Former MAF Mongolia plane makes first flight in Guinea

Published: 23 Apr 2022

The overhauled Cessna 208 Caravan in Nzérékoré, Guinea which previously operated in Mongolia for 20 years

Following 20 years' service in Mongolia, the plane – formerly known as Millennium Messenger - made her first ops flight in Guinea today. Roy Rissanen – MAF’s first pilot in Mongolia - used the same plane to pick up passengers from Nzérékoré, Guinea for the first time. Roy and his beloved aircraft have reunited to transform lives on the other side of the world…

After months of preparation, MAF’s Cessna 208 Caravan - now registered as N2114G – took off from Guinea’s capital Conakry on Saturday 23 April on what was MAF’s first operational flight in the country.

MAF’s first flight in Guinea took off from Conakry where MAF is using a disused former Guinea Airlines hangar

Piloted by MAF’s Roy Rissanen, the overhauled aircraft picked up a missionary couple from Nzérékoré in southern Guinea and flew them back to Conakry to attend a crucial conference with colleagues.

MAF’s Roy Rissanen undertakes the first operational flight in Guinea

This one hour, fifty minute flight saved them 23 hours of gruelling road travel with an overnight stay. MAF’s new Guinea service will be a game changer for passengers like these – supporting their Bible translation work and development of farming practices in the region, without the unnecessary stress of long, challenging overland travel.

For MAF’s first passengers in Guinea, who wish to remain anonymous for security reasons, MAF is an answer to prayer:

‘We’ve been praying for an air service since we got here over a decade ago. There are no domestic aircraft in Guinea, so we have to drive but it’s the most stressful aspect of life for us. It’s dehumanising and demoralising.

‘There are no lights so driving at night is very dangerous. Potholes are up to eight feet wide and a foot deep. MAF will be a lifesaver for us.’

Missionary couple and first passengers of MAF Guinea

Pioneering MAF pilot Roy is no stranger to the plane which has just transported the couple.

He was the aircraft’s first pilot 22 years ago when he flew her for eight years in Mongolia. Roy was also the first foreign pilot to operate in the country.

Now he’s flying her for the first time in Guinea, transforming lives once again and developing MAF’s newest programme in West Africa.

As the first humanitarian flight operator in Guinea, this is how MAF will impact isolated communities:

The Mongolian years

Prior to Roy’s Guinea adventure, the pilot and his plane worked together for MAF’s ‘Blue Sky Aviation’. They were based in Ulaanbaatar - the world’s coldest capital - transporting, connecting and medevacking some of Mongolia’s most isolated people.

MAF’s Roy Rissanen with the Millennium Messenger outside Blue Sky Aviation’s hangar

Nearly a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 when Mongolia’s economy was left in a fragile state, MAF’s services were welcomed in 1999 as the first foreign flight operator and only humanitarian air service in the country.

Roy set up MAF Mongolia’s programme from scratch in the early 2000s but he couldn’t have done it without his trusty Cessna 208 Caravan.

Roy first laid eyes on her in 1999 when she rolled off the production line in Wichita, US.

The Millennium Messenger in sub-zero temperatures in Mongolia

Ready for MAF service in the year 2000, she was named the ‘Millennium Messenger’ – destined to deliver help, hope and healing to Mongolia’s remotest communities.   

By 2017 however, the country’s infrastructure had greatly improved and there was less reliance on MAF’s services. MAF eventually closed its operations and the future of the Millennium Messenger looked uncertain.

New opportunity in Guinea

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, MAF was beginning to expand its work in West Africa. MAF’s regional hub in Monrovia, Liberia was developing, and it was becoming increasingly clear that its neighbour Guinea could also hugely benefit from MAF’s services.

Following three years of extensive groundwork, MAF established its newest operation in Guinea last year.

Roy and the Millennium Messenger would eventually be reunited in Guinea.

Rainbow over Guinea

The aircraft that just keeps on giving

Although she’s 22 years old, she has aged well and clocked up less than 8,000 hours – way below Cessna’s recommended retirement. Roy explains:

‘She was very well kept in the hangar. Because Mongolia is landlocked and so deep inland, she had no corrosion and stayed in good shape.

