On September 25, 2009, the first Kodiak aircraft to serve in Papua New Guinea touched down in Aiyura Valley. On August 17, 2018, this Kodiak became the first of its kind in the world to complete 5,000 hours of flying. Below is the story of one very special flight made during its first year in PNG.
Seven thousand speakers of the Yopno language live in the rugged Finisterre Mountains in a remote corner of Morobe province in Papua New Guinea. For fifteen years the Yopno people worked to build a runway, primarily to bring the Word of God into their community. The name Yopno means “we put down,” describing a people who chose to put down weapons, fighting, and anger, replacing them with the Word. They call the runway “Gen Tamo,” which means “Place of the Word.”
Though most of the Yopno people live at around seven thousand feet elevation, nearby mountain peaks jut up to over twelve thousand. In these steep mountains without roads, people rely on aircraft for their connection to the outside world. When small planes land on this airstrip, they bring food, garden tools, and other supplies. They also carry out the sick and injured when they need medical help beyond what is available in the village. Sometimes they carry cash crops to be sold in other areas.
The Kodiak aircraft is ideally suited for this work. Its climb performance allows it to quickly and safely navigate over the rugged mountains. The Kodiak’s advanced glass panel avionics allow the pilot to “see” the nearby terrain even when clouds obscure the mountain peaks. Large tires and high ground clearance ease the landing on rough and unpaved airstrips.
As pilot Dave Barton approached the Gen Tamo airstrip in August 2010, he could see hundreds of people lining each side of the runway. When he stopped the plane at the top of the slope, a group of men in traditional dress began singing and dancing. He was warmly welcomed with a pig tusk necklace, smiling faces, and strong handshakes.
Next began the joyful task of unloading the cases of translated Scriptures. The people formed a chain, unloading the boxes and then carrying them up the mountainside to the grandstand for the dedication ceremony, the climax of which would be opening the boxes and revealing the much-anticipated New Testament to the Yopno people.
The Kodiak is not just a plane; it’s an aircraft designed and built for landing on rough, hand-built runways, with a short distance for take-off and landing. It’s a special servant, sent to deliver God’s life-changing Word to the people of Papua New Guinea.