Editor’s note: While MAF aircraft land on hundreds of airstrips around the world, each airstrip has a unique story. This is the story of the Long Metun airstrip in east Kalimantan and was written in 1994 by former MAF pilot Dan Lenz. It chronicles the way that one determined village found just the right spot for an airstrip (and you can see an MAF plane landing on the strip here).
Several months ago, we received an enthusiastic invitation from a village that had counted on the “call-MAF-after-we-are-finished” method for building an airstrip. Wow, were they in for a shock! A fellow pilot and I cruised over there one afternoon to take a look. At altitude, things seemed okay. However, as we progressed lower and lower, “red flags” began popping up everywhere. It was a thousand feet in length, perfectly flat, landlocked on either side by a winding river, and at the bottom of a basin surrounded by 7,000-foot mountains. Had the strip been at sea level, perhaps it might have offered a glimmer of hope. Perhaps. But at 4,000 feet? Not a chance.
That’s why when we heard Long Metun was interested in building an airstrip and wanted us to take a look before they began building anything, an inland survey trip was scheduled without delay. Jonathan Raney and I proceeded to fly over Long Metun together in hopes of locating an ideal location from the air. The field they had slashed and burned failed to ignite any emotion other than pessimism. While plenty long, surrounding terrain pinched it into an arc, and it appeared to have significant upslope in both directions (concave-ish). Each of the other plateaus and flatlands were consecutively ruled out due to takeoff obstructions that would make departing with a load of any kind nearly impossible. The final possibility lay quite close to the village; however, it possessed significant slope resembling a typical tobogganing hill or water slide, and airborne measuring seemed to indicate “too short.” It was our last possibility, a wild card in a hand of losers. We held our breath and flew back to Data Dian to then make the canoe trip upstream to Long Metun.
Upon arriving in Long Metun the following morning, the villagers led us to the burned-out field. A thirty-second scan led to an almost immediate veto. Modifying numerous changes in slope would significantly burden a bulldozer and would create a perfect nightmare for a man with nothing but a hoe. Next.
Locating the toboggan-run hill from the ground posed a greater difficulty than either of us anticipated; and even when we finally laid eyes on it, neither of us was absolutely sure that was it. Six- to ten-foot ferns easily bowed to the sickle as we hacked a trail down the middle. A rough measurement of 350 meters brought us great relief. That length combined with considerable slope that was as yet impossible to calculate (though it didn’t seem too excessive), began to make this wild card look more and more like an ace. At the top we bowed our heads and by faith claimed that hill for the work of the Lord.
The village leaders mobilized the entire village Saturday morning and cleared the hill by noon. As Jonathan and I laid down our machetes and gazed at the parcel before us that would become MAF’s newest airstrip, we shook our heads in utter amazement: God seemed to have formed this hill with an airplane in mind — constant but smooth slope changes from top to bottom, complete with a flat turnaround/parking spot large enough for at least two aircraft side by side. … And all the villagers had to do was clear off the moss, smooth out the berms and put up a windsock!