Preparing People and Planes for Worldwide Missionary Service: The History of MMS Aviation

Note: A large majority of this post was copied directly from MMS Aviation’s “Friend Raising Handbook.”


Nowadays it seems most people want to be lawyers, politicians, engineers, or (insert any other white collar job). There’s nothing wrong with that except the world also needs mechanics, plumbers, and construction workers. A civilization needs infrastructure (roads, bridges, airports, modern construction methods) to provide a framework for society to function. If you need to go to the Emergency Room, you hop in your car and drive on a road and over several rivers to get to the hospital. If you need to turn on lights, you just flip the switch and it happens! But it doesn’t happen magically. Infrastructure makes it possible. Roads, bridges, electricity, refrigeration, sewers, airports, etc are the skeleton on which our society is built. Who keeps those things working as they should? Skilled laborers.

Even in the secular world there is a great need for skilled laborers today. But the shortage is even more painful on the mission field.

This was true several decades ago as well and it’s actually the reason MMS Aviation came into existence.

The Idea

James W. (Jim) Miller served with Wycliffe Bible Translators technical support arm, JAARS, in Ecuador. He had maintained Helio Couriers at the jungle center as well as the DC-3 in Quito. In the early 1970’s, after some time as the aviation shop supervisor at JAARS’ international headquarters in Waxhaw, North Carolina, Jim directed the aircraft mechanic orientation and recurrent training program. During this time Jim proposed to the JAARS Administration that an aircraft mechanic apprenticeship be established at the Waxhaw facility. The JAARS Administration decided not to establish a mechanic training program as Jim proposed.

Helio Courier

The decision by the JAARS Administration allowed Jim to look outside the organization of which he was part. This would ultimately serve the mission aviation community in a greater way than would have been possible had it been established as a JAARS program.

Missionary Maintenance Services

In choosing the name, Missionary Maintenance Services, Jim planned for training maintenance personnel in areas other than aviation. Automotive diesel, physical plant, and construction skills training were also a part of the vision of preparing people for missionary service. However, aviation is the only maintenance training that has been developed.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provides a means of qualifying for a mechanic certificate through accumulated aircraft maintenance experience: ref. 14 CFR Part 65.77(b). By performing duties appropriate to both the airframe and powerplant ratings under supervision of a certified mechanic, a person can qualify in 30 months to take the FAA’s mechanic exams. This method was chosen instead of an approved curriculum school for the flexibility it allows in working on mission operated aircraft.

This is one reason I chose MMS Aviation. They use a hands-on oriented approach to build real world experience rather than learning a curriculum in a classroom. I learn better that way and I feel my education will be more applicable on the field.

Shipping a smaller airplane inside a bigger airplane!

Camp of the Hills

Missionary Maintenance Services began as a division of Camp of the Hills in August, 1975. A friend of Jim, Ralph Hill, was the founder and director of the camping ministry in Procious, West Virginia. Camp of the Hills provided the organizational umbrella for Jim and his wife, Marvine, as the MMS program began.

MMS: The Organization

Missionary Maintenance Services was incorporated in the state of Ohio on June 24, 1977. Petition for Federal tax exempt status under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3) was soon filed and granted March 8, 1978.

Why Coshocton, Ohio?

The short answer is Coshocton is where God put MMS. The behind-the-scenes answer involves a couple Christian businessmen in Coshocton who made a facility available in which MMS could begin. Another person offered a home near Coschocton in which the Miller family could live. These brought MMS to Coschocton; however, the training program actually began in the basement of a farm home near Newcomerstown, Ohio, seventeen miles east of Coshocton.

Two organizations which yielded key contacts for Jim Miller are the Christian Service Brigade and the CBMC (Christian Business Men). Neither organization participated in any way with the development of MMS. However, several men active in CBMC were also helpful to MMS having heard at CBMC meetings of Jim’s vision to train missionary mechanics.

The Farmhouse

In September 1975 Jim began teaching Tim Tiffner to maintain aircraft. The farm was owned by the same person in whose house the Millers lived. The farm house was build on a hillside and the basement had a garage door entrance. The basement became the first MMS shop.

A Taylorcraft BC12D was fully restored in the farmhouse shop for Grand Rapids School of Bible and Music. The plane was used to help begin the aviation training program that ultimately became the School of Missionary Aviation Technology.

The restoration of a Piper J-5 was largely done at the farmhouse but was completed at the new hangar at the Richard Downing/Coshocton County Airport.

Rapid Response Trips

Almost from the beginning MMS has sent teams of mechanics to help mission aviation programs at their locations. For example: If an airplane was stranded in Africa and could not be shipped to Ohio, MMS would send a team to Africa to fix the plane on site. This was a quite popular service because most of the travel expenses were paid by MMS and the MMS team would work long hours.

Typically an MMS staff member would lead two to four apprentice mechanics on a month-long trip to repair damaged airplanes, perform major inspections, modify or repaint aircraft, or provide extra hands when needed. Major structural repair became somewhat of a specialty for the MMS Rapid Response Teams.

