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Podcast | 19 Minutes

Stories From a Missionary Bush Pilot | Paul Hadfield

Marlin Detweiler Written by Marlin Detweiler
Stories From a Missionary Bush Pilot | Paul Hadfield

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Paul Hadfield joins us today to talk about his days as a Bush pilot in Alaska and what being a part of Veritas Scholars Academy looked like for his family while they served as missionaries in those remote Northern communities. Plus, learn how you can get academic credit at VSA when your student completes their pilot license while in high school!

Episode Transcription

Note: This transcription may vary from the words used in the original episode for better readability.

Marlin Detweiler:

Hello again. I'm Marlin Detwiler, and you've joined us for another episode of Veritas Vox, the voice of classical Christian Education. Today, we have with us a parent of former students of ours and dear friend Paul Hadfield. Paul, welcome!

Paul Hadfield:

Thank you very much. It's great to be here.

Marlin Detweiler:

Paul has been a dear friend for quite a while and has an interesting career background. That is the reason we thought he'd be good and you all would enjoy hearing about him. Paul, tell us a little bit about yourself personally, your growing up, family, educational background and career.

Paul Hadfield:

Well, I grew up in southeast Pennsylvania in a Christian family. I was very blessed that I've really not known a day without Christ in my life. People call that a boring testimony. I consider that to be a blessing.

Marlin Detweiler:

I do, too.

Paul Hadfield:

My parents are actually still with us on the earth and doing well. But I grew up in a Christian home, went to public high school. I went to public university here in Pennsylvania. And career wise, well, I'll take a step back. I'll never forget my first flight was with a relative. He was in the Coast Guard.

Marlin Detweiler:

Well, people don't know yet that you're connected to aviation, so I don't want you to assume something that they haven't yet heard.

Paul Hadfield:

Okay, well, we can go back to that. But I then started a career as a public school teacher, and I taught 12 years in the public school and then felt the call of the Lord to go into aviation. And for a while, I was just saving up money to get my pilot's license. I always wanted to fly. And I'll take a little step back to in my elementary school years, my parents spent a year in Africa.

We spent a year there covering for a family that was on furlough. My parents were both teachers and they covered at a school to take their classes so that the folks had a respite or a sabbatical. So time and small airplanes flying around remote places, but also a touch of missions. So going back now off the rabbit trail, after 12 years of teaching public school, there was a lot of stuff that went on, and God was calling me out of that. We'll just put it that way.

And so I went to Moody Bible Institute in Spokane, Washington, where their aviation school had just moved to. I resigned from my position. My family moved from Pennsylvania all the way down to Washington State. We had to look on a map where Spokane was at first. It's not in Seattle like most people think.

Marlin Detweiler:

It's very different!

Paul Hadfield:

It’s practically in Idaho. So I spent four years in school at Moody, and became an aircraft mechanic and a commercial pilot. There, and their goal is to train missionary pilots. And so from there, we worked on the mission field. And then we were looking at various fields to serve in, and that is how we ended up moving to Alaska after that.

Marlin Detweiler:

So you ended up moving. Did you move originally to the Kenai Peninsula? Is that where you moved when you first went there?

Paul Hadfield:

Yes, we moved to the Kenai Peninsula from Spokane, Washington, in 2010.

Marlin Detweiler:

And you were there as a pilot working for a bush pilot ministry called Arctic Barnabas for ten years. And the whole idea of being a Bush pilot is something that I think people have ideas about. But it was the reason I wanted to have you talk, because while you're in the Kenai Peninsula living there, you have children in our program and we've gotten to know each other.

I think our first introduction was probably when you were in Spokane. I don't remember if we met before then or not, but we certainly got to know you then. But as a pilot in the Kenai Peninsula, flying around Alaska, you’re experiencing things that are very different than most people know or understand about aviation. Tell us first, I guess, maybe about the ministry Arctic Barnabas What does it do? How does it serve in the mission field?

Paul Hadfield:

Well, let me read something off the website. It says Pastors and missionaries without a support system in place are struggling with the difficulties of ministry in remote Alaska. It's the vision of Arctic Barnabas that remote Alaska has a thriving gospel presence. People don't completely understand. There's a lot of Alaska shows and they don't understand how big Alaska really is and how remote most of it is.

And, you know, being a missionary, we had to share in churches. So some of the statistics you can fit 14 Pennsylvanias inside of Alaska and they have like 1% of the roads in Alaska that Pennsylvania has. So you cannot get anywhere unless you fly or wait until everything freezes and hope that your snowmobile doesn't break down on the way somewhere and you have enough gas.

