MAF Founder Stuart King Dead At 98


A founder of one the longest serving public benefit flying organizations in the world died recently but the organization he helped create will continue to operate as he envisioned. Stuart King, who founded the Mission Aviation Fellowship with Jack Hemmings on the wings of a single-engine aircraft and lots of prayers more than 70 years ago, died at the age of 98. The ex-RAF engineer was convinced that aircraft could be a vital link to remote areas of Africa and he and Hemmings flew a Miles Gemini through Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Kenya and the Congo on a six-month tour to test that hypothesis.

MAF now serves 1,400 remote locations in 26 countries in support of more than 2,000 humanitarian and missionary organizations. It’s also a highly developed aviation organization with high standards for aircraft maintenance and pilot training and fiscal management. In this regard, King received an award from the Honourable Company of Air Pilots in 2019 to add to the long list of humanitarian tributes paid to him.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

Other AVwebflash Articles


  1. Stuart King’s name appears first on the list of British MAF Flight Safety Committee members who in 1980 published the Pilot’s Reference Handbook, commonly referred to today as a General Operations Manual. The application of a GOM to “bush flying” in 1980 stands out to me as forward thinking.

    The manual begins with a section titled “Airmanship”. The title of chapter 1 is “Captaincy”. The first sentence of chapter 1 reads: “There are many occasions when an MAF pilot is very much on his own.” That paragraph goes on to say “He must be prepared to make decisions and stick by them. Sometimes there will be “NO GO” decisions and they may be unpopular with passengers. Remember that you are the Captain of your aeroplane”.

    Stuart King and his fellow writers could not have hit that nail more squarely on the head with relevance. For me, a then budding 3000 hour MAF pilot, this manual injected a sense of discipline to “bush flying” which by its very nature can be intrinsically undisciplined. I along with others who flew with MAF, particularly during those Cessna 185/dangerous remote airstrip days with no radar or GPS have Stuart King to thank for this kind of inspiration and reinforcement.

    John Kliewer

  2. When my wife and I got involved with mission aviation training in starting in 2004, the “Bible” for mission aviation safety including the standards to qualify as a mission aviation pilot came from MAF. To become a qualified mission aviator one had to not only have a PPL, Commercial/Instrument rating, plus 500 hours PIC, but also an A&P license not just to A&P minimum test standards but an intimate working knowledge of that particular airplane assigned to the candidate.

    MAF played a key role in the development of the Kodiak. MAF set the standard for much of the POH as that airplane matured. What is key in the MAF philosophy is making good decisions, and then not deviating from them. On the surface, that statement sounds almost cliche. But the MAF training regime went to great lengths to teach what it takes to make a good decision, and what a good decision really is. And once that is established, not deviate from it.

    We found out that there was basically two realistic candidate profiles. One was a younger person, who might have been exposed to humanitarian needs most often through their church or running across an interesting online exposure. These people, in most cases, had no flying experience, no experience visiting a local GA airport, never had flown in a light-plane, and in most cases, never had any inclination to fly for any reason other than on an airliner for a vacation. Several had virtually no mechanical experience as well. But they wanted to do something to relieve human suffering.

    The other was an older, licensed, experienced pilots, who wanted to make a humanitarian contribution now that their kids had grown, college fees were paid for, in several cases, were aircraft owners, responding to a call in their hearts for action. Many of these candidates had already participated in a short term mission trip of a few days or weeks. Most had mechanical experience with their airplanes, previous jobs, or other hobbies. Our candidates were making 5-10 year commitments as many MAF folks were doing likewise.

    In both cases, the candidates initial perceptions, was a faith based approach to being what they perceived and defined as glorified “bush” flying. In other words, fly against all odds, with faith that God was going to get you through no matter what. In the internet world, there has been plenty of YouTube videos of take-offs and landings in very challenging environments, that to the aviation uninitiated looks pretty hairy and exciting, making those who complete those missions as aerial pilot “gods”. Unfortunately, many of those making church presentations exploit that image during their mission aviation presentations. For those more experienced pilots, especially those who owned their own airplanes, they had illusions of their competency to get to that level of proficiency in a very short time. In both cases, it was an eye opener for what is really required to make good aviation decisions vs what they perceived was simply attaining enough stick and rudder skills to be an aerial bush cowboy with God as their co-pilot.

    MAF personnel have demonstrated the understanding and value of good aviation decisions. Most do not understand the pressures to complete the “mission”. Out side of the US in emerging and third world countries, the mission pilot is facing not only the humanitarian crisis at hand, but all of the local and regional politics that shape that particular day. The graft and greed of officials one must have to deal with to get aircraft parts, medical supplies, food, and basic needs into the filed are enormous, almost beyond comprehension. And these injustices have to be dealt with each and every day. Election day is a very dangerous day for the mission pilot. It is not a language barrier or warlike indigenous people a mission aviator has to deal with that as the primary danger. It is dealing with an over-night regime change, which can put a gun to your head the following morning, or force a hasty decision on when, where, and how to get your family out of harm’s way amid chaos.

    Stuart King and MAF set the gold standard on making good decisions, and then sticking to them no matter what the circumstances have evolved to. This included both flying and aircraft maintenance. I am personally thankful for all those efforts, and really appreciate those who put themselves ot there for the benefit of another human being. I believe MAF has trained over 50% of all qualified mission aviation aviators since WWII. Quite an achievement. And in spite of all those noble efforts, occasionally MAF personnel have paid the ultimate sacrifice. I look forward to meeting Stuart in heaven.