(Written by Katherine Williams and photographs taken by John Davidson & Connie Lou Aebischer)
Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) in Mareeba was delighted to play a part in sending the six brand new Caravans to Papua New Guinea (PNG) recently. These aircraft were purchased from the USA and flown to Mareeba. The Mareeba base made the MAF modifications to these aircraft and obtained the Certificate of Airworthiness, before they were able to be sent to PNG to serve the remote people there. The PNG programme now operates nine Cessna Caravans, and having only one aircraft type in fleet makes work easier for both engineers and pilots.
Before the arrival of the Caravans, PNG was served by three Twin Otter aeroplanes which were held in great esteem by the local people. The people of PNG and MAF staff there were very emotional to see the Twin Otters being withdrawn from the country, but ultimately MAF would be able to help more people with the smaller Caravans. A Caravan can carry up to nine adult passengers in its cabin and cargo can be stored neatly in the external cargo pod. It can fly up to 200kms with a payload of one metric tonne and is equipped with enhanced short take-off and landing modifications as well as heavy duty landing gear for the short and rough airstrips of PNG.
John Davidson was on the last Twin Otter flight out from PNG, as he had been on the first flight some 33 years earlier. He was the first Pilot to fly the Twin Otters in PNG for MAF.
Final flight in the Twin Otter—Todd Aebischer farewelling John Davidson at Mount Hagen.
“I was obsessed with aeroplanes from a young age” says John. He became a Christian at 20 years of age and after completing National Service with the army serving in South Vietnam, he was determined to commence flight training. But God had other ideas and asked him to choose between God and a flying career. John says it was a question of what was going to take priority in his life. So John chose God, found and married Vivien, started an engineering degree and settled into a comfortable life in Sydney.
A few years later, a MAF representative was presenting at his local church. The man spoke about how MAF was short of Pilots. And so for many months to follow John and his wife spent their time praying to God for guidance as to whether this was a path for them to follow.
After much prayer, it was clear that God wanted John to approach MAF, so he telephoned MAF and said “I would like to become an MAF Pilot”, which was met with enthusiasm, and the question – how many flying hours do you have? To which he replied “none”. So he set about becoming a Commercial Pilot, which he achieved in nine short months. He then rang back and was very excited to let MAF know that he was now ready to fly, but this time, he was met with the question – “Which Bible College have you attended?” Again he replied “none” and set about attending Bible College. He had heard that MAF church presentation in 1975, but finally started to train in Ballarat in 1978.
So John was to be sent to Papua New Guinea (PNG), but PNG pilots had to have 1000 hours of flying experience before being allowed to fly there. So John was sent to Derby in the Kimberley’s, which he describes “as a challenging experience with a harsh summer climate and long hours, working six days a week, with only Sunday off to worship”.
John in the Twin Otter
So in May 1979, John and his wife Vivien finally set off to PNG. Vivien was pregnant at the time and very sadly when the baby was 10 days overdue, their baby Lindy died in the womb. John says that “it was a very painful experience but God in His graciousness drew close to us and carried us through this time.”
Their next move was to Goroka in PNG then Anguganak in the West Sepik, where the couple moved with their new born baby Penny who was just a few weeks old. The next move was to Lae, where baby Justin joined the MAF team. It was then off to Wewak as Base Manager before being seconded to American MAF in West Papua.
Children in PNG
In March 1986 John was recalled from West Papua to PNG to help establish the Twin Otter program. He had never flown a twin engine aircraft, but said he “had complete faith in God for what he was being asked to do”. He explains “God gave me the ability”, so after very few training hours, he was operational in the Twin Otter. He was tasked to produce the operation and training manuals as required by the Government prior to operating the Twin Otter.
Loading roller into Twin Otter
John explains “the Twin Otter is a rugged, versatile aircraft well suited to PNG flying conditions, with its ability to land on steep airstrips in the highlands or short, soft strips in the lowlands, with its large tyres and reverse thrust to aid in breaking”. John recalls using the Twin Otter to move Government building supplies that were too long to fit into the smaller aircraft, so aiding in remote community development, winning United Nations contracts to support West Papuan refugees and finally flying them back to their home villages in West Papua.
UN Refugee supplies
John goes on to explain “being a 19 seat aircraft, the Otter was popular at church conference times, moving large groups of delegates efficiently. The Otter was in high demand with the oil exploration companies in establishing base camps in very remote areas. The profits from this flying was used to subsidise the local churches and missionaries”. John further explains that “the aircraft was also popular with the villagers in the highlands because of its ability to move one and a half tonne of coffee beans/trip. The proceeds from the sale of the beans was used by the villagers to buy food supplies to supplement their diet, pay school fees, as well as improving their living conditions, by buying building material such as corrugated roofing iron. The roofing material allowed them to collect rainwater for drinking”.
John Davidson remembers his time with MAF, serving the people of PNG as the best years of his life, but there were incredible difficulties to get through also. Isaiah 41:10 says: Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
He remembers also, on returning to Australia on completion of his time with MAF, his children asking if they could go "home" to PNG. They will always remember those years with affection, and the Twin Otters were a massive part of that. John concludes by saying “Thank you Lord for allowing us to be a small part of the MAF team working to extend your kingdom in PNG”. MAF are very thankful to John and his family for their service in PNG.