So it is extremely remote. And so flying is an essential service up there. And there are villages all over the state. A lot of them are along rivers. So a lot of people use rivers for transportation and also for sustenance, fish and whatnot. But there's villages from 25 people up and there's some hub villages, bigger ones of a couple thousand, but you can't get there unless you fly.

And so there are families that are called to serve in those villages as either pastor families, missionary families, or church planters. Some of them are teaching in the schools just to have kind of a tent maker type ministry. And so it's extremely remote, and it's very isolating. And you can imagine I just checked my friend who lives up in the interior, it's 40 below at his house this morning. That's below zero. That's when propane freezes. So you have if you were running propane to heat your house, which they don't, but it's frozen now. It will not work. So it's cold, and we wouldn't fly in those temperatures. That's a little too cold. But you think about the ice.

Marlin Detweiler:

I mean, a typical airplane, doesn’t like that temperature. Let alone a propeller plane.

Paul Hadfield:

The typical human doesn't like that temperature either.

Marlin Detweiler:

So that's true!

Paul Hadfield:

So anyways, it's cold, it's remote, and there's a lot of isolation and loneliness that sets in with families and the children. And along with that, there's a lot of abuse in the villages, there is a lot of alcohol abuse, there is sexual abuse, and so families can't let their children just go out and play all the time because there are safety concerns.

And so, having the opportunity to interact with others is not always easy. You know, they're always doing it with their families. And as the kids get older, it's better. But we as Arctic Barnabas try to come alongside the families to encourage them, almost like a member care organization for multiple organizations, if they could agree with our very generic statement of faith and we would we would serve them.

And we did lots of different things. I split a lot of people's firewood. We would just go out and spend time, and talk. I drank a lot of coffee, you know, just delivering a lot of food, just spending time with families. And that's that's what we did, is just to be there and be an encouragement, a listening ear to talk about the struggles and be able to pray for them.

And then, you know, when somebody would mention something, like, “Hey, you know, well, we need to travel and, you know, we heard a couple of things that they have a challenge of just getting packed up and ready to go…” So it was actually my wife said, “You know, we want to go out and just help them,” because in the winter, you know, they have a summer freezer and a winter freezer. The summer freezer is inside, typically. The winter freezer is outside and you don't turn it on, you know, but you need to keep the food inside a container. So and so it was just simple things like moving the contents of a chest freezer or watching the kids while they're packing. They had five little kids. And so we just flew out and did that and just helped.And so that's a lot of the practical stuff that we would do, but we had to fly.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, well, I remember you were very gracious. I think it was 2017 or 2018 where I had a reason to come to Anchorage for business. And so I reached out to you and asked if I could come a little early and just spend time with you and learn about what you were doing. And the Kenai Peninsula is a relatively easy flight from the Anchorage airport.

So you came in, I believe, a four-seater airplane and picked me up. We took off on a grass field, flew and got a chance to see, what's the big mountain called now? It's not Mt. McKinley anymore. It's been renamed.

Paul Hadfield:

Well, it depends on who you ask!

Marlin Detweiler:

Okay. I'm not trying to be political on this one, but anyway, you flew me near the mountain. We got a chance to see it, and it was unbelievable. And then you were very gracious to show me around and introduced me to friends and politicians. My first experience in Alaska. But what was most impressive was just to hear the stories of what you were doing and really appreciate what it really means to be a missionary Bush pilot and the kinds of services that you were talking about providing were truly remarkable.

And we actually have another Bush pilot that's been flying. I think they're still there. You're obviously not on the mission field anymore, but it is really been fun to be able to serve you all with a curriculum and live classes in remote locations like that. What are some of your fondest memories as a bush pilot? And then I'm going to ask you this – it’s a different question than the one I mentioned.

I'd like to hear maybe a story or two of some of the most harrowing experiences, because as a pilot, I know that flying in Alaska is one of the most dangerous places that people fly. And so I'm sure you've got some stories there, too.

Paul Hadfield:

Well, yeah, I do have some stories. And I'll take your first question first: What are some of the most enjoyable experiences? Because I was one of the few pilots in our organization, I got to see pretty much everybody that we served because I was the driver. And so I got to know a lot of people all over the state.

