First JAARS plane finds final landing strip at Aviation Museum
by Alexa Massau
But on Oct. 13, the men and women of the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service, or JAARS, saw a beloved family member retire, as their first Helio Courier plane settled into its permanent home at the Carolinas Aviation Museum near Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
The aircraft, affectionately known as Ol’ No. 1, had been a part of the missionary organization since the early 1970.
“People across the country recognize Ol’ No. 1, due to the public relations outreach program, ” former JAARS pilot Mike Mower said. Mower flew for JAARS for more than 20 years while working in the Philippines and now offers education programs to people across the nation.
After a few years, Mower said, when air traffic controllers found out there was a Helio Courier in flight they would specifically ask if it was Ol’ No. 1. The plane was the first Helio Courier model produced. Donated to JAARS in the early 1970s, the organization used the plane for training, technical evaluation of pilots and, later, in public relations outreach campaigns at air shows across the country, including the largest (and famous) Oshkosh air show in Minnesota.
JAARS is a nonprofit, located in Waxhaw, that supports Bible translation services across the globe. Airborne delivery gave JAARS the ability to spread its mission as quickly as Ol’ No. 1 could fly, which is 140 mph.
Dave Witmer, JAARS senior vice president of marketing and communications, explained the plane’s ability to take off and land on short airstrips made it popular for overseas missions.
Pilots used a STOL Kit, which are solid rocket motors and braking parachutes that attach to the side of the plane, to add power to short takeoffs and additional braking ability on short landings.
Overseas conditions and infrastructure are not optimal for long landing strips, but villagers could easily clear enough land for the JAARS plane in a short time.
If needed, the plane can take off or land with only 100 feet, according to Witmer.
The helio courier also can fly backward, something the plane demonstrated at air shows, according to John Scott, facilities manager at Carolinas Aviation Museum. The plane does this after mechanics reverse the spin of the propellers and it actually flies backward, like a car would back up. The plane can do this because of its ability to fly at a low speed, as low as 30 mph in complete control.
If it was a windy day and the pilot flew the Helio Courier at 40 mph, a wind of 45 mph would push the plane in reverse.
Production of this type of aircraft stopped years ago, and JAARS eventually couldn’t afford the maintenance costs on the Helio Courier. Parts became scarce and the cost of aviation gasoline skyrocketed, due to its scarcity. Most planes have switched to jet fuel because it’s widely used and available around the world.
Hundreds of visitors can visit Ol’ No. 1 in its new museum home, 4672 First Flight Drive in Charlotte, where it continues to spread the mission of JAARS.
See a picture of the Helio Courier at www.unioncountyweekly.com.