Stuart King, a British World War II veteran who co-founded Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), is being remembered as a determined visionary who changed countless lives. King, who died August 29 at age 98, combined his passions of airplanes and Christian outreach to assist people in some of the world’s poorest, hardest-to-reach locations.
When MAF began in 1945, Africa was the focus of its flights. Now it is the world’s largest humanitarian airline, flying 138 planes to 1,400 remote locations in 26 developing countries. MAF partners with more than 2,000 aid organizations, including the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the Red Cross, and Samaritan’s Purse.
A Lifelong Passion for Missions
King, an engineer in Britain’s Royal Air Force, survived the D-Day landing at Normandy. After the war, he teamed with fellow veteran Jack Hemmings for a six-month survey flight across Africa to assess needs. The pair made connections with missionary groups and discovered that planes were the only way to reach many isolated communities.
King served as CEO of MAF from 1970 to 1985, and two years later became president emeritus. He was known for his strong Christian faith, adventurous spirit, and sense of humor. In his book Hope Has Wings, King describes incidents such as crash-landing in a banana tree. “Sometimes we didn’t quite know where we were!” he admits about the group’s early days.
As MAF grew, it became a trusted source of assistance when natural disasters occurred throughout the globe. During the coronavirus pandemic, MAF has been delivering rapid-test kits and supplies to villages. MAF pilot Joyce Lin died in May after crashing in Indonesia.
Tributes Pour in for Stuart King
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who has traveled on MAF flights to Africa, said, “Stuart’s tremendous contribution to the founding of MAF has had a profound impact on the ministry of many people across the world and the Anglican Communion.”
For his military service, King was honored by France in 2016 with the rank of Chevalier in the Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur. Three years later he received an award from the Honourable Company of Air Pilots, recognizing his lasting contributions to aviation. The Company credited King with maintaining high standards, hiring local employees, and managing MAF’s finances soundly. “MAF never uses bribery or illicit payments—though sorely tempted in many regions,” it stated. “Consequently, they are trusted, and are sometimes the only aircraft allowed to operate in contested zones.”
“If ever there was a man who was inspired to turn a visionary idea into a reality, it was Stuart King,” says former British Army chief Lord Dannatt. “Stuart started with one aircraft but has changed the lives of so many by his passion, leadership, and conviction. Stuart King’s legacy is immense, and his family should be justifiably proud of all that he achieved in the service of Christ.”
King met his wife Phyllis in 1950 in Sudan, where she was a missionary. Their daughter Rebecca says, “Dad’s life motto was always to be the best man he could be in God in every season of his life. … He was always so determined and committed to MAF. He is an inspiration to us all.”