And it's very different in different parts of the state, whether you go to southeast Alaska or sorry, more southwest up in the northwest, you know, up in the interior where it's a very different culture and there's multiple different people groups. And so it's very interesting, the missionaries, the pastors, a lot of the struggles were the same, but a different place. And so just making dear friendships and I mean, these folks I call my lifetime friends.

And so that, to me was enjoyable. And a lot of times pulling someone out of the village, I didn't get as much time to talk to them because they were exhausted and they usually slept all the way home. And that means that I was keeping it nice so that they could sleep. Sometimes the weather did not allow that, but, you know, we tried to make them as comfortable as possible, but knowing that they're all relaxed enough to fall asleep because they were exhausted, that felt good, too.

Harrowing experiences. I've had a couple of those. The one I remember I had dropped a family off in the interior about a two-hour flight from Kenai. It was about 300 miles directly northwest, and I was coming home. But I'll never forget it was on the 4th of July.

Marlin Detweiler:

Was Fairbanks where you were headed?

Paul Hadfield:

No, it was kind of in the area towards Nome. North out northwest. So I'm coming across the Alaska range, and it was summer is July 4th, and you know, summer just doesn't really get dark. So the hardest thing to do is just be disciplined to go to bed when it's not even dark, and the sun's not even close to setting.

Marlin Detweiler:

Those are things that we just don't even understand here in the lower 48.

Paul Hadfield:

A little a little rabbit trail. There were days we'd be, you know, you've been to our house there. We're working out in the yard doing a couple of things. You know, preparing for winter because we always talk. There were two seasons, winter and getting ready for winter. And so we're splitting firewood and getting stuff ready. And I realized I'm kind of hungry, and I look at my watch is 10:30 at night. We hadn’t eaten. Everybody's distracted doing stuff. So we thought, well, maybe we ought to stop to eat. So stuff like that was different. But we did enjoy it!

But that day on the 4th of July, I just coming back from this village, and it was kind of a thunderstormy day in Alaska. By Alaska standards. It's very different than down here.

The thunderstorms they get are how most of the fires start in Alaska — by lightning strikes. But they're not like the huge lines of thunderstorms that we have coming across the country. There's really never a tornado associated with it, but there's a lot of turbulence, and one day I'm just trying to scoot between stuff. And I got over the Alaska range.

I was probably about 50 miles from home. And I remember I was 17,000 feet. And the plane I was flying at the time was not pressurized. So I have like in the hospital, I have an oxygen cannula on. I'm breathing oxygen, and I'm by myself, and I'm glad for that. And I got into some turbulence and some icing that was so severe that I actually had the thought, “I hope my family can do okay without me.” And it was violent. And I remember looking at my altimeter. I was at 17,000, and it felt like a blink of an eye, and I was at 20,000. I was glad I went up, not down, but there was plenty of room between me in the mountain range. But still, it was incredible. The vertical speed. I don't know how fast it was.

Marlin Detweiler:

I had to be thousands of feet per minute.

Paul Hadfield:

It was incredible how fast I went up. So then I could not get a hold of anybody on the radio because I'm picking up ice on the airplane. You've had that happen. But it's extremely loud. I'm getting an incredible amount of ice, and I'm flying a twin-engine at the time. So I have an engine on each wing, and then in the middle of all of that, one of my engines started to have what I call an RPM deviation, which means, looking back on it, I think it was actually ice on the intake, so it wasn't getting enough air.

And as I was getting ready to pull a lever because there's always redundancies in aircraft, and so there's a lever I can pull to get air from a different location that's not picking up ice. All of a sudden I'm out of it, and it's beautiful, and I'm looking at home in front of me, and I'm sitting there going, “Thank you, Lord!”

And I'm just praising the Lord that I'm out of that, and I'm still in the air, and I'm not upside down. And I'm actually, as we like to say, I have the dirty side down in the pointy end forward. They say when the fan stops running, the pilot gets really hot. So anyways, then I finally got a hold of air traffic control, and they knew me.

I flew this route all the time. It's a small community. They know me, they know my airplane, and they said, “Hey, do you need anything?” And I told them over the radio, I am going to need a minute. And he laughed over the radio. He said, “Okay, you got it.” And then I just proceeded home. And those were those days when my wife would say, “How is your day?” And I’d say, “It was good.” And that's all we’d talk about it. We told the story later, but years later. But, you know, those are things that some people don't need to hear about.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, it is. It is truly amazing. A friend of mine describes flying as hours and hours of sheer boredom, sometimes punctuated by moments of sheer terror. And we have a friend who’s not a pilot, but he has flown a lot in the right seat with pilot friends of his. And it is amazing the emotions and the things that you go through in times like that.

