Jon Johanson: Dialogue with an Adventist record-breaking aviator from Australia
by Lee Dunstan
Nursing and flying. Do they go together?
I love them both. Nursing has provided me with a steady income that helped me with my flying interests. It gives me an opportunity to be close to people in suffering. For instance, while doing some maintenance on my plane at Oshkosh, I saw a man collapse nearby with an apparent heart attack. My nursing training allowed me to come to his rescue. I applied CPR until paramedics could arrive. As for flying, I always loved it, although I never thought Id be able to do it. I didnt think I was smart enough or good enough. From my early days, I had this problem of low self-image.
Schooling didnt help much. I had this strange feeling that I was a failure. English was a special problem. I couldnt spell and didnt think it was important. As long as one could read, why bother about spelling? And then there were teachers constantly telling me that I was a problem. May be I was, but their telling me reinforced that image. When I left high school, I came out believing that I wouldnt amount to anything. As far as flying, I never thought Id even get a license. And to have thought of it as a career, no way.
But things have changed, have they not?
My flying lessons helped. You cant fly without that confidence that you can go up in the air and come down safely. You take control of a machine. If you can do that, you can take control of your life. And whats more, you are not alone in making out in life. As a Christian, I believe God has made it possible for us to achieve. So I have learned to live with what people say and go beyond it. Whenever I visit schools I tell the children, When people put you down, dont get discouraged. Try to analyze what they say, pick what is worthwhile, discard the rest, and keep plodding. Never quit.
Can you recall any particular incident that challenged you in this way?
Once while I was working as a midwife, a female colleague said to me, You men are useless. You cant even knit! I reacted instantly. The next day I showed up with wool and needles and started knitting. When I finished my first jumper, the penny dropped. I thought, Hang on, I cant believe I can do this! It showed me that I could do whatever I wanted to.
I still have trouble, though. I still dont have a lot of faith in myself. But I turn it to my advantage. On my business card I have the slogan, Once started, too thick to quit.
You have spoken about your faith in God. You have established flying records around the world. When you are navigating your plane, do you have time to think about God?
Im a fourth-generation Seventh-day Adventist. In a conventional sense, Im not a good one. But for me, God is either everything in lifeor nothing. I choose to accept God and His leading or I dont. I could not have done what Ive doneflying around the worldwithout divine intervention. I remember the vivid feelings I had flying from Hawaii to California for 15-plus hours. I saw the sun set and the sun rise. These are moments when you cant help but think about God and life and Creation. All through the night I felt something quite tangible, as if I was carried by Him. To someone who doesnt know God, that sounds silly. But to me, God is real and personal. Hundreds of people were praying for me. I felt carried by the power of prayer.
Tell us a little more about this global record flight.
This was a long-standing dream. I bought a RV-4 aircraft kit from a company in Portland, Oregon. The kit is no more than a set of plans and many pieces of aluminum and boxes with 13,000 rivets. It took three years to build the plane in a rented workshop, using whatever time I could spare after doing night duty as a nurse. But the plane was not fit for long-distance flying, such as going to Oshkosh. It needed modifications, and it had to meet various specifications. My first long flight over water was in February 1995, from Adelaide, Australia, to Auckland, New Zealand. The trip took 14 hours.
Then came the big dream to reach Oshkosh. On July 3, I took off from Brisbane, headed east across the Pacific, with stops at Fiji, Western Samoa, Christmas Island, Hawaii, and California. Finally it was Oshkosh to a thunderous welcome. Never before had anyone flown a home-built plane so far to be at Oshkosh. From there our flight continued to Maine in northeast U.S., to Spain, London, the Middle East, India, Singapore, and back home to Darwin. The entire voyage took 71 days and 19 hours.
Do you still have dreams?
There are other things Id like to do. One day Ill build another aircraftjust because I want to do it. But one step at a time... My main goal is to share with others, particularly with childrento show them that everyone is precious in Gods sight and that God enables all to achieve, even a person like me who as a kid lacked self-worth. Whenever I get an opportunity, I tell young people that achievement is within their reach. They can and must turn every disadvantage to their advantage.
Do you see yourself as having achieved your potential?
No, far from it. To have achieved something that is perceived to be as big as what Ive done is exciting in one sense, but in the broader sense, all the awards and accolades Ive been given mean little, because theyre accolades from people. In the long run they dont count. Thats not to say Im not appreciative. I am, but theres so much more to life. What Ive chosen to do has brought this sort of success. But if someone has worked hard to get where theyve gotten, then theyve achieved just as much or more than I have.
Besides the great success, do you recall anything special about this trip of flying around the world?
I had several sponsors, both individuals and corporate bodies, and I am very thankful to them. I acknowledged these sponsors by stickers on the plane. But two decals of fish I had stuck on the plane attracted more attention than any other. People asked me about them. I told them the fish represent my great Sponsor. You know, fish is a symbol used by the early Christian church to denote their faith in Jesus. I wanted to express publicly that I am a Christian. My faith means a lot to me.
You wear Christian heart on your sleeve, Jon?
I teach flying to students from all over the world. I overheard one student, a Muslim from Oman, say something that made me realize what I do. He said, Jon teaches us more than just aerodynamics. He teaches us about life. Id never realized it was like that before. What I consider to be important in my life shows. And thats a little frightening sometimes.
Interviewed by Lee Dunstan. Lee Dunstan is an editor at Signs Publishing Company, Warburton, Victoria, Australia. Jon Johansons address: 53 Winns Road; Coramandel Valley; South Australia 5051; Australia.