Saturday, 10 December 2011

Father Christmas and his other job - One of the world's great secrets.


Recently I was on assignment in an undisclosed destination in the Africa, when I was somewhat flabergasted to come across the world's most experienced pilot. I was given a rare and somewhat exclusive interview as well as an opportunity to ride side-kick with this merry bundle of fun. Yes, you've guessed it, it was Santa Claus. Rumour always had it that he spent his time hanging out with Misses Claus and building toys in the off season but I can tell you with absolute confidence that these rumours are just that, rumours...


I picked up with Father Claus refuelling his Cessna 208 Caravan on a piece of rare African concrete. He was heard to have said whilst pumping in some JET A-1, "I was flying before the the Wright Brothers were out of nappies (diapers) anyway they were a pair of cowboys.... and who do you think gave them their first propeller anyway, though twas hell getting it down the chinmey!" 

He looked somewhat trimmer than normal but I guess it is red that makes you look fat and he looked in good form in his blues, well for a man of his age anyway. I can now reliably say in his off season from January 1st to Dec 24th that he keeps current at his flying by working with some really interesting guys, in an organisation called MAF - Mission Aviation Fellowship. I asked him what MAF was all about. He grinned at me his eyes sparkling out from under his bushy eyebrows & his weather beaten bronzed skin, all seemed at odds with his snowy white beard! "Well we fly these small aircraft, there are about 130 of them, based in over 30 different countries, each able to bring help hope and healing to some of the remotest communities  in the world, we partner with lots of organsations and it is great getting to know some remarkable people and supporting them in their work."

Loading some medicines for MedAir
     Flying up some blood for the blood bank                


I was dying to know though why one of the world's oldest and most experienced pilots in the world fly small aircraft for MAF.  Throwing back his head and giving a loud "ho ho ho, well I guess it keeps my hand in, as landing a sledge with 6 frisky reindeers on an upsloping roof, in a cross wind in driving snow, takes a bit of handling, well it feels about the same as a heavily ladden Caravan going into Kaabong on a hot and windy day! So I guess Christmas day flying keeps me on my toes for MAF and MAF operations keeps me in the game for C'mas day! Hey I'll tell you these Reindeers are great fun but  not nearly as much as flying an amphibious floatplane in Bangladesh, now that is the bees knees, nothing quite compares with that. I guess I make a lot of difference to people on Dec 25th but these guys make a difference to lots of people on the other 364 days of the year and I love just helping them do it."There was a whistful look in Santa's face as his mind raced off to watery flights in warmer climes flown long ago.
                                          Unloading with Bishop Bismark in South Sudan.
So if you want to find out why Father C flies with MAF, why don't you check out their web sites, perhaps even sign up for their free magazine. So if you live in the UK use  www.maf-uk.org,  in the US www.maf.org and Australia www.maf.org.au So Merry Christmas from me Bryan at Biggles Abroad

Stopping by for a cup of tea with the Karamajong
A well earned rest me think's

A break with ground staff. No reindeer to muck out here!
The Guernsey Press and a cup of Rooibos bliss!
So Merry Christmas from me Bryan at Biggles Abroad













Saturday, 26 November 2011

What no raisins! Yesterday in the Congo!

... an Edenic forest stretches out into the curtain of Congolese haze. Stretched before me is mile upon mile, tree after tree multiply by 10, 100, 10, 000, the number of trees is truly mind boggling, a hundred shades of brown a thousand shades of green, no visible habitation, no roads, no clearings, just forest, just life in all it's fulness. an arboriculturists heaven.
Whilst there is clearing in this photo taken later in the day ...you get the drift!
The days work started in the rain, just as the previous evenings had finished in it. The Pajero seemed very reluctant to wake but after 5 minutes of cajoling it limped out of the Guest House, the start of a two Day MSF Congo charter. First to the office to pick up the trips paperwork, then onto our airfield at Kajjansi, refuel and get the aircraft ready, took on full fuel, 2,200lbs of Jet A-1 (aka paraffin) worth over 7hrs of  flying. Another cold flood of rain drains off the wing root, cascading down my back, you'd think I had learn't where not to stand by now, as it did the same y'day when I was Sudan bound. Freight 300kg of it had been loaded by Richard and Jackson, hard to believe that it took all my effort to shift a small pile of cable, two feet sideways in the back of the aircraft, on reflection it had taken two of them to lift it in! A 12 mile flight to Entebbe to clear paperwork and pick up a satellite dish from Customs, 'just 4 pieces of plastic', easier said than done! Always be warned if the 'just' word is used in Africa it's just down the road - means it's either a 5 minute walk or a 3 hr 4x4 car journey, it's just a small suitcase - means my 6ft tall 20 year something lumberjack son managed to lift it with only a slight hernia,  just a plastic satellite dish - actually it's huge really.

