This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Paul Robinson (CN 441 T3) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood by the transcribers. Foreign terms which are not commonly understood appear in italics. In very few cases words were too unclear to be distinguished. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. Readers should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.
... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.
.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
( ) Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
[ ] Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.
This transcript was made by Arnila Santoso and Paul Ericksen, and was completed in April 2004.
Click here to listen to an audio file of this interview (66 minutes)
Collection 441, T3. Interview of Paul Robinson by Paul A. Ericksen on April 3, 1991.
ERICKSEN: This is an oral history interview of Paul Frederick Robinson by Paul A. Ericksen for the Archives of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. This interview took place at 9:30 am on April 3, 1991, at the office of the Archives of the Graham Center. So when we finished last time we were talking about how Moody had decided they weren’t going to do just whatever could be done, but they wanted to do it right and provide professional training for....
ROBINSON: Yeah, and...and to...to...to produce professional personnel.
ERICKSEN: Right. What...if...if you were a person who was interested in mission aviation in, let’s say the ‘40s and early-‘50s, what were the different avenues that you could take as far as being trained?
ROBINSON: As far as being trained?
ERICKSEN: To be....
ROBINSON: Well, you would go to the local airport, like some colleges did and arrange with the management to give flying lessons to anybody who wanted to buy them, [chuckles] actually. And...and there...there was some preference given to students because I...I don’t know that they would guarantee so much or not, but that would be one way, is to...is to go to a school where...where that is available. Of course, there wasn’t any mechanical training. There wasn’t any. And it was hit and miss thing. It really...it wasn’t really full...not full-time by any means.
ERICKSEN: Now what about for somebody who did want the mechanical training. What were their al...their alternatives?
ROBINSON: Well, at first there was very little opportunity of...with...with Moody, although after we decided...after this conference that you referred to that was called, and Moody decided...came to the place where they said, “Well, either we go ahead whole-hog...otherwise... we either do it that way or we quit the whole thing, drop it.” And the decision was made to go, go for it. And that meant engaging more personnel, more equipment, and approvals from the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration], all...all the different government bodies that regulate things of that kind. And [clears throat] then it also entailed...because just about that time we moved from Moody airport...I mean, from the old Elmhurst airport over to...over to the one we ultimately...eventually bought.
ERICKSEN: The Wood Dale.
ROBINSON: The Wood Dale airport.
ROBINSON: And there we set up an approved trai...mecha...(what do you call it?) aircraft and...aircraft and engine school, is...is what....
ERICKSEN: Is that what A & E stands for?
ROBINSON: That’s what A & E stands for.
ERICKSEN: What does A & P stand for?
ROBINSON: Pow...powerplants. They...they use both terms. [pauses] Pow...power.... [pauses] Eng...aircraft...Aircraft and Engine...Aircraft and Engine is the A & E, Aircraft and Powerplants is [laughs] A & P, and that was the later designation. [clears throat]
ERICKSEN: What about the response of mission agencies once Moody had made its decision?
ROBINSON: Well, then that was the other thing. Some...some fellows wanted to learn to fly and do the rest of it. Some of them just wanted to fly, which is the thing that we objected to mostly. That was the dangerous thing that...well, as we facetiously called them the “fifty hour wonders.” If a student with fifty hours would have a private license and (not a commercial license, a private license)...and head out over the jungle was suicide. At least that’s what we thought. That’s why we figured “We didn’t want to go that route. We won’t even encourage missionary aviation along those lines.” And we didn’t. We.... Then we set up our school, which was minimal at first but it gradually grew and grew, until we could...we usually conducted our A...A&P school for several years at Wood Dale, but then when we moved to Tennessee we went all out and that was a one of the finest that you can...you can find anywhere.
ERICKSEN: Now what year was the move made in?
ROBINSON: Well, the...the move to...to Tennessee? Well, we dedicated our buildings (and we built lots of buildings, several buildings), in...we dedicated those in 1970.
ERICKSEN: Okay. [pauses] Did mission agencies seem glad...
ROBINSON: Oh, well, they...yeah....
ERICKSEN: ...to have trained pilots?
