By CHRIS BURGESS
Rain battered the windshield of the KODIAK as it landed in the Indonesian city of Sentani. Medical personnel rushed the passenger — a 6-year old boy named Mika — into a waiting ambulance, which sped off to the local hospital.
Earlier that day, Mika had been climbing a tree in his village of Mokndoma, a small hamlet deep in the jungle highlands of Papua, Indonesia. His foot slipped and he fell, impaling himself on a branch. After local missionaries were unable to assist Mika, they radioed Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) in hopes that the boy could be taken to the hospital in Sentani.
A short while later, a MAF KODIAK landed in Mokndoma on the unimproved airstrip, covering in a mere 15 minutes what would have been a days-long journey by foot through rugged mountains. After Mika was aboard, the powerful airplane leapt from the airstrip and quickly travelled the distance back to Sentani.
Because of this rapid response, doctors were able to remove the branch pieces that had punctured Mika’s small intestine. A dire situation was narrowly avoided.
MAF, a Christian non-profit organization headquartered in Idaho, works around the world in remote places to reach isolated people by opening the doors for medical care, educational opportunities, community development, and missionaries.
For decades, MAF’s fleet was mostly comprised of Cessna 185s and 206s. While these small airplanes served the organization well, their capacity were limited. Additionally, the rising price and decreasing availability of aviation gasoline (avgas) was a constant threat to MAF’s operations.
“I can think of times when our programs were entirely shut down in Kalimantan, Indonesia, because we didn’t have avgas,” said David Holsten, MAF regional director of Indonesia.
In places like Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the price of avgas soared — at times as high as $21 a gallon. These rising costs were unsustainable for an organization that relies on donations to cover its operating costs.
A drastic overhaul of the fleet was inevitable if MAF wished to continue being there for isolated people, like Mika, whose only hope is often an MAF airplane.
In 2001, Quest Aircraft Company was established to develop a turbo-prop, STOL aircraft that could meet the needs of mission organizations like MAF. A few years later, the KODIAK was born. In March 2009, MAF added the first KODIAK to its fleet. Since then, it has sent another 10 to remote and isolated areas.
“We were able to retire the last of our Cessna 206s and now use the new KODIAKs. This allows us to have an all-turbine fleet in Papua, which is extremely cost efficient since avgas is quite expensive and sometimes hard to acquire,” said Mike Brown, MAF Papua program manager and the pilot who flew Mika to safety after his accident.
Cessna Caravans and a Pilatus PC-12, aircraft that also run on Jet A fuel, skirted this problem in some of MAF’s locations, but these larger aircraft could not land on the short, rugged airstrips that MAF’s Cessna 206s frequent. Hand-built airstrips carved out of jungles, steep mountainsides, and cliffs are normal destinations of MAF. The KODIAK can fly into most of the same remote airstrips as the Cessna 206 —while being about double the size.
“The KODIAK uses roughly the same amount of fuel as a Caravan, and it takes a pilot with the same experience level to fly it,” said Holsten. “The Caravan can lift much more weight than the KODIAK and could be a better option if you are flying between two cities in the U.S. with long runways. But if you need to go to a short airstrip like the ones we fly into in Papua, then the KODIAK is an infinitely better tool.”
In addition to resolving the avgas problem and increasing performance, the KODIAK is a technically advanced aircraft that enables MAF pilots to have much greater situational awareness, which is important for remote flying.
“Our pilots have a better idea of where the mountains are,” said Holsten. “Our ability to navigate and know the whereabouts of other aircraft is enhanced by the KODIAK’s features.”
Indonesia is not the only location benefiting from the KODIAK. In Ecuador, Asas de Socorro, an affiliate of MAF, recently received a KODIAK and is using it to reach villages deep in the interior of this South American nation. Heavy rains often make it difficult for airplanes to land on these grassy jungle strips — parts of Ecuador can receive a staggering 22 feet of rain each year.
“The KODIAK’s reverse thrust could save the day on a short, wet jungle airstrip,” said Brian Shepson, MAF chief pilot who served in Ecuador from 1987 until 1997. “It has been exciting over the years as airplanes got bigger, faster, and more capable to see how they have been able to be used in traditional historic programs like Ecuador.”
Some of the countries MAF works in are vast. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is roughly the size of the eastern portion of the United States, and the distance from the northern to the southern tips of Mozambique is equivalent to the distance from Boston to Miami. Having aircraft that are able to cover long distances, yet still land on small airstrips, is key to MAF’s mission.
“Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo, is big and having the capability to fly faster and farther all while carrying more payload will enable us to operate more efficiently and serve a broader area on any given day. This will allow us to serve more people over the course of the week than we could ever dream of with even two Cessna 185s,” said Sean Cannon, an MAF base manager in Kalimantan, Indonesia.
After days in the Sentani hospital, Mika and his mother returned to their home in Mokndoma and the MAF KODIAK disappeared back over the lush Papuan mountains.
The fact that the KODIAK is a turbo-prop, STOL aircraft, has a Garmin G-1000 cockpit, and doubles the capacity of a 206 means little to Mika and his family.
What the KODIAK does mean is that this 6-year old boy will once again be able to run and play with his friends. For MAF, the KODIAKs ultimately mean they can continue serving isolated people around the world.