Move to the Airport

In July 1977, MMS signed a lease agreement with the Coshocton County Regional Airport Authority to lease 2.77 acres on the Coshocton County airport. MMS was required to begin construction of a suitable facility within one year of the lease being signed. The initial building was an 80′ wide by 50′ deep pre-engineered steel hangar.

Shortly after moving from the farmhouse to the new hangar in 1979, a mobile home was placed alongside the hangar. It functioned as office space and provided restroom facility for MMS personnel. A 30′ by 50′ storage building was also constructed on the leased property and was completed in 1983.

Additional Staff

Dwight Jarboe still serves at MMS Aviation today as a mechanic and holds position as President Emeritus

In 1982 a JAARS Aircraft Maintenance Specialist joined the MMS staff. Dwight Jarboe worked under Jim Miller’s supervision at the JAARS hangar in Waxhaw, North Carolina in the mid ’70s. Dwight was assigned to the JAARS DC-3 program in Bolivia and was oriented to the DC-3 aircraft systems by Jim shortly before Jim took leave from JAARS to begin MMS. On a few occasions, after orientation sessions, the two men discussed what an experienced based aircraft maintenance training program would look like. It was during these discussions that Dwight caught Jim’s vision for an organization that would prepare people and planes for missions.

After the JAARS DC-3 program in Bolivia was phased out, Dwight and Rena Jarboe accepted an invitation to become part of the MMS staff. They began serving at MMS in August of 1982.

Throughout the 1980s, various apprentice mechanics who finished the training program were asked to stay for a time to serve on the MMS staff. Those who completed training programs and stayed to serve on staff were: Nate Richmond, Les and Sharon Revennaugh, Greg and Cheryl Ryle, Max and Teresa Moody, and Dennis and Mary Satterthwaite. All went on to serve with various missions except the Satterthwaites who continue to serve on the MMS staff.

1980s

Typically, through the early 1980’s, three to five mechanics in training would serve alongside three or four staff members. Office positions, including bookkeeping, were filled by wives of the hangar staff on a part-time, volunteer basis.

In December of 1983 Jim Miller resigned his position as director of MMS. The Board of Trustees installed Dwight Jarboe as acting director at that time. The board evaluated Dwight’s leadership ability and discussed whether to recruit another director. The board then appointed him as the new MMS chief executive officer.

MMS staff and apprentice mechanics stepped into the arena of current mission aviation technology through the restoration of a Helio Courier aircraft for JAARS. The plane, completed in mid-1983, was sent by JAARS to Indonesia and served there more than 25 years.

Refurbishing a former airline operated Douglas DC-3 for Missionary Flights International occupied the mid-1980s. A relatively small team of mechanics, extensive repair and modification, and some smaller projects concurrent with the DC-3 caused work on it to extend over a two-and-a-half year period. Part of the work was to convert the DC-3 from airline configuration back to its original by installing a cargo door and a floor in the aft fuselage.

Missionary Flights International’s DC-3 at MMS Aviation, mid-1980’s

Office Addition to Building

The Coshocton County Regional Airport Authority had granted MMS a waiver of their requirement that temporary structures not be used for operations on the airport. In spite of this waiver the mobile home “office building” needed to be replaced by a permanent building. In 1986 plans were drawn for a 4000 square foot, two story addition to the existing hangar which would provide office space and additional shop area as well.

Construction began in 1987. Donated labor and material provided at cost by some vendors allowed the addition to be built for only $19.50 per square foot. Even though a line of credit was arranged for at a local bank, the construction and furnishing of the addition was completely debt free! MMS began using the new addition in 1988. This expansion of the facility provided a 500 square foot parts room and a 700 square foot sheet metal shop as well as offices, restrooms, conference room, and a lunch room.

MMS office addition, 1987

1990s

On December 3, 1990, MMS was approved by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service as a training program for which student visas could be issued. Ultimately, apprentice mechanics from Philippines, Zimbabwe, Canada, Norway, Germany, Netherlands, South Korea, United Kingdom, and Mongolia would come to MMS on student visas. Shorter training arrangements were made with organizations from Kenya, Madagascar, and South Africa.

In 1991, Dwight Jarboe became an FAA Designated Mechanic Examiner and MMS became an FAA Certified Repair Station in January 1993. The Repair Station held limited airframe and powerplant ratings.

During the ’90s Dale and Deborah Coates joined the MMS staff after completing the apprenticeship program and Dale’s obtaining his FAA Mechanic Certificate. Dale later earned his FAA Inspection Authorization. During our evaluation week at MMS Aviation in November of 2017, we stayed at the Coate’s house and even babysat their Labradoodles while they were gone!

Even though in 1998 there were fourteen apprentice mechanics, the ’90s usually saw eight mechanics in training and five hangar staff. The addition of Human Resources Director, Keith Dodson, in 1997 provided a foundation for growth as people were, and still are, recruited and shepherded through the support raising process. Keith holds a special place in our heart because, even though he’s not with MMS anymore, he is currently our support coach and really does a great job at keeping us accountable to how much effort we really put into the process.

