MAF PNG is celebrating 70 years of service to the people of PNG
From its humble beginnings in Madang in 1951, and the ultimate sacrifice by Harry Hartwig only a few months into operation, to the present day with a fleet of brand-new Cessna 208 Caravans, MAF has come a long way. At its peak, MAF had a footprint from the Western Province all the way to Bougainville.
Over the years, our fleet has changed, but our vision has remained the same: to see isolated people physically and spiritually transformed in Christ’s name by the sharing of God’s love through aviation and technology.
70 years ago:
On 7 May 1951, the first MAF flight took off from Madang piloted by Harry Hartwig
In the mid-1940s a small group of Christian airmen returning to civilian life met together at a Bible college in Melbourne. They discussed the possibility of using their wartime military training to provide an air service to remote area missions. This led to the founding of Missionary Aviation Fellowship in Australia – although at the outset, it was not even clear which areas most needed the services of such an operation.
By 1949 a Tiger Moth had been procured and, crewed by Harry Hartwig and Alex Freind, this aircraft was used to survey the northern half of Australia with a view to determining the areas most in need. This was followed by a second survey in what was then the Territory of New Guinea. It was decided the greatest need was in what is now Papua New Guinea (PNG) and a base was established at Madang on the north coast. The Lutheran Mission was to be the major user of the service and they agreed to cover the cost of an Auster Autocar aircraft and equipment, with MAF providing aircrew and engineering support.
Harry Hartwig was the first MAF PNG pilot and with his young family took up residence at Madang in April 1951. On 7 May 1951, he took off for his first operational flight with the Australian registered Auster aircraft VH-KAN. It was a promising start with many hours of flying logged over the next three months. However, late in the afternoon of Monday, 6th August, the aircraft was reported overdue back from a day’s flying in the Highlands.
The fate of the radio-less aircraft and its pilot might have forever remained a mystery, had a New Guinean schoolteacher at a mission outpost near the Asaroka Gap not seen an aircraft that afternoon circling in and out of cloud, before hearing an impact on the mountain. Immediately he dispatched two boys to carry the message to Asaroka, but it would still be another 1 ½ days before the aircraft and the body of its pilot was located, 300 feet below the Gap. Not long before, Harry had written the prophetic comment in a report: ‘A local knowledge of the weather and topography is essential, and familiarisation flights will be of great value in this respect.’
The loss of the first pilot and plane after just three months of operation was a huge blow for MAF in Papua New Guinea. Lacking in both financial and human resources, MAF in Australia turned to MAF USA for assistance. This led to a re-survey of the island and buying a new Cessna 170, which was assembled in MAF’s hangar in Madang. Operations began again in 1952 with ex-USAAF pilot Charlie Mellis at the helm. As other missions saw the impact of MAF’ service, demand increased, and further bases were opened away from the coast and closer to the areas of need.
MAF has operated in Papua New Guinea continuously since 1951, serving remote communities through aviation and technology.
Today, MAF is the longest-serving aviation operator in PNG and is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.
These days, MAF PNG is using a single-type fleet of 9 Cessna Caravan, C208 aircraft to overcome the physical barriers of PNG so that remote communities can have access to healthcare, education, safe water, and the Gospel,
MAF has been and still is present in mainland PNG to serve local communities. As a team of almost 100 national and 35 international staff, spread across 11 bases, MAF is partnering with local church groups, missionaries, NGOs, development and relief agencies, and government departments who are working to change the lives of those living in remote areas.
MAF’s vision is to see isolated people physically and spiritually transformed in Christ’s name by sharing God’s love through aviation and technology.
MAF PNG 2011 – 2020
• 68,496 hours flown
• 320,650 passengers transported
• 13,525,809 km flown
• 19,758,892 kg cargo flown
• 105,241 total flights
MAF PNG in 2021
• 9 aircraft
• 105 airstrips served
• 134 staff (96 National, 38 International)
Share your MAF testimony
As MAF PNG celebrates its 70th year, MAF would love to hear YOUR stories. These could be details of a medical evacuation, testimonies of transformation or stories of joy and hope – written in about 200-300 words or as comfortable, either in English or Tok Pisin. Or do you have some old photographs to share some of MAF’s history and tell them the story behind the picture? MAF PNG would like to honor those of you who come forward and share what MAF has meant to you. The best articles will be rewarded with a small prize and will get published on their MAF PNG web and social media channels.
Please submit your story to their communication department, by the end of May to be considered for a prize. Email [email protected] with the subject “MAF PNG 70th – testimony”
You’re welcome to also send us your entry via the MAF ‘balus’ or via PNG post:
Communications Department, MAF PNG Ltd, P O Box 273, Mt Hagen, WHP 281