Why MAF flies at the other end of the earth

Why MAF flies at the other end of the earth

When our supporters learn we've been operating in Australia since 1973, many ask: ‘Why?’ It surprises them that a largely ‘Christian’, first world country would be in need of our services. MAF Pilot Danny Gill explains why Aboriginal people are extremely glad of our planes and our people.

The Arnhem Land reserve in Australia's remote Northern Territory remains in great need of our planes and our people to deliver basic supplies over vast distances and shine the Gospel into areas of spiritual darkness.

Around 16,000 indigenous people live here, with MAF families almost the only external Christian witness through Bibles, DVDs, Gospel media for mobile phones and regular showings of the Jesus film.

A 12-hour day

MAF pilot Daniel "Danny" Gill in the cockpit of an MAF aircraftI'm Danny Gill, one of MAF's newest pilots, and I've been flying here since September 2015. I'll admit I had a few nervous moments during my training period, but I was mightily strengthened by God's grace too. Here's what a typical day in the life of an Arnhem Land pilot involves:

A typical day begins with me waking up at 6.45am for breakfast and quiet time with the Lord, before packing my lunch and driving to the office to collect weather reports, passenger manifests and the flight schedule. By 8.30 I am ready for my first flight having driven to Ramingining airport and inspected my aircraft.

Funerals are a big part of Aboriginal culture and my first flight is to South Goulburn Island, arriving at 9.45 to bring a family back to Ramingining for their grandfather's funeral service. There is more paperwork for me to prepare then baggage to weigh, and balance carefully in the aircraft, when my six passengers arrive.

No time for lunch

After a 70-minute, 131-mile flight, I'm about to eat my packed lunch when a call comes in for a 1pm pick-up in Mirrnatja. I analyse my on-board fuel levels – they are low. I check a fuel drum for contamination, which could cause lethal problems if undetected, and get it out to the plane to 'top up'.

Weight is a major issue for any light aircraft and, even though it is only a 19-minute flight, I have to leave someone at Mirrnatja because the uphill airstrip there allows me a maximum cargo of 1,625kg.

My passengers are a local ranger and his family who are going into town to do their food shopping. At 3.20pm, they return with their shopping – and a child's bicycle! I fly the family and their shopping home, plus equipment and mail for an MAF family in Millingimbi.

Building up to rain

This time of year is called the 'build up' - September and October being the months prior to our infamous wet season. It's hot and sticky, cumulus clouds tower in the skies and at 1,500 feet it's quite bumpy. The thermals make landing tricky, as does a crosswind, and it takes two attempts before I'm safely on the ground at 3.40pm.

Later, at Millingimbi, I refuel again and pick up a teacher coming back from a week's training in Darwin. When we land at 5.15pm at Ramingining, my flying for this day is over. I check the aircraft interior then give it a sweep out. The plane can now be tied down and locked up.

At 6.15pm I head back home from the office having recorded the hours flown, the fuel used and the flight payments I've taken.

I enjoy getting the opportunity to meet more Yolgnu people. They don't go in for many deep conversations, but most people are welcoming and we have a good laugh. I hope one day to be sharing the peace and love of Christ with some of my passengers.

For now, I am very happy that there is another MAF family out here - MAF Pilot Alistair Youren, his wife Anna and their children Nathanael and Talitha. I know them well and their help in my move to Arnhem Land has been a massive blessing!