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After high school he attended Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute, which had programs for missionary pilots and mechanics. Only 12 places were available for students that year.

“I was 16 and about as average as one could be when I applied. I was the twelfth one accepted.”

After earning licenses to be a pilot and an aircraft mechanic, Mortenson took a language course and was assigned in 1958 first to Guatemala and then Pucallpa, Peru, where he spent the majority of three years flying to remote villages.

A bout of polio brought him near death again, but he recovered and was soon flying over low-lying jungle and between the peaks of the Andes.

“The passes were 17,000 feet high with 22,000-foot mountains on either side,” he says, describing perilous flights over lands not yet mapped. “No one really knew where anything really was. We didn’t have GPS.”

After returning to Illinois in 1961, Mortenson and others began designing a bush plane with an extra engine.

Labor costs and the flight paths of nearby Chicago airports, however, propelled relocation. On the recommendation of a pastor friend whose wife had studied at Northwestern College, Mortenson landed in Orange City.

His first design, the Evangel, took flight in 1967. (One of the eight produced now lives at the Iowa Aviation Museum in Greenfield.)

“They’ve flown from Guam to South America,” he says. “It was [the missionaries’] first multiengine aircraft. It carried the pilot and eight others.”



Determined to make an even better aircraft, Mortenson began designing Angel in 1972.

A handcrafted prototype first flew in 1984, but certification and manufacturing hurdles delayed its first sale until 2000.

The sleek plane’s most notable characteristic is its rearward-facing pusher propellers that help it accelerate fast in a short distance — a fine quality to have on short airstrips surrounded by trees as tall as 200 feet.

Sons Ed and Evan, who both studied in Iowa State University’s aviation program, have been assisting their father with aircraft design and manufacturing since they were in grade school.


(Read more Wing and Prayer)

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