‘We didn’t fly her flat out like MAF’s safari work where we fly two hours per day for several days in different locations. Her maximum usage was between 300 and 500 hours per year so not a huge number. 8,000 flight hours is only 16% of her projected usage. Cessna say 50,000 hours is the limit for when the plane should retire.’

For Roy, she’s the plane that just keeps on giving:

‘She's very special to me. I'm privileged to fly the same old faithful aircraft again. She'll continue God's work in a new part of the world with a new engine, new paint and a new tail number. She'll bring help, hope and healing in many ways – medevacs, transporting passengers and supplies, and serving those who are in need in Guinea.

‘The number one thing is her reliability. If I go somewhere, I can trust her to fly back. She has a good range which is important for refuelling and she’s also very practical for loading passengers and cargo.

‘I’m very happy how we’ve upgraded her avionics and equipment to keep her going. She’s a good workhorse! I like her very much.’

Roy Rissanen, MAF pilot 

Moving a small plane across huge continents

So what does it take for a small aircraft to cross continents during a pandemic and fly in another country that couldn’t be more different environmentally and politically?

In 2020, Roy and his wife Sirpa took five days to fly the plane over Siberia in wintery conditions from Ulaanbaatar to Holland in the first of three ‘ferry flights’.

In Holland she is given a paint job and has her cold weather equipment removed in preparation for flying in a hot climate.

MAF’s Daniel Dubouloz (L) & Hansjöerg Schlatter (R) fly her from Holland to Switzerland

The overhauled aircraft courts publicity at a series of donor events in Switzerland

In June 2021 – ahead of another four-day ferry-flight - she is flown to Switzerland by MAF pilots Hansjöerg Schlatter and Daniel Dubouloz for a series of PR and donor events attended by over 100 people.

MAF’s Emil Kundig (L) and Hansjöerg Schlatter en route from Italy to Egypt

In July, Hansjöerg and Guinea’s programme developer Emil Kundig fly her from Switzerland to Uganda via Italy, Greece, Egypt and Sudan, following the River Nile.

2nd ferry-flight approaching the Egyptian coast

They follow the Nile from Egypt to Khartoun in Sudan

At Kajjansi Airport she receives a new engine, new propeller, flight control bearings are replaced, and everything is thoroughly lubricated, cleaned and adjusted. Following further maintenance, she is finally ready for service once again:

Permissions are finally granted for her final leg to Guinea, following travel restrictions caused by the pandemic.

Roy (R) and Emil (L) en route from Cameroon to Ghana

On 26 January 2022, she makes her third and final ferry-flight, which takes five days from Uganda to Guinea via Central African Republic, Cameroon, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone, piloted by Roy Rissanen and Emil Kundig.

Almost there!

The aircraft undergoes a pre-flight inspection before she can fly in Guinea

The aircraft is finally ready for her new mission in Guinea but what about the pilots?

MAF pilots in Guinea have to undergo special training & auditing before they can officially fly. (L to R: pilot Dave Forney, director of ops Stan Unruh, pilot Roy Rissanen, Guinea country director Emil Kundig & MAF US chief pilot Brian Shepson on Kissidougou runway, Guinea

For MAF’s newest programme, the overhauled aircraft is registered under the American ‘MAF-US Part 135 certificate’. This means that any pilots intending to fly her in Guinea need to have additional flight training to meet special requirements.

In January, MAF US’s chief pilot Brian Shepson facilitates that training in Uganda for pilots Roy Rissanen and Dave Forney.

MAF US’ chief pilot Brian Shepson (R) facilitates special training for Roy (L) to meet US registration requirements

As part of the US registration and audit process, on 21 March, MAF's aircraft makes her first ever test landing in Kissidougou, southern Guinea.

The plane is met by a lot of excited locals and missionaries in the area.

Excited locals and missionaries meet the plane in Kissidougou

For Roy who has been with his beloved aircraft from the very beginning, he is excited to be part of MAF’s history and future:

‘It’s a new era - I feel very privileged to be part of it. I feel a bit like Stuart King who ventured out with his plane to demonstrate what could be done. That’s the approach we are taking now.

‘We’ve taken her to Guinea where they don’t know MAF. We want to show people what she can do. I feel like we are following in Stuart’s footsteps. It’s exciting and I’m looking forward to it.’ 

MAF’s Roy Rissanen with his beloved plane in Monrovia, Liberia en route to Uganda