ROBINSON: Well, a mission agency was...I guess some pilots did it on their own in the less strict missions. Some of the missions would...would only do it under approval, not technically but, I mean, as far as...as the...the program was concerned, they had to approve it with the properly trained personnel. And, yes, there...there were...there was Sudan Interior Mission and A...AIM [Africa Inland Mission] in Africa, and of course, MAF [Mission Aviation Fellowship], and...and some of the other missions in...in Malaysia and the far ends of the earth. [laughs] Some of the...some of the pilots got permission from the mission board to raise money, to do all that’s involved in...in...in an aviation program. And of course, a few people like MAF and JAARS [Jungle Aviation and Radio Service], they pointed the way. They...they...they went...they were on the using...they used the.... See, we trained them and the mission boards used them. And quite effectively. And of course, careful surveys, sometimes lasting for months were...were made before we would recommend not only the program itself but he pilot himself. [pauses] We were very careful about that.
ERICKSEN: What about flight accidents that were happening on the mission field? Were there many of those?
ROBINSON: There was...there were several on the mission field. And we had one in Moody in 1950.
ERICKSEN: Was that a training accident or...?
ROBINSON: No, it was...well, the...the flight was not training. We were just ferrying an airplane, a brand new one, from our airport at Elmhurst over to the old (oh, what was the name of that...?)...another airport about five miles away, just.... We had a hangar over there and we kept going to...we didn’t have enough hangar space for...for Moody, so rented one over there. And these...the...one of the instructors and two students just...when the instructor was ferrying the plane over to the...over to the other airport and these two students were riding with him. And as best that can be seen, the airplane was about fifty feet off the ground when it burst into flames. And...and it came right in, not a chance to get even near it. Well, that was the only accident we every had, was...that was the...that was the ultimate in accidents, the worst we could have. That’s the worst. And...and we had it. And that was....
ERICKSEN: What was his name, the pilot or the instructor?
ROBINSON: Dick Holstein. He’s...he was the...first of all on...his main responsibility was in...in the...in the A & P school. They talk...the A&P...the FAA talks about programs such as we had as schools, whether it was a flight school and the mechanic school and another school, they...they write them up that was for some reason or another. [clears throat] So there was with...we had...had an accident. And it was a brand new airplane. And what we...the investigation ultimately settled on as far as the [pauses] responsibility for it, and what...what...whether it was pilot error or what (and it didn’t seem to be pilot error), but what they think happened was that a fire did...did break out under the dash, under the instrument plan, up...up in the back. That...the airplane had just been refueled, so it was full of gas. And it seems that probably he had to...when he...when that thing smoked and burst, he must have leaned forward and reached around to try to...with his hand to disengage some water to put the fire out, or at least the smoke, and in doing that he had to press the wheel and with the smoke and the other thing coming up, he probably couldn’t...couldn’t see what was...what was going on and so he just pushed the [unclear] (he was up about fifty feet), but then it just went....
ERICKSEN: He just drove it into the ground.
ROBINSON: Yeah, when he pushed the wheel ahead that...that dove it into...into the ground. And that was a...that was a difficult thing to have to.... Well, then...there were then...part of the rest of story.... Now, a lot of these stories or interviews...this is what’s happened in...the other day. I didn’t finish them. Now this isn’t finished. There’s one more little...little chapter to this story. When it came to identifying the bodies of these two students, (I was one of the people who had to do it) [clears throat], and I noticed that one of his fists was clenched, and out of the side was...stood like a piece of wire. Well, he would...he being a mechanic and knew the airplane, he might have suspicioned right away what that fire was caused from and could have easily reached under there to grab those wires, ‘cause...and yank them out of the way because he knew...he knew where they were. And so when he did that...when he...when he reached for those things, we...we identified what he had in his hand. I had the people there who were (I don’t know what they were), doctors or what, opened his hand, because you could see this piece of wire sticking out. And sure enough, it was...he grabbed...that’s probably what happened. He probably dug for those wires ‘cause his hand was full of them. I don’t mean full of them. I mean, he had it...had it in his hand. They’d to be broken off, pulled out, but still one end was sticking out. So he grabbed for something and pulled, and that...I don’t know what else it might of been, but at least those two things. But that we...we hate to even think about. That was something the Lord didn’t prevent and we just have to commit it to Him, that’s all.
ERICKSEN: What...were there any changes that you made in your program as a result of that happening?