And I just can't imagine ten years of flying in Alaska and some of the stories, that's just one of the stories I've heard you tell. But how remarkable it is, a wonderful place for a young man to train to be a pilot. You're now flying commercially for a charter service, Aerotech, I see it on your name there. I know the business well.

It's the company with whom I trained to become a pilot. But you're in the charter side of things, and it is wonderful to have a person like you flying. Well, if I were to be a passenger, I'd know you're training has gotten you through a whole lot worse than what you're likely to see in this up in the northeast part of the country.

Paul Hadfield:

Yeah, it's different here. Weather is definitely different. So we have different challenges. One nice thing here is that there's a lot of airports. If we need to go somewhere, there are lots of options. In Alaska, there just aren't.

So taking a step back to Veritas and how you helped us. The online school was a blessing for our family. My kids didn't always think so because we're 4 hours different in time zones. So we promised we would not make them start class before 7 a.m., but we had to choose our classes based upon that. I was not going to kill them over that because, you know, they had they get up and go to class at 7 a.m. It's not going to be light for four more hours.

Marlin Detweiler:

When daylight's a part of the factor, it can be very, very difficult. We do have the Chinese families and Australian families that sometimes are taking classes at two in the morning and things like that, but at least they know what they're getting into there. The idea of 7am and not having daylight to start is no fun, but that's great.

So you have these memories. Where is Arctic Barnabas today? Are they continuing the same? Have they expanded some? Where are they? What are they looking for? We've had I don't know if any women, but we've had young men become commercial pilots, having graduated from our online school. But it has been fun.

There have been occasions where they've come to End of Year Gathering and I've taken them flying, and it's kind of built a connection. But we've had pilots come out of it, and I know that there have been occasions where we've had students go get their private pilots certificate while a student, and we give academic credit for that.

So I want to let people know that that's a possibility. If you're in the Diploma Program, I will give you credit if you get the certificate while you're in school with us.

What can you tell us about Arctic Barnabas today?

Paul Hadfield:

Yeah, they're doing very well. I don't know exactly how many families they are, but and I'll take a step back. They're not an actual flying ministry. They're a ministry that has to do flying to accomplish their mission. And so that's why they fly. And then they take the gentleman that took my spot. His name is Jason. He's doing a great job. And we still talk quite often just consulting different things back and forth. But they're doing really well. They do offer internships. They love having interns, and so that would be a possibility as well.

The website is https://arcticbarnabas.org/ so that stuff is listed on there. There are videos of different things that we do hold retreats. They're always looking for volunteers and help and it's a and you know, people can run through the mission like do the financial part through the mission. And especially if someone's interested in aviation, then they will add that component in and take them out, even if they're a pilot, the guy who is the aviation manager or instructor, he can even log some Alaska time kind of thing and get a little taste of what it's like up there.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, well it is definitely a different world. When I was there it was summertime and it was warm. I remember it because it was just past peak season for salmon fishing and I wanted to go salmon fishing. You were kind enough to oblige, but you warned me that we were at the end of the season and that was true. We didn't catch much, but it was fun.

Paul Hadfield:

Some were rotten salmon!

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, they were. They were not healthy.

Paul Hadfield:

I don't know if the dog would eat those, to be honest.

Marlin Detweiler:

But I remember your wife had some good frozen ones, and those – ah there’s nothing like Alaskan salmon.

Well, thank you so much for joining us today and showing another view of what it's like to be connected to Veritas and be part of what we do. It's hard for us to realize that people live in places that don't have roads to get to. Truly remarkable to think about, and to serve them the way that you did was was really a wonderful thing. Thank you for your service.

Paul Hadfield:

Well, thank you. I mean, it was a pleasure. We appreciate what Veritas enabled us to do. My wife and I are both educators, but Veritas enabled us to give our kids an education that I would have had to educate myself pretty thoroughly to give them the education that you gave. And so that enabled me to do the job that I was doing.

Marlin Detweiler:

That's great!

Paul Hadfield:

That was a blessing for us.

Marlin Detweiler:

Well, thank you. Paul Hadfield, former Bush pilot with Arctic Barnabas and dear friend of Veritas, Thanks for all you do, Paul.

Paul Hadfield:

Thank you, Marlin. I'm sure we'll see each other at some point here.

Marlin Detweiler:

Very good. Folks you’ve joined us for Veritas Vox, the voice of classical Christian education. Thanks for your thanks for being here.