Thursday, March 3, 2016

2016 Year In Aviation Service: Missionary Pilot Teams With Midwest Aviation Community for New Project

By Carmelo Turdo
The Aero Experience continues our 2016 Year in Aviation Service series with a story about a man whose aviation service spans several continents and directly involves Midwest Aviation in an ambitious new project.  The man is Jacek "Jack" Rejman, whose story begins with his life behind the "Iron Curtain" in Cold War Poland and reaches across Europe to the U.S. and to east Africa.  His journey through aviation service has taken him to St. Louis-based Wings of Hope, where he is preparing to take a newly-refurbished aircraft for his newest humanitarian aviation project in the east African country of Tanzania. 

The aircraft, a twin engine PA-31-310 Piper Navajo, will serve as an advanced life support flying ambulance for the new initiative, called Arusha Medevac, named for the city of Arusha, in northern Tanzania where the service will be based.  The two engines and interior space make it suitable to carry medical equipment and medical staff and also for flying at night (night flying is not permitted with single-engine aircraft).  The aircraft has been in a state of disassembly and repair for about a year, and it will be ready for the ferry flight to Tanzania this spring.  Additional aircraft will be added as funds and staffing allow.  Medical flights, including those for emergencies and regular clinical visits to outlying villages, are critical to the survival and development of the society. 

Jacek Rejman (L) with Steve Long, Wings of Hope Director of Hangar Operations 

Piper Navajo cockpit undergoes updates

Piper Navajo engine inspection continues

A&P Mechanic Barry Garen is assigned to the Piper Navajo  



Jacek Rejman's interest in aviation began at an early age.  "I've always wanted to be in aviation," he told The Aero Experience.  There were few opportunities for civil aviation in his home town of Zywiec, in south central Poland, but he did learn to fly gliders at the local aero club (where a mountain gliding school still serves surrounding communities).  His early adult life was dedicated to training to become a Catholic priest and Divine Word Missionary.  The Catholic Church was a cultural unifying force for the Polish people, especially during the decades of Soviet influence.  "To be Polish was to be Catholic," he reflected, emphasizing the special influence of the Church and its eventual role in the successful transition of Poland to a truly independent constitutional republic.
Rejman was in Tanzania in 2001 for Catholic missionary work, where his love of aviation was again rekindled.  There he met Father Pat Patton of the Flying Medical Service, who taught him to fly and helped him receive his U.S. Private Pilot Certificate in Iowa.  He became a member of National Association of Priest Pilots, and flew for Flying Medical Service for 8 years from Arusha, Tanzania.  He flew to a network of 30 airfields serving three main hospitals (Ngorongoro, Serengeti, Simanjiro) twice per month, carrying a doctor and RN (pilots are also paramedics) to provide routine  clinical medical services and emergency evacuation flights for critically ill or injured residents.  
“It was very tiring and very rewarding,” Rejman said.  Flying into bush airstrips required excellent flying skills and physical stamina.  Terrain can reach over 14,000 feet, with some airfields at 4,000-7,000 feet elevation.  For example, Ngorongoro is at a 7,500 feet elevation, with an upslope runway and one approach direction.  The two Cessna 206 aircraft, each powered by a single Continental 520 300hp engine, used on these routes are tough and reliable.  Missionary work there emphasizes contrasts: “Good is much better and bad is much worse.”  Serving people in such desperate need and in such diverse cultural communities is more rewarding but more difficult as well.  There are over 150 ethnic tribal groups in local communities to serve.  Though Swahili is the national language, communication is often made through local tribal languages and gestures.   

 We return to Jacek Rejman's current project - the birth of Arusha MedEvac and the preparation of the first Piper Navajo aircraft at St. Louis-based Wings of Hope.  The aircraft is still undergoing significant repair and modifications for the new mission.  The aircraft will meet U.S. FAA and also Tanzanian government aviation regulations, which diverge in some areas due to the Tanzanian reliance on the British standards for engines and avionics.  A reliable supply of avgas fuel is available, and maintenance facilities for larger aircraft are available in Nairobi, Kenya and through Wings of Hope.  Financial support is coming through fundraising activities, fee for services and insurance coverage purchased by tourists.  A staff is being assembled, including fellow pilot Per Waller, a mechanic, an administrator, and a dispatcher.            

Other very important members of the current and future service team for Jacek Rejman in Arusha are his Wife, Sarah, and their three daughters.  Sarah Rejman, an Occupational Therapist, works at Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre, a significant medical facility that provides general medical and emergency as well as specialty services in orthopedics needed to treat congenital deformities and burn injuries common to the local communities.  She was instrumental in the founding of Plaster House, a new rehabilitation facility for the recovery of children following orthopedic and plastic surgery.  Up to 100 children stay at the facility and receive medical care, therapy, food and education.  The Video below illustrates the great work performed there:


The work on the aircraft will continue for several more months at Wings of Hope, and the mission of Jacek and Sarah Rejman will continue in Arusha, Tanzania.  The Aero Experience thanks Jacek Rejman and Wings of Hope for sharing this story and for their hospitality during our visit.  We encourage our audience to support the aviation missionary groups and medical facilities mentioned above so they can continue their life-saving service to mankind.  Also, check back for future updates on Arusha MedEvac and other Year In Aviation Service stories posted in the near future.  

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