High Fliers

MAF UK’s newest engineer follows in grandad’s footsteps

30th August 2022

Mark, Stephanie and girls will head to Uganda next year

At the height of the pandemic with the aviation industry collapsing around him, EasyJet engineer Mark Draper’s future looked uncertain. Inspired by his late grandfather, RAF engineer Leslie Draper – who helped assemble MAF’s first ever Cessna aircraft – Mark decided to apply to MAF. MAF’s Jo Lamb, takes up the story…

On furlough between April and July last year, Luton based EasyJet power plant engineer and married father of three, Mark Draper, faced uncertainty as coronavirus devastated the airline industry.

Mark’s wife Stephanie – a midwife at Dunstable Hospital – continued working while Mark stayed home to school their three daughters – Lexi [9], Evelyn [7] and Raya [4]:

‘Being furloughed during lockdown was really difficult. Going from doing what I love to being a full-time dad overnight was crazy and so tough, but I’m so grateful for where I am today. I will be working for MAF when I know so many have suffered greatly in the airline industry.’

Mark Draper, MAF UK’s newest engineer

Mark had dreamed of working for MAF for a while, having been inspired by his late grandfather, Leslie Draper – one of the engineers who helped co-founder, Stuart King, assemble MAF’s first ever Cessna 180 aircraft.

Mark’s grandfather, Leslie Draper, in 1946

Leslie also worked on de Havilland Mosquito planes during WWII.

MAF’s first Cessna aircraft came out of a crate

MAF’s first four-seater Cessna arrived from America at Heathrow Airport in a crate in 1956. Leslie – a former RAF radio engineer who also worked for British European Airways as it was known then– was one of twenty volunteers to help Stuart assemble the plane piece by piece.

Leslie used his particular skills to fit the Cessna’s radio and other electrics.

In his book ‘Hope Has Wings’ (1993), Stuart King recalls the challenging task of assembling the Cessna 180 assisted by Leslie and the team:

‘Here was a crate full of tightly packed components, large and small, with no sign of where they were supposed to fit. With no manual, parts book or labels, the British Airways Christian Union engineering staff came to my assistance when they were off duty and helped greatly in putting together the carefully designed flying machine.

‘When it had been assembled, we pushed the little aircraft out to be fuelled. An airport official looked quizzically at the plane – an unusual model for Heathrow. He handed me an invoice for a landing fee. When I objected that the aircraft hadn’t made its first landing – he said, “Did it come up through a hole in the ground?” He wasn’t used to planes being put together out of a crate.’

It would be Betty Greene – MAF’s first pilot and the world’s first female mission pilot – who would pilot the MAF Cessna 180’s virgin flight to Malakal, Sudan in 1957.

On board were Stuart and Phyllis King with their children, Rebecca and John. Like the Drapers today, the Kings were about to start an adventure of a lifetime.

MAF’s first Cessna virgin flight piloted by Betty Green who flew the Kings to then Sudan – Stuart inside, Phyllis holding Rebecca right.

‘My grandad would be thrilled I’m working for MAF’

Mark cites his grandfather as a source of much inspiration, motivation, and friendship until his death in 2011.

Mark believes his own dream to serve with MAF stems from his grandfather’s faithful commitment to the charity, and passion for aviation:

‘My grandad was so kind, humble and inspiring. He’s the reason I’m so into aeroplanes – a lot of what I am today is due to him.  I loved hearing him talk about his RAF service. He was based in Egypt with the 256 Squadron. He heard about MAF whilst working at Heathrow Airport for British European Airways – as it was called then.

‘Grandad supported MAF from that first encounter with Stuart King when they built MAF’s first Cessna 180. He would be thrilled to know that I’m working for MAF – he spoke about MAF to everyone he knew.’

Betty Greene - MAF’s first pilot and the world’s first female mission pilot - standing in front of MAF’s newly assembled first ever Cessna ahead of its virgin flight to Sudan

‘It will be a massive adventure for us’

Inspired by his grandfather and moved by Joyce Lin’s tribute film – the late MAF pilot who was tragically killed in Papua last year – Mark started making enquiries to MAF.

Mark made a formal application to MAF on 8 June.

Having almost completed his Aircraft Maintenance License – a process which has taken ten-years of self-study – Mark left EasyJet on 27 August 2021. He will receive his certification later this year.

The family will relocate to MAF’s headquarters in Kampala, Uganda next year where Mark will take up the role of aviation engineer.

Mark – who has never been to Africa – contemplates his next chapter:

‘It’s slightly scary not knowing what it will be like. Although it’s a leap of faith, it will be a massive adventure for us as a family. We want to live our lives supporting other people – especially those less fortunate than ourselves. MAF’s humanitarian air service is a perfect way of combining my aviation skills with making a positive difference in people’s lives.’