This Week in AG History -- May 13, 1950
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Following World War II, commercial flights were not readily available, so World Missions Director Noel Perkin located two surplus army planes and converted them to missionary planes. With help from young people and Speed the Light, the Assemblies of God first bought a C-46 cargo plane for only $5,000. Another $15,000 went into the conversion for civilian passenger service. It was called the Ambassador.
It was an exciting day in August 1948 when the big twin-engine Ambassador, loaded with missionaries and with WWII veterans at the controls, lifted off from the Springfield, Missouri, airport and headed toward the East Coast and eventually to Africa. It took 10 days for the Ambassador to reach Africa on its first flight. This was still much faster than traveling by boat.
After a little over a year of missionary flights, and some domestic flights, World Missions sold the Ambassador, and replaced it with a four-engine B-17 bomber, which was also converted to passenger service. Named Ambassador II, it carried fewer passengers, but the four engines — as opposed to only two on the C-46 — made it a safer plane for crossing oceans and mountains.
For two more years the converted bomber Ambassador II transported missionaries to faraway exotic places. By that time, commercial airlines were able to provide satisfactory overseas service, and the plane was sold.
Seventy years ago, the Pentecostal Evangel gave an account of the Ambassador II airplane on a return trip from Africa back to the United States.
Missionary Irene Crane reported that she left her mission station in Nigeria on Dec. 29, 1949, and traveled to the eastern side of the Niger River to join missionaries May Garner and Elsie Weber who also were traveling back to the U.S. from Nigeria.
These lady missionaries took a local flight from Port Harcourt to Lagos, and then after obtaining visas, they flew to Accra, Gold Coast (now Ghana), to meet up with the flight crew of the Ambassador II, including flight director Robert T. McGlasson. After some delays, the group left Accra on Jan. 23, but had to return back after a report of heavy evening ground fog in Ouagadougou, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), which was their intended destination. After spending the night in a hotel at the airport, the plane left early the next morning for the three-hour flight to Ouagadougou.
Upon their arrival, the local missionaries happily greeted them. A number of them had traveled quite a distance to welcome them. They soon found out that five ducks had been prepared the night before for a feast, so everyone had been disappointed when the plane did not arrive on schedule and was delayed another day. Two more missionaries, Mabel M. Schaefer and Henry I. Dahlberg, boarded the plane in Ouagadougou, and the next stop was Roberts Field, Liberia. “It took us around four hours to reach the airport there,” said Crane. “The going was rough all the way because of the hot air currents.”
The group stayed in army barracks at Roberts Field on a Tuesday night, and on Wednesday morning they had a nice visit with Henry B. Garlock, the AG field secretary for Africa. Later that day, the Liberian missionaries took them to visit the Firestone Plantations, which everyone enjoyed.
Leaving Roberts Field in the afternoon, they added seven more passengers to the plane. After leaving the airport, they traveled through a storm. “The ship was tossed about and for a moment fear came to my heart,” said Crane. But then she remembered the many safety devices on the plane and remembered that “hundreds of people all over the world were praying for our safety.” It took 10 hours and 40 minutes to cross the Atlantic from Roberts Field to Natal, Brazil.
Crane reported that the longest stretch of the journey went from Natal to Trinidad, which took 12 hours and 40 minutes. They stayed there only long enough to eat and refuel before taking off again for St. Petersburg, Florida. They flew all night — 10 hours. Then it was a thrill to reach American soil again. The missionaries were able to stay about 24 hours at the Pinellas Park Home where they had food and sleeping quarters.
The final leg of the journey went from St. Petersburg to Springfield, Missouri, in 5 hours and 20 minutes. A large crowd was at the Springfield airport to welcome the missionaries and the staff on board the plane. Crane shared that it was a wonderful feeling to be home at last.
This was one of the first trips made by the new Ambassador II airplane, and it gives an indication of the dangers and setbacks that had to be overcome with each flight. It took planning to map out each of these destinations in order to pick up AG missionaries needing to return home, and to make adjustments when the schedule had to be changed. It was a blessing to the missionaries that they had food and sleeping accommodations already arranged for them at each destination. The plane kept a busy schedule. In the first year of operation, the Ambassador II visited 38 countries.
The transoceanic flights of the two Ambassador airplanes lasted about three years. In July 1951, the Executive Presbytery approved the sale of Ambassador II because commercial flights were becoming more common.
Read “Trip Home on Ambassador,” on page 6 of the May 13, 1950, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “Entire Conformity to Christ,” by Wesley R. Steelberg
• “Jesus and His Mother,” by Alice E. Luce
• “David Anointed King,” by Ernest A. Williams
And many more!
Click here to read this issue now.
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.