ROBINSON: Yes, there was. We were investigated after th...which is customary, by every agency that you’ve ever heard of. I mean, they were in there from the insurance company, the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] and the CAA [Civil Aeronautics Administration], and...and the NSAB [this acronym does not correspond to a known agency; Robinson might have been thinking of the NTSB or National Transportation Safety Board], I think it is. Government...government agencies were all...all coming in to...for...see...to get a look and see if they can determine what happened and how to write the thing up and so forth. And afterward...and so that airport operation there that we had (we had a hangar built by then)...but that whole operation...in the flight department they went over the logbooks of the students. They went...you’d be amazed what...what they looked at. And a short time after it was all over, we had a.... Well, I should say this: we were applying for another technical designation, an “approved school.” That’s different that a “school.” There’s a “school” and there’s an “approved school.” And we wanted the best. We wanted an approved school. And every dot had to be...every ‘i’ had to be dotted and every...everything as near as possible to...to have the FAA approve making an “approved school” out of our mechanical program. Well, after all these people went through the place, and...and...and were [pauses]...they were...apparently according to the letter so impressed that...with the meticulous...the attention that we’d given to every detail in the whole operation, that they...they offered to approve us so, we were...we were...otherwise we were work...work around such a...under such handicaps without all the facilities that we should have that we didn’t think probably the FAA would...would give us the approval. We didn’t expect it. But after seeing what we had there and how we conducted things and the personnel that was there and everything else, they approved it. So it [laughs] was...it was the result of that accident really that we got that...we got our approval. [pauses] And that was thing that we were very thankful for, because it helped a great deal, and....
ERICKSEN: Now what year was the approval given? Same year as the accident?
ROBINSON: Yeah, ‘50 or ‘51. It may have been...it may have been a few months before all the government red tape was...
ROBINSON: ...was facilitated, but it wasn’t long. [clears throat]
ERICKSEN: Did Moody have any competition at all as far as providing this kind of training?
ROBINSON: I couldn’t find that...that...that excerpt that was written at one time. No, we had no...no...no competition as far as a professionally trained...I mean a professional school [pauses]
that was conducted solely for missionary aviation. There was other schools and people cooperating with each other in the thing, and we...we did too. We had no objection to that. But there was no other approved schools that were only.... (Now LeTourneau [currently LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas] had a good program, and...and....) But they...they all were in...in their basic program...where we...where missions was our basic position, the rest of them, while they were sympathetic and many of them were Christians, they...they were in favor of it, yet their basic was...was the industry, to train students in...in the aviation industry as well as missionaries. So it wasn’t...but we were alone in just dedicating every bit of the program to...with a mission orientation in mind.
ERICKSEN: Now what...what parts of the program were specifically geared for someone working in a mission situation, as opposed to someone getting...
ERICKSEN: ...mechanical training for working in the industry?
ROBINSON: Well...when it came right down to the nuts and bolts, it’s pretty much the same...
ROBINSON: ...except we took time to work on things that the average shop, aircraft shop (you’re speaking about that...
ROBINSON: ...the aircraft shop) wouldn’t bother with. They...they...they were...might let it go or they’d do it in a hurry, and [pauses] some...or some differences depending on what needed to be done. We would...we took the conservative move that way, so.... But basically it’s “an airplane’s an airplane,” and...and we’re regulated by the FAA for almost everything we do, although later on we got our own approval. And [clears throat]...but...and then in the flight thing we had features of our flight program. In the first place, the flight fees were subsidized by...by Moody, whose no-tuition [pauses] feature was applied there. They paid...they paid a very mi...very minimal amount, and the instruction, which is tuition for the instructor, that was...that was the...the Moody faculty, because there so many of them that were...were faculty members after, even though they’re in a different department. Then...then in the flight...you asked about the flight differences. Well, there was...there were...there were a lot of little differences. We were...we fussed about the little things, which might not have taken the time of people who were trying to get all they can for a dollar, you know, for the money. You’re always fighting that. The...they’ve...the airport operators were hard put and still are to...it’s a...it’s a tough game. But we weren’t pushed by that. The...we could take all the time that was necessary and consequently make a much better pilot. And we had features such as an...an advanced cross country.... I don’t know of another school in the world that has that feature, although they could set it up.
ERICKSEN: What did you call it? Advanced...?
ROBINSON: Advanced...advanced cross country.
ROBINSON: We...we put...we send...we’d put an airplane...we’d take two...two students and an instructor, and maybe we’d have four or five planes on this flight, although they won’t be in sight of each other. They’ll take different routes as far that con.... And they’ll make a cross country f...make cross country flights with all the...the...it’s an advanced maneuver. I mean, the...the students have completed the...most of their training and now are really...really checked out and tested. And they retake th...with the instructor and the two students changing seats, the students...part of the time they fly, part of the time the other one flies. They change back and forth. They take typi...take them all the way out to the Rocky Mountains. They did mountain flying, wilderness flying, remote area flying. We...we used to have them [pauses] take a flight into a border...what we call “border crossing” over into Mexico. And...however, we don’t do that now, because we always made an overnight. These were about ten days, these flights, we’re going out west to all these places for about ten days. And there are certain airports we’d operate from and [unclear]. We...we’d...the instructors knew all that country [laughs] pretty well by then. But one night they...the last night [laughs], they stayed in Mexico, the airplane was stolen where it was parked...from where it was parked. And it was finally dis...it was finally found (it had been stolen by drug...drug runners)...and it was finally found. But the...the Mexican government wouldn’t...wouldn’t give it back.
