By Gary Kuhn - LAAHS USA
Aircraft have evolved to better perform difficult roles in remote regions of Latin America. JAARS, providing air service to Bible translators dedicated to sustained contact with hard to reach small tribes, began work in Peru’s jungles in 1948. In the beginning were Grumman Duck amphibians, followed by several Aeronca 15AC Sedans, on floats for work on Peruvian tributaries of the upper Amazon River. The prevalent land-plane a few years later and for many years after was the Helio Courier.
The Cessna 206s flying in Brazil today are among the current modern equipment. They fly in the final hemispheric area served. JAARS has mostly retired from Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Papua New Guinea and equatorial Africa are the current focus. The beginnings in Brazil in 1963 involved a Noorduyn Norseman and a bi-national ceremony. Details of the event can be seen painted on the hangar in the adjacent photo.
JAARS had two Norseman aircraft in Peru, as floatplanes like so many in its native Canada. OB-M-LAZ came South in 1950 (initially as OB-LAZ-249) and flew in Peru for 20 years. It was not a wartime UC-64, as was the subject of this story. OB-QAE-153 had been 43-5375 in the USAAF. The plane came to Peru as war surplus to Transportes Aereos Peruanos SA. TAPSA had several Norsemen in its fleet. A sister ship was OA-QAC-151. The website www.norsemanhistory.ca indicates numbers 151 and 153 as aircraft serials, but instead they were a numerical sequence for Peruvian civil aviation.
In 1957, JAARS purchased the Norseman from the struggling TAPSA. Ferry pilot Donald Smith recalls several days of work needed to prepare the land-plane for the flight to the headquarters and maintenance base at Yarinacocha. There the fuselage would be metalized to withstand regular use as a floatplane after the restoration. A quantity of spare parts also obtained from TAPSA helped in this. The registration became OB-LHA-153, reflecting the shift from commercial to missionary use. Most of this new work would take place to the East, in Brazil.
On April 27, 1963, the refreshed Norseman was transferred to Brazil, to become PT-CDG and christened “General Jesus Melgar E.” The name was in memory of a Peruvian Air Force leader, killed six months earlier in an aviation accident, while serving the interim military junta as Minister of Agriculture. His colleague, President Pedro Vargas Prado, was welcomed to the ceremony. PT-CDG operated in the Amazon region of Brazil for ten years.