By REBECCA HOPKINS
“When I was little, I wondered how an airplane could fly if it couldn’t breathe,” said Yunike Hermanus.
Hermanus was talking about the Cessna 185 with the affectionate name of “Charlie Brown” that has served indigenous Kalimantan, Indonesia, communities for almost 50 years and 23,000 hours of flight time.
It is one of two Cessna 185s that have retired after nearly 100 total years of service in Indonesia, according to officials with Mission Aviation Fellowship.
MAF had a base in Hermanus’s village home of Kelansam for about 30 years starting in the 1970s. Charlie Brown was built at Wichita’s Cessna factory in 1969.
Charlie Brown may not be able to breathe, but to hear the words used by those who’ve either worked closely with it or ridden in it at critical times of their families’ lives, you’d think this plane had a life of its own.
“It was the best airplane I’ve ever flown,” said Robby Matthews, an American MAF pilot who flew this plane from 1984 to 1988. “As a STOL (short takeoff-and landing) airplane, I could fly Charlie Brown slow enough that the air speed indicator was zero. It flew like an old work boot…like…oooh, that feels good.”
Charlie Brown is just one of MAF’s 135 planes serving humanitarian, disaster relief, and church needs in remote, hard-to-reach areas in 26 countries throughout South America, Asia, and Africa.
“I don’t know how the church in Kalimantan would’ve grown without MAF,” said Jihun Alpius.
He began working for MAF in 1975, a caretaker of Charlie Brown for almost 30 years in his home in Kalimantan, Indonesia. “There were 50 airstrips. Almost every week, this plane would serve them.”
Its official registration number is PK-MCB, or in pilot-speak, Mike Charlie Bravo. This plane and MAF’s other Cessna 185 “Charlie Delta”— manufactured by Cessna in 1962 — will be retired, crated up and sent to MAF headquarters in Idaho this fall. The current plan is to display them there.
Collectively, they’ve served almost 100 total years and flown almost 50,000 total hours. In 2018, a new, faster, bigger amphibious Kodiak airplane will arrive in Kalimantan, Indonesia, to carry on the Cessnas’ work.
Charlie Brown has been a wheeled airplane reaching remote communities on runways cut by hand out of jungles and, for the past 20 years, a float plane serving Kalimantan’s challenging, ever-changing rivers.
In 1972, Nancy Bolser witnessed MAF’s first landing at the Indonesian Bible college where she and her husband worked for about 40 years — the same school that trained both Yunike Hermanus and her parents.
“In my six years in Kalimantan, I think the most thrilling moment arrived for me at 10:15 in the morning when I saw the wheels of that little red and white airplane touch down here for the first time,” Nancy wrote in a letter just after 500 Indonesian villagers finished building the runway.
Tommy Yansen, who helped build the runway in the early 1970s that gave airplane access to his own village, later got a job with MAF buying supplies to send to communities.
“The plane would bring food, vegetables, LPG bottles for cooking,” he said. “It would carry pastors, Sunday school teachers, and patients going to the hospital.”
“It used to take four days,” said Indonesian nurse Asaskarto of the typical journey to the hospital where he worked in the 1970s. The medical facility partnered with MAF for medevac flights in this rugged, jungle area with few passable roads. But with Charlie Brown, patients could get to his hospital in an hour.
Yunike Hermanus hopped on and off MAF planes throughout her childhood, knowing the pilots as family and their kids as friends. But her own life was saved one day during a time when she followed in her parents’ legacy to serve with her Indonesian pastor husband in the remote village of Ulak Mued. She was so sick, she lost consciousness. Someone took her by boat to the nearest airstrip.
“If the airplane hadn’t taken me (to the hospital), I don’t know if I’d be alive today,” Hermanus said.
By the 1990s, MAF pilots were looking at the transportation and community needs in the central part of Kalimantan. Doug Allrich, an MAF pilot, did the first survey flight in the area.
“The community was thrilled with our interest in serving their transport needs,” said Allrich. “Central Kalimantan was a vast area with seven river systems and we felt that if we could get something built, the rest would fall into place.”
So the decision was made that Charlie Brown would be transformed into a float plane so that even more people could have access to life-saving resources.
A change came for Hermanus as well. Her husband died, and she moved with her two young kids to Central Kalimantan to work with a MAF family as a cook, babysitter and housekeeper. She later married Daniel Ogasto, a MAF staff member who helped take care of Charlie Brown for the past 15 years. Soon Ogasto will be learning how to care for a much more complex airplane—the amphibious Kodiak PK-MEE — arriving in 2018.
In the meantime, 92 other Cessnas remain in MAF’s fleet around the world, reaching those in need.