ROBINSON: So we just lost it. That...so [laughs] we don’t got to Mexico anymore. [both laugh] We do other things. But that advanced cross country with student was responsible for half of it and the instructor just there to observe and to teach whatever techniques needed brushing up, we can’t cover everything in ten days of intensive flying to out to go out there. MAF [Mission Aviation Fellowship] on the west coast and looked that situation over as a possibility that they might want to apply to MAF for service. And MAF is...welcomes them with open arms because here are some recruits that are looking for someplace to go within the next couple of years. And so that...the thing of that nature was the...was the difference, is the difference. Then, of course, it’s a Christian environment and...and everything is oriented to...to...to missions.
ERICKSEN: What percentage of the...the trainees didn’t complete the program?
ROBINSON: Didn’t complete the program? Oh boy. Well, where would you start from? [laughs]
ERICKSEN: I’m just thinking....
ROBINSON: I know that at one time we...eighty-five percent of the missionary pilots (and there were nearly two hundred or so at that time)...eighty-five percent of them were our...were our graduates, that we...that we knew of. So we had...we had a good record of students going to the field, even though all of them didn’t go. I mean, there’d be health, family, a lot of things could prevent a person from going to the mission field.
ERICKSEN: I’m just wondering whether there are people who got into the aviation program and part way through decided that flying really wasn’t something that...
ERICKSEN: ...or it was too difficult or....
ROBINSON: Well, we try to...we try to, in our very elaborate [laughs] (What do you call it? My, I can’t think of the simplest names)...we had conducted before the students even came in. We could....
ERICKSEN: Like an aptitude test?
ROBINSON: Well, it was not only an aptitude test. It was a week of...of intensive work out at the airport. Now, these...now these are recruits who’ve nev...who’ve never...never...some of them have never been inside of an airplane. We fly with them every day for a week. We...we observe them and at the airport we...we’ve had their food brought out there, they live out there, they stay out there for five days at the airport. And every day they have a flight period, and...as well as classes and orientation things and interviews. And we try as hard as we can. And then in pre-aviation, the normal thing and intr...everybody doesn’t from other schools doesn’t take pre-aviation, but for a...for a kid just starting from scratch he’s got five or four or five, six years ahead of him. And we...he...he spends that time at the airport eating there, sleeping there, and we get to interview. I just interviewed...well, of course all of them are interviewed and...and worked with. And then on the Friday night after it was all (the flight camp)...five days over, and we sit down with the list. There’s usually about twenty-five or thirty. And all the staff who’ve worked with these students, no matter if it was just a building and ground man, how they handle a shovel, I mean, we...we...all the way to what they do when they get in the airplane. Even though they’re just beginners, they...they react to certain stimulus that we have provided. And by the time the...we...then we select whatever...how many...many men we can take care of. Usually...it used to be twelve. Now we can handle more. But it used to be twelve men would be chosen out of maybe twenty-five or thirty. And if we could find twelve that we felt met the...the conditions at the...at the flight camp.... And so by the time they had gotten through that and through the couple of years at downtown here before they went south, before they went to Tennessee, we’d have a pretty good idea of what kind of people we had, and we kept pretty close tabs on...on the aspirations and the dedication and the...and the whole thing. And we tried to do all we could to...to produce people who...who really were committed.
ERICKSEN: So you were screening?
ROBINSON: And...and...and even so once in awhile some would...some would drop out for var...for various reasons, but not very...not very many, not too many. They’re....
ERICKSEN: So you were screening...doing most of your screening before the training started?
