge need for fixed-wing and helicopter pilots like Jeremiah and Bruno overseas, especially as JAARS seeks to launch hubs to reach the unreachable in remote places such as Brazil.

As Jeremiah said, “If God says to you, ‘I want to use your skills, your interests, the abilities that I built into you from the very beginning to serve me in cross-cultural mission aviation,’ we can help you do that. God has given us the calling to help you do that.’”

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*Ethnos360 Aviation is known as New Tribes in Brazil.