The Last Flight of the Helio in Indonesia.
The year was 1976, a baby boy was born in Albany, Oregon unaware of the world around him. His parents no doubt wondered about what he might do when he was grown… That same year (1976) SIL aviation imported there first airplane to Indonesia, a Helio Courier PK-UCA. This aircraft along with 3 other Helio’s (that arrived later) have served the isolated people of Papua and supported the scripture engagement movement. 36 years later that aircraft is set to be retired and was last flown by that baby born on the other side of the world in Oregon over three decades ago.
That baby was me, Courtney Zehr, and it is a real privilege to be the last Helio pilot serving the people here. These last several months I have been talking to the local people in the villages about the Helio aircraft. Many of them tell about how it was the first airplane they ever saw, or how they have grand memories of riding in it when they were kids. Many times they tell me about some of the pilots that use to fly here and what an impression they made on them. In one high mountain airstrip the Helio would have to circle several times as it climbed to get enough altitude to clear the mountain passes. While this was a laborious task for the Helio and pilot at such a high altitude, the villagers loved to listen to the plane circle as the engine noise would echo through the valley. They described it as beautiful music and they could tell the specific Helio airplane by the sound of its engine. They determined that one plane in particular had the best “voice”. Today our much more efficient Pilatus Porters that carry twice the payload can climb to altitude with out circling, clear the pass and are gone but with no music for the villagers to enjoy. And that’s kind of what it feels like as the last Helio retires. The new aircraft are better in almost every way and will serve the people well for years to come. But there is a music about the Helio that will be missed, not just its distinct noise of its engine but a sense of what the aircraft has been used for and what it has helped accomplish for the Kingdom. The Helio has served well!