ROBINSON: Well, a great deal. Oh yeah, a great deal. Now and then, of course, we’d have aptitude te...we had a battery of aptitude tests. And then the personal flight. It’s amazing how much you can tell about how a student may act in...in training from just five flights of a half an hour each. But we don’t expect him to be a pilot. But some just don’t...just don’t do it. They just don’t have the touch and the feel. And...and you can tell that. In...in fact, most any professional...profession tells that. If it’s...take a music major. All these kids that go to the...that apply for music, they...they don’t all become majors. They...they don’t have the talent. They don’t have the ability. They don’t have what the...what the faculty or whoever’s accepting them in a school like this.... If they don’t have it, you can...you can pretty well tell. And we very seldom...ver...very seldom ever miss on that. Once in a while you...I’m sure, but.... We’ve fa...we’ve...we’ve...not that we disapprove certain students. And it wasn’t exactly approval...approval. They were...they were...they were fine people. I mean, some of them were very talented, but [sighs] whatever it is, you can just.... It’s the same in athletics. You...you find some that have got the touch, some have the talent, some haven’t. And we tried to...tried to have that kind. So consequently, with the selection program such as we have, we have relatively very few dropouts. Very few.
ERICKSEN: How many...how many female pilots?
ROBINSON: One has graduated.
ERICKSEN: To date.
ROBINSON: To date [laughs].
ERICKSEN: Wow. How does that compare with aviation field in general?
ROBINSON: I don’t know, you see, because piloting, flying, missionary flying at least, is [pauses]...the...the flying is the easy part. If you can’t do that, you’re...you’re...of course, you...you better forget it. But even...even so, the flying is the easy part. But when you’re talk...when you’re thinking about a missionary airman, a missionary airman going out there with a...with an airplane or maybe there’s an airplane out there, the responsibility that he ha...that he has to those people that he serves, to the...to the missionary is awesome. When...when those people out there...I...I’m thinking of the places where there’s really no transportation, just jungle, and they...you fly out to those little jungle airstrips and you land and there’s the missionary [pauses] just waiting to see you, and before you’re there very long you’re sitting down on it with him on a log and maybe just...just letting him get it off his chest. It’s...it’s...they get bush happy out there. It’s...and an airplane coming in once in a while with mail and people and food, you just can’t imagine what that means to them. And not only for the things that they bring them, but...(I forgot what I was going to...going to say)...he not only supplies all these things but they...well, it’s...it’s easier [pauses]...one other...(this is a sort of sidelight, but...) [pauses]...well, I don’t know how to...I don’t know how to state it, but some missionaries claim that ten to fifteen years have been added to their missionary life out there because they don’t have to fight the trail. The dug-out canoes, the ox carts, the...the only way they ha...if they have to travel.
ROBINSON: And...and it’s...they...they...their health is better when they don’t have the trail to...to wrestle with. So it has...it has all kinds of advantages, besides just transporting things. And, of course, now the radios are...we had them in early days, but they weren’t very reliable. But they have good radio communication now and that’s a big help.
ERICKSEN: So just from the standpoint of what? endurance? or in terms of male...having male pilots as opposed to...to female pilots...?
ROBINSON: Well, we...there isn’t very many there. Of course, in...in the beginning, and I don’t know how...I can’t tell you how true it is right now, but in...in the beginning, ironically Betty Greene of MAF was the one who opened the interior of Peru for missionary aviation. She was a WASP [Women Airforce Service Pilots] in the World War II, and there was big old Duck, Grumman Duck [utility amphibious aircraft] that the Wyc...that the Wycliffe translators had talked the...the government out of. That was the war was over and there was this sitting there, so they got that going. And Betty went down there and she...she flew it. Well, I...I don’t know of another woman until recently, a couple years ago, we graduated one, who went the whole thing right here [claps hands] in Tennessee. So we did have one. But...oh, I know...I know what I was going to say. The [pauses] people that often...that they work with (as I was mentioning a moment ago)...flying stuff back and forth, that’s the fun part, that’s...that’s...that’s...it’s...it takes great skill but these are professionals. They’ve got the skill and most of them do it. My own son has, oh, twelve thousand hours of...of jungle flying, and so I don’t have...I don’t have any questions about his skill. He...he really has it. But in some situations native people would look upon a woman as something...something different. And even government officials and people like that, when she tried to...and...and you have a constant hassle with the government officials when you’re out. And that’s the pilot’s responsibility to handle that too. But [clears throat] a woman, in many cases, not everywhere, but man...many cases it would be regarded as a...as some kind of...well, [pauses]...they...they either had no regard for her at all because she’s a woman (they treat women that way and they would...they would be under a severe handicap to try to operate with...with a...with a woman because she’s...because she’s a female), [pauses] and on the other hand they th...some of them look at her like a...think she’s a goddess of some kind. “Boy, look at that woman. She must be...she must be something else.” And...and it...they want to marry her. [laughs] Betty [Greene] had all these experiences. And so it’s...it was a lot of different funny angles to this thing.
