What’s a Pilot to Do?

By Rachel Greco

In the old days of mission aviation, pilots had to page through a fat book located in the airplane to find the runway chart they needed. Sometimes, unfortunately, when they reached the right spot, the chart they needed would be missing. Someone had ripped out the page for the notes it contained on the airplane they were sitting in. That information was critical, and it wasn’t in any of the books supplied in the other airplanes. What’s a pilot to do?

The aviation team at YAJASI—our aviation partner in Indonesia—saw a need to move beyond paper-based systems and processes and take advantage of the technology that exists in PCs and portable devices. “We wanted to find a way to leverage their technology to make us safer, more efficient, and more effective,” Nate Gordon, one of YAJASI’s pilots, explains.

Nate had written some mobile apps as a hobby and used them in the cockpit, so he believed this kind of technology was possible. He proposed the idea to YAJASI’s leadership team, and they gave him the green light.

Nate spent one of his furloughs prototyping and testing the mobile software that would eventually be called FlightSpan™. God providentially brought Zach Osterloo, who has a software development background, to YAJASI as a pilot. Zach used his gifts to develop the server-based program that would become Flight Serve. Flight Serve helps run YAJASI’s base side of operations while FlightSpan, running on an iPad, helps the pilots manage their flights.  The two pieces of software share data back and forth.

YAJASI flights tracked in the V2 tracking system

YAJASI has been using this software for seven years now. Part of its program is the V2 tracker—a satellite device in all the aircraft that can track their airplanes at all times. Our partner in Papua New Guinea and our aviation team here in Waxhaw also utilize the V2 tracker. Anyone with this program can look at a phone and see where any given aircraft is at any given time.

Villagers come out to meet the airplane

According to Brad McFarlane, another pilot serving with YAJASI, “When [commercial] planes have gone missing in Papua, it sometimes takes several days to even find a wreckage. V2 tracking ensures that we can quickly find anyone missing to help them.”

The Flight Serve/Span software also enables pilots to create electronic notes on their iPads if there’s something about a runway that’s important for the other pilots to know, such as the grass is too high, or the wind sock is missing. When the pilot returns home, his notes are pushed out to the other pilots’ iPads to inform them of potential runway hazards. Warnings are then not left to the pilot remembering to tell his coworkers.

Nate and friends in Papua at the Omban airstrip behind them

Normally, pilots communicate with each other via radio. But Brad enjoys being able to text the other pilots via the FlightSpan software. “I was flying one day,” he remembers, “and heard a call for help on the radio from a village for a medivac* because a kid had fallen out of a tree and broken his arm. One of our planes was [available] in the area—but on the ground at a different runway. The plane’s radio was turned off so I couldn’t talk to [its pilot] before I landed at my destination. But I sent him a text via the FlightSpan app and the other pilot got the message and went over to do the medivac.”

Nate holding a stone axe gifted to him by a village elder from the Eastern Highlands.


Since Nate is now serving at JAARS, and Zach is no longer able to support this software, YAJASI asked JAARS, “Would you consider taking over further development and support of these apps?”

Nate was blown away by the positive responses he found at JAARS. Zach’s vision from the beginning of this software’s conception was that it would be used to bless all mission aviation. In order for that to happen in a sustainable way, an organization or team would need to take responsibility for it.

That’s just what JAARS is doing, but we’re at the beginning stages of this process. Nate and his team are developing FlightSpan, for YAJASI in Indonesia and SIL Aviation in Papua New Guinea so our pilots can remain safe and efficient as they fly in difficult places.  


*Emergency medical evacuation flight