Michael Lindsey’s journey to become a MAF pilot is a story of hard work, dedication and family pride, but it’s also about God restoring a gift that was cruelly snatched away by illness when Michael’s father received a devastating diagnosis.
As a young boy, Michael had grown up in a MAF family with his dad Wayne working as a pilot in Australia’s Arnhem Land and in Indonesia. But, after the family resettled in Australia, Wayne was diagnosed with frontal-lobe dementia in 2012 and is now being looked after full-time by his wife Rosemary and visiting carers.
It’s been a painful chapter for the family, and for Michael who was strongly influenced by his father’s work.
“In Arnhem Land, being a kid and being home schooled meant I was able to go flying with Dad more often and that just gave me a real love for flying,” Michael said.
“In Indonesia, in Arnhem Land too, you got a different view of the world from just how happy people are when you help them out and how much of a difference aviation can make.
“My father got frontal-lobe dementia and so that was another reason to want to follow in his footsteps. They always wanted to go back to MAF once we left high school but that obviously didn’t eventuate.
“That’s another reason I’m here, carrying this story forward.”
Michael was a teenager at high school in Alice Springs when the condition was diagnosed, then when he turned 18, Michael chose to get a tattoo in recognition of his dad’s work. Now he has graduated as a pilot from MAF’s Flight Training Centre in Mareeba, where he has felt a real connection to the role his father had.
“I often think about it, if it had not been the case would I still want to follow in this way,” he said. “It’s cool to be around guys who flew with Dad, it’s all spurring me on. Hearing stories from Mum about how he related to people, and he always had time for people, on top of trying to be Christ-like myself, it’s nice to strive to be that for people as well.”
After completing his multi-engine instrument rating, Michael is now qualified to fly in a MAF programme, but he said it wasn’t guaranteed that he would become a mission pilot.
“I started my training elsewhere and got my private licence which is essentially the halfway point and then I came here at the start of 2022 to finish my commercial licence,” he said.
“I’d always wanted to train with MAF, but it was only really made possible when I started the course in Mareeba.”
He recommends the course to any aspiring pilot, whether they feel called to fly with MAF or not. He said the instructors draw on their experience in the mission field to give solid practical tips and felt the classroom environment was a great way to stay motivated and focused.
“There have been a few challenging airstrips around that you don’t go to until you’re a little bit further on – some places are known for being windy – MAF are very good at introducing you to these things, so you are not overwhelmed, and the instructors are good at gauging when students are ready,” Michael said.
“Up until my private licence at the other school, I hadn’t had anyone else to be around, I was the only student at my level, it was a bit lonely. I definitely learned better in a group where you could be discussing things and the instructors make time for you – when they are teaching theory, they often back it up with a story from their own experience.”
Back home in Alice Springs, Mum Rosemary is proud of her son’s achievement and, although communication with Wayne is difficult, there is still a heartening flicker of recognition and the sense that he’s aware of Michael’s progress.
“She’s glad that I’m following in his path,” he said. “As with everyone in high school, I sort of waned a bit, but I’m sure she’s glad that my wife (Naomi) and I are on the same track.”
Michael’s next steps could include pursing his instructor rating or seeking an opportunity to fly in a MAF programme, even directly retracing his father’s steps in Arnhem Land.
And for the boy who grew up flying in MAF planes, and got a MAF tattoo in honour of his dad, Michael is showing a commitment that is much more than skin deep.