ERICKSEN: How did the various organizations that are involved in mission aviation get along and cooperate?
ROBINSON: Very well, very well. Wycliffe and MAF are...are overlapping in some situations. But that...but there’s no com...there’s no competition. There...there’s....they have fine relationship [pauses] so far as I know. I...I don’t...I don’t recall a single instance where there’s anybody resents somebody else being...being there. There might be, but I don’t...I...I...I’ve never seen it.
ERICKSEN: What about...are there any issues within the...the realm of mission aviation that there’s debate over?
ROBINSON: Oh yeah. Twin engines, single engine.
ERICKSEN: What would be the things that...?
ROBINSON: Then...then limits on instruments flying, how...how big a cloud you should...you could...you don’t have to skirt and rather you go through. And, oh, there’s...there’s manuals [laughs[ of...of things like that that have been developed by the mission aviation fellows.
ERICKSEN: Those sound like kind of technical...
ERICKSEN: ...aspects of flying.
ROBINSON: Yeah, and of course, helicopters are beginning to.... I say “beginning/” We’ve had them awhile, but they...they haven’t become...well, they aren’t affordable yet but they still have to have some, so that if it...there’s a tremendously expensive thing. That’s why they haven’t...you don’t see more helicopters out there. It’s just plain expense. They’re expensive to buy and maintain, several times worse than the fixed-wing.
ERICKSEN: Is...is there any training in flying helicopters provided by Moody?
ROBINSON: No, we had a couple three years ago and did a little, but it was really quite a cost. There were enough helicop...helicopter pilots came out of Viet...Vietnam War to...to satisfy what...what was necessary. But now you’re, you know...you’re talking five hundred thousand [dollars] and...for these little helicopters and...and even more than that with some of them. So it’s [pauses]...so I expect there’s some debate between the helicopter and the fixed wing.
ERICKSEN: Now what [pauses]...when was the first...wh...do...do you know who the first missionary to use an airplane to do...to ease...ease work? When did that happen?
ROBINSON: Well, [pauses] I’m not sure of the first, because I understand...John...John Wells has got the history of that.
ERICKSEN: Yeah, that’s true.
ROBINSON: Even over in Europe there was a...way back in the beginning of flying almost, there was a few, I understand, but that...that wouldn’t be considered...you couldn’t compare it with mission aviation today. But the first missionary that I remember contacting, and he remained that way was a fellow...a chap by the name of George Fisk, with...with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. He went to Borneo and [pauses]...(it was Borneo then, it’s Kalimantan now, I guess)...went to...went to Borneo for...as a missionary, and he could see how a float plane would be just really something. And this was way back in the ‘30s. Way back in the ‘30s. And George came home and promoted a beach craft flo...on floats, and took it back down to...to Borneo just about the time...just about the time (he had very little use of it) that the war broke out. Well, you see that was back...way back when the Japanese were coming in. And ultimately that airplane was captured by the Japanese when it was over there. And the pilot...George wasn’t flying it then. He...he was (well, I don’t know what he was)...it was way back there, but he...he made several flights. I mean, he...he used it some. But...and it was on the rivers. It was a float plane he had. And so [pauses] then that airp...oh, the pilot was the...the...when the Japanese captured it, I think they killed a pilot, a missionary. And ruined...destroyed the airplane. So that was the end of the first one that I, you know...I remember it as a...almost just a kid, just in college, I think I heard about.... I heard George Fisk speak one night at a missionary conference in Buffalo. I heard that he was going to be there, and I’d heard of him and I went out and I wanted to hear him and did. There may have been attempts to use airplanes before that, but I don’t know of any. John might have something on that. I don’t know.
ERICKSEN: Coming to the...to the present. What new things are...or what developments are happening in miss...mission aviation now? Where’s it moving? How is it changing?
ROBINSON: Well, I...I guess the biggest change, the basic thing it’s trying to do is just provide transportation, communication for missionaries who otherwise would have to do it without...with...with...with great difficulty or else not at all. You get there not at all. But I think the biggest changes are in the sophistication of the...of the equipment. Boy, oh, boy. We paid for the first [Piper] Cub we brought here...(of course, it was all...not the airplane they have today)...but the first Cub we brought from Piper [clears throat] back in ‘46 cost seventeen hundred dollars. And [chuckles, pauses] today you couldn’t figure for an airplane...I mean, the...the...the mo...the simplest type of airplane on the mission field for less than fifty thousand dollars, and...and it could easily go a hundred thousand. And that’s...of course, there’s some more sophisticated equipment that’s needed. But I...I...it seems to me that that’s one of the biggest changes. [clears throat] Otherwise it’s just helping the missionary to get an airspir...airstrip built and fly in and out as best you can. And of course, it was...was very...well, it’s just better equipment.
