The (Extra) Ordinary Day in the Life of an MAF Pilot

Editor’s Note: Dan Lenz is a former MAF pilot. This is taken from a letter written in 1992 to his supporters while he was serving in Indonesia that underscores the difficulty — and adventure — MAF pilots face on a daily basis.

I could see them coming and instinctively fumbled with a rebellious shirttail that was determined to see the sights. Yet, to be sure, the shirttail was the mere tip of the iceberg. Good grief, here I am with a dirty, smelly, formerly white shirt, blue pants with a hundred or so weed stickers tenaciously parading all the way up to the knees, and topped off with matted wet hair that had been jammed into a tight tolerance helmet … I mean to these airline crews with their lily white shirts, gold captain bars, strong cologne, and not as much as a hair out of place, I must look like a disease. As I filled out the flight plan form with the others, I pondered the morning’s events that led to my present appearance disaster.

The first morning flight had been textbook material. Off at 8:40 a.m., a leisurely climb to 8,000 feet followed by nearly a complete loss of ground contact for over an hour, occasional wandering left and right of course to avoid large buildups, an apprehensive descent through a hole in the overcast sky to find the airstrip in the middle of nowhere, at twelve o’clock, dead ahead. It’s the stuff that dead-reckoning textbook authors only dream about.

The return hour trip to Long Bia was essentially flawless as well. Long Bia is a cute 470-meter airstrip perched, carrier-style, perpendicular to, and right off the bank of the Kayan River. Although we can operate safely in and out of it at gross weight, it’s not without certain challenges. Several strategic bounders in the touchdown zone lay definitely posed to nab and propel back into the air any pilot who dares touch down a tad too fast. Bia also adds a little spice to the takeoff routine by requiring a 65 knot / 20-degree flap / 30-degree bank / 90-degree turn several seconds after liftoff to avoid hills on the far bank of the river. It’s a maneuver that warrants a passenger briefing to those not expecting it.

Long Bia is also home to C&MA missionaries Frank and Marie Peters, who oversee a Bible school that for nearly 50 years has trained more than 7,000 pastors, teachers, and evangelists who have enthusiastically evangelized the interior of Kalimantan.

Dan Lenz loading barrel of fuel into plane

MAF Pilot, Dan Lenz, loading a barrel of fuel into his plane

I had two drums of Kerosene we loaded onto the plane and transported to Data Dian. Loading 365-pound drums in a Cessna 185 takes a touch of brain and tons of brawn. Upon landing in Data Dian, we pulled the drums out and I rolled into Tarakan a half hour later, which all explains my warped appearance and presence in the flight planning room being intimidated by all the pomp of these airline crews.

“Just finish the form, Dan, will you?” I x-ed out all the life jacket/raft squares, but still stole a glance at the captain next to me to see what he was flying. It was a Fokker 27–– a medium-sized twin turboprop. But if variety is the spice of life, then MAF pilots dig into gourmet daily. The 185 is often a taxi cab, repeatedly an 18-wheeler, constantly a mail and UPS truck, sometimes a school bus, commonly an ambulance, occasionally a hearse, frequently a U-Haul, often a missionary and pastor’s limo, and always a handful for the nut behind the wheel!

Dan Lenz in prayer circle in Indonesia

Dan Lenz in prayer before flight

We both finished our flight plans and met each other while awaiting the final signature. I was becoming less and less intimidated. Several minutes later we parted and headed for our planes, the one person, slickly groomed and sweet smelling, to an aircraft that would brighten two people’s logbooks; the other person, quite bedraggled but with a noticeable spring in his step, to an aircraft that would brighten many a person’s eternity. And you who pray and invest in MAF are the ones who make it all happen.

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