With regard to shop organization, in the late ’90s supervision was changed from a traditional management structure to a team leader system. In the new structure each hangar staff became a Team Leader and apprentice mechanics were evenly divided among the teams. Team members would rotate to another team on six month intervals. This more evenly distributed the supervisory workload among hangar staff and reduced potential burnout of key management personnel.

In the technical arena things were improving as well. A great volume of high performance Cessna single engine planes were repaired, modified, and prepared for mission field service. The MMS engine shop would typically overhaul six engines a year. Another DC-3 was refurbished in the late 1990s.

Before the end of the decade, key hangar staff had been sent to Pratt & Whitney Canada factory schools on the the PT6 engines. A concerted effort to provide turbo-prop experience for MMS personnel was made. Agreements for labor sharing with operators of Cessna Caravans and Beechcraft King Airs who were sympathetic to MMS goals met with limited success. The logistics of getting a team of volunteer mechanics to the operator’s maintenance facility in a timely manner was the biggest obstacle. However, MMS leadership remained committed to providing turbine aircraft experience in its training program.

Another Facility Expansion

By the late 1990s, MMS shops were crowded with planes being repaired, tool boxes, and mechanics. Surveys of anticipated personnel needs of mission aviation programs showed a shortage of mechanics being trained. It was clear that MMS needed more capacity.

Plans were drawn to add 5,600 square feet of shop space to the facility. This addition would include an engine test cell, let the sheet metal shop move to the main hangar, enlarge the Team Leader’s office, and allow the former sheet metal area to become a lunch room. Construction began in late 1998, with dedication of the completed addition in June 2000. Thanks to foundation grants, donated labor, and many small contributions, this $220,000 project was entirely paid for by the time it was completed.

2000s

Challenges of the new decade were: recruiting new staff and apprentice mechanics and providing turbine powered aircraft maintenance experience for MMS staff and those in training. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a new challenge of rapidly rising liability insurance premiums appeared.

In the spring of 2002, an agreement was made with Mission Aviation Fellowship of the United Kingdom (MAF-UK) to train mechanics. Applicants would be screened in all non-technical areas by MAF-UK with MMS providing the technical evaluation. Those accepted would be supported by MAF-UK scholarships through their training. As of the beginning of 2007, six apprentice mechanics had come to MMS through MAF-UK.

Rapid Response Trips became a larger part of the MMS training program in this decade. Many of the teams who were away from MMS facility worked on turbo-prop powered airplanes, and gained valuable turbine experience.

  • In 2002, Ian Hengst joined the staff coming to us from Missionary Flights International after fourteen years of service as a pilot/mechanic. Ian returned to MFI in 2011.
  • Dave Shelley joined the staff in 2005 to oversee facilities management and safety in order to free the team leaders to focus on aircraft projects and apprentices.
  • Chuck Egbert and Mike Dunkley came onboard as staff in 2006. Chuck is an MMS grad (1998) who served as a pilot/mechanic in both Alaska and South Africa. Mike served as a maintenance specialist with MAF in Africa for many years, and then as a maintenance instructor at Moody Aviation in Tennesse for nine years, before joining MMS.
  • The construction of Hangar “C” was completed in December of 2006 and added an additional 8,800 square feet of hangar capacity.
  • Bob Schwartz and Scott Grote came onboard in 2007. Bob received his A&P from MMS in 2006 and brings over twenty years of missionary experience to the staff. Scott completed his training at MMS in 2005.
  • Josh Adelsberger and Jim Newman joined MMS as training staff in 2009. Josh completed four years of advanced training at MMS. Jim served in Bolivia for nine years and is on loan to MMS from World Gospel Mission.

2010s

In 2010, MMS responded to a changing regulatory environment, changes in mission aviation, and changing apprentice expectations by implementing the current project management system, apprentice management system, and the three part apprenticeship.

The training partnership with MAF-UK matured, turbine engines continued to be an area of staff and organizational focus, and the number of apprentices began to increase after several years of numerical stability. Terry McClary joined the MMS staff after a career in commercial jet engines, while Ian Hengst left MMS, returning to service with Missionary Flights International at their Director of Maintenance.

MFI’s DC-3T at MMS Aviation’s hangar

So date, MMS has performed over 560 aircraft major repairs and modifications from over 109 different mission organizations and have sent teams overseas to repair stranded aircraft on site over 150 times. Since they do not charge missionary organizations any labor charges, they have saved the mission field millions through the years (Specifically $1.2 million in 2016 and $1.5 million in 2017).

We’re delighted, honored, and humbled to have been accepted into their pilot/apprentice program and prayerfully expecting to be fully funded and moving to Ohio in June of 2019.

As of April 1, we’re 75% of the way to our monthly support quota. We’re looking for a couple more monthly supporters that can help get us there!

Note: A large majority of this post was copied directly from MMS Aviation’s “Friend Raising Handbook.”

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