ERICKSEN: I’m curious. Did you ever get to do any flying into mission situations?
ROBINSON: Yeah. Yes, I took two short furloughs [chuckles] down there, I mean, not furloughs. So I got...I got into Indonesia, New Guinea.
ERICKSEN: What’s it like flying down there?
ROBINSON: Well, it’s just like it is flying anywhere. You just have different things to watch. You’ve got...or you.... Most of the places are mountainous, so it’s was mountain flying. And then we had some interesting long cross-countries. We did (Grady Parrot, who was the president of MAF and was for many years)...Grady and I flew a Cessna 170, which is quite a small airplane, I don’t think you’d find anywhere on the mission field anymore. There may be some somewhere. A Cessna 170. We flew from California MAF base all the way down to Sao Paulo, Brazil, and visited several missionary pilots and their programs, all across Central America, Sou...South America, and that was quite a flight cross-country-wise. We right across the mouth of the Amazon, which is two hundred miles. And [chuckles] we...our fuel supply had...where we thought we were going to be able to refuel in a little government airstrip near the north side of the Amazon, it didn’t turn out. It wasn’t there, and we had...we had five...we had two hundred miles to go and just about two hundred miles worth of gasoline [laughs]. So we...we had to do some might tight conservation, and...and couldn’t make any mistakes or have to go around. You had to go right there to refuel, since it wasn’t [unclear, pauses]. But I didn’t...I did mostly...mostly come back to the training school here at Moody.
ERICKSEN: How did it feel just to get out into a...into a real situation and see what the pilots that you were training were doing all the time?
ROBINSON: Well, [clears throat] yeah, in most...in most cases, it was a very satisfying feeling to see the way they’d operate and see the things they do and how they do it, and...and see how some of the training techniques that we had taught, to see them put into practice out there under fire. It was very very interesting and educational. We came back...I came back from those trips much better informed and ready to make any suggestions necessary.
ERICKSEN: Now you say in most cases. What did you see out there that maybe worried you or concerned you?
ROBINSON: Well, I guess, just...the...the big factor, even in this country is weather, and...and weather scares you. It shouldn’t, but it...you’re never even...and it’s never sure what you...what’s going to happen. And in those mission field conditions weather is a very serious consideration, because it’s hard to forecast and report. You get reports from the mission stations. They’ve all got radios. And the missionary wife who, or the missionary himself, can tell you what the weather is there, but he can’t tell you...can’t tell you what’s in between. And I...I...I was always [pauses]...I just wasn’t used to that kind of flying. I wasn’t afraid...
ROBINSON: ...But...but it certainly captures your attention.
ERICKSEN: Now as far as meteorological data available to a pilot, how would flying down in South America compare with up here? Do they have the...?
ROBINSON: Well, when...when we went down years ago there...there wasn’t any. We took that...took a five hundred mile trip in a five hundred and fifty mile airplane. And we...we didn’t get much weather...weather report. We just had to observe it and try to stay with it.
ERICKSEN: What...what kind of misperceptions do you find American Evangelicals have about mission aviation?
ROBINSON: Well, the ones that talked to me are...are pretty high on it. I’ve seldom ever seen anybody objecting, because about all you can...about all you can say is that they’re doing a wonderful job, and...and you can see that if it wasn’t for them they...many of these people wouldn’t be reached at all.
ROBINSON: It’s either...it’s either that or nothing. And it’s very obvious. And so anybody who talked about it, [pauses] yeah, they...they [pauses]...no I didn’t find much objec...many objections to...if it’s done right. Most missionaries, I guess, or many of them, trust the pilot, and...and [pauses] he tries to help them all he can. And there are some amazing stories in...of missionaries, not necessarily me, but unbelievable things of...and miracles have certainly happened.
ERICKSEN: Now you say that the Tennessee facility was opened in 1970.
ERICKSEN: And you stayed here.
ROBINSON: Uh-huh. I had two....
ERICKSEN: Was the whole program move at that point?
ROBINSON: Yeah. Oh, I...that’s when everything moved. We...it took us...took us two or three years to make the move, ‘cause we moved it a class at a time as facilities were built and developed down there, we...we...we...with the advanced flight class, there was only about twelve in it that...that...that year, and so we took the first bunch down. It was only...only twelve students and one instructor. And I...I think one...well, I forget exactly. Then the next year we took...we took...the building was fi...was being finished, we took a few more down, another class [clears throat] and the proper instructional personnel to go with it. And then in...well, it must have been before...I don’t know exactly when it was. But before 19...by 1970, we were all there. We were...had everything there, truckloads of stuff [laughs] that were...were down there [clears throat].
