Remembering a Faithful Bird

Editor’s Note: Pilots love their planes, sometimes so much so that they become like another member of the family. Twenty years ago, former MAF pilot Dan Lenz recalled one of MAF’s then-ageing airplanes, PK-MPQ based in Indonesia, and his relationship with this once-proud legend in the sky.

By Dan Lenz

“Well, you’ve been dynamite today!” I complimented as we arrived within gliding distance of the wide asphalt runway of Tarakan. Pilots frequently talk to their airplanes, and when you fly a grandma like “Mike Papa Quebec,” communication is your only hope of coaxing her on. I eased the speed down to 55 knots, but kept a little power in all the way till the wheels chirped so as to keep the heavy tail flying. It’s 4:56 p.m., and after breaking ground at 8:45 a.m., this old bird deserves an uninterrupted roost for the night.

I kind of feel for “Papa Quebec.” I mean, being the runt of the flock and all. On a list of Funnest Airplanes to Fly, only the most nostalgic aviator would rank MPQ anywhere near the top. It’s not as if she’s innocent by any means, though. Papa Quebec blatantly defies all noise abatement regulations. At full throttle, her propeller tips approach the sonic boom and her mufflers act more like megaphones. Forget your earplugs and you will live to regret it.

Mission Aviation Fellowship PK-MPQ

On the airstrip at Malinau, Kalimantan (1990). Photo by Donna Burns.

Ironically, despite the noise, she’s a class “all bark, no bite” paradox. In her teenage years, she was turbo-charged and no doubt had her pick of the boys. Yet, as her hair silvered, her artificial respiration equipment was ripped out from under her nose, leaving the most basic, normally aspirated engine on the market (or more descriptive of MPQ, a non-aspirated engine). Complete with the small tail and old Cessna wing, this bird climbs like a humming bird piggybacking the space shuttle. While our other planes perform superbly with a 100-150 kg under gross takeoff restriction from the shorter strips interior, Papa Quebec with the old low-lift airfoils is shackled to a 300-350 kg under gross takeoff restriction. At that weight, she breaks ground soon enough but getting her to climb is like taking your kid to the dentist.

Today, we spent 4.8 hours hauling a pastor and three Bible school students home, two evangelistic teams out to minister, 19 passengers on fixed-schedule community service routes, and two medical patients with several of their relatives to the Tarakan hospital. Nothing particularly impressive for Papa Quebec, for she’s done some pretty awesome service in her time, yet not too shabby either for an old wrinkled-skinned, arthritis-prone lady. They’re talking about selling her, but I seriously wonder if anyone has the guts for such a betrayal. Until then, she’ll keep on faithfully serving missions and the Church here in Indonesia as she’s done for a quarter of a century.

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