ERICKSEN: How did you decide to stay here instead of move down with the program?
ROBINSON: Well, we, of course, knew that we had to move eventually, because O’Hare [International Airport in Chicago] was...came in in1959. The jets came, and when the jets came we...we left. But...but we knew this was going to happen, and we were satisfied that...certainly we had plenty of time to make...make plans, ‘cause this was several years. And so we...we planned our hangars and our facility and shops, and the whole thing. We had a chance to...to do that. And then there’s the matter of where to go. Well, we wanted to get a situation that would come as close to [pauses]...to [pauses, laughs] copying.... That isn’t the word I want. We’ve got a word for for it.
ROBINSON: Simulate. Yeah, they wanted to simulate as much as we could with a general missions field situation and many other criteria we...we had. And then [clears throat] I said, “Now how are we were going to get...find these air....” We’re looking for an airport where we could base our whole operation on, (which is a good thing for any airport), when...if we came in there. So [pauses] we [pauses]...we...oh, I start...thought I would start by writing letters, (a sort of a form letter), to, I think, a hund...a hundred airport managers in the United States all the way across the country describing what we were going to do, what we wanted to do, what we had in mind. And “Would you be interested in...in a facility like this?” And we thought, and we were right, that most...most of them really would because that’s business, [clears throat] at least they thought it was. And so...and then I asked them to reply if they had anything. And we had a good response from that. But some of them began to drop out. And then it might have been a step in between there somewhere, but we...we looked at quite a few, and...quite a few situations. And we had...we had guidelines to guide us what we...we were...needed. We were considering weather, of course, and proximity to Chicago and...and all of the rest of the...all the rest of the things. So in the response to that letter I wrote, we boiled it down to a very very few. Some of them were, of course...weren’t a bit interested. Most of them weren’t, I guess...weren’t interested. We just boiled it down to...to a place, to a situation that we thought would meet the need. And this group from Elizabethton [eastern Tennessee near the North Carolina border], they sent two or three of...I think, it was three or four over there, city officials up to Moody, and...who said they were interested in.... They had an airport down there that they...wasn’t doing anything. It was just sitting there. There was about three airplanes in the...in the hangar. The government had built it to take...to stimulate business. In fact, they had done this in several mid-South situations back there twenty five years ago, to...to...to get business back into that destitute territory. And they had this airport...this airstrip that they built there, the town the city. The town, the city with about twenty five percent, and the...and the FAA seventy five percent. And they had a beautiful airstrip and a nice little hangar. But there was no...there was hardly anything there. And townspeople were wondering (they were at election time) especially [laughs] what’s that’s doing out there, all this acreage. And [clears throat] so what they presented there that day in...in...it was in January because I know it snowed like everything, and we just pointed out, “Well, this is one of the reason’s we’re going to move, [laughs] ‘cause we’re snowed in.” But at any rate [clears throat] that didn’t have much to do with it. [pauses] But [clears throat] then...then they invited us to come down there and look...look the thing over and then from what we could see, we...we...we should do it. So we went down there, we flew down, landed on the airstrip, looked the situation over, and it appeared...appeared to us that it would be a good situation if we could get the...get the proper arrangements and agreements and all that, which...it was...it was located only ten minutes from Tri-City Airport, which is an airport that...a commercial...a regular commercial airport, so we could use the facilities that they had, which would be useful. There was a lake for float plane operation, and that was in...another five minutes away, Lake Watauga. There was, oh, all sorts of things that they [pauses]...that presented themselves. And we liked the look of it, so we followed through on it and wound up with a good deal. For us, we operate the airport, and if this is good [unclear] as our own, and we can do what we want to. And it’s also commercially open. I mean, there was quite a few planes came in after that to enjoy the facility that we had fostered and made possible. But the weather was right. The mountains...we had a mountain...we had an airstrip up in the Smokies [Mountains], and that was.... So we simulated just about everything as close as we could, and that was the place that we cho...that we chose.
ERICKSEN: And when was the deal made? What year?
ROBINSON: Well, I suppose the deal was probably made in ‘69, because we...we...we dedicated the facility in 19...April ‘70, this month. We...we dedicated it, and it was all finished then and the agreements were all worked out.
END OF TAPE