In Bunia (161nm due West of Entebbe) swapped the freight for more passengers and medicines, that the charterers logistic officer had ready for me, amazingly it is not raining and the visibility is reasonable, is this the DRC I ask myself? Soon climbing out past the UN helicopters  and I head out under the cloud layer it soon brightens then all of a sudden one breaks out from under the cloud blanket sun and it is beautiful, as I head just over the hour up to Dungu (NW 157nm).  The trees are truly impressive, herds of snow white unicorns seemingly gallop across the tree tops, cumulus be their names. There are so many trees... After a time they thin out, the forest takes on a strange patchwork quilt like appearance, a maze of what one could almost imagine being grassy 'stagnant ponds'.  It reminds me of a scene at the start of C S Lewis book where the children jump between worlds in the 'Magicians Nephew.'

Once in Dungu a grass strip south of the river, not to be confused with the large UN strip a few miles away north of the river, we get some more freight and passengers are traded, strapped in and we are off. The day is getting warm and raisins make for a great snack, the secret for making these delectable morsels last, is how long can you suck a wrinkled 'grape' before it bursts!



Next stop in Dingila another 150 nm due west. The sun is now very hot through the cockpit window, the roar of the vents is loud, even over the engine noise, as streams of cooling air pour in. Ones eyes strain looking for the tell tale line that marks the airstrip.
Joining over-head the 900m long airfield, this is my first visit, I can see it looks in in excellent shape. There is very little wind and the wheels kick up a small red dust cloud, as they bounce along the 'murram path'. More MSF passengers and freight await but this time I have to unload some of the seats that are strapped together and re-install them on the metal tracks provided. They are designed to be quickly unlocked and removed & equally quickly re-installed, perhaps they were 21years ago when 'Bravo India Lima' was built, but now they are absolute rat bags to get back in quickly - think very uncharitable thoughts towards the designer of what was once a good idea, as I wiggle, shake, push, prod and kick them into place. Perspiration drips down my brow, time is slipping by now as I still have to fly 150nm back to Dungu before heading south to Bunia - it shuts at 1700 hrs local and no one will be allowed to land at 1701 (last daylight landing time is 1711 - NB an hour time zone difference to Uganda). Phew job done...
By the time I bounce gently onto Dungu's murram I have 10 minutes to load & unload the passengers and be off. All 8 pax enter into the reasoning behind my haste and we are rumbling down the runway 9 mins later, sadly had to leave 90kg of freight behind as it would have taken just  to long to tie it down. The days work was always going to be a race against time unless everything went smoothly!

A beautiful late afternoon sun slowly sinks, changing the forests colours from the noon day harshness brightness to a gentler pastle shades of later in the day. The ETA is 10 mins before the airfield shuts, and their are several alternates I could go to if the enroute weather is not as expected, would be interesting arriving at a bush strip with a stack of unexpected passengers but am not expecting a problem - but MAF, has as do the scouts, the motto 'be prepared'. Reach down in my flight bag for another sugar boost, 'What no raisins!' A truly great disapointment but the view sort of makes up for it as we roll along at 2.5nm a minute and supper is perhaps not so long off, certainly breakfast was an age ago.
Climbing out over the river the 208 makes a great shadow
The airfield has a tower and is giving 8km in haze but I spot it 10 miles out!  The wheels gently squeak as we land back on Bunia's tarmac rwy. Over 6hrs of flying today and the day is done. Arrange to meet my pax for a 0900 local departure next morning and we go our seperate ways, now first a shower, then supper and a good nights rest at the Lincoln's.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Dodging raindrops a great Ugandan sport!


The weather seems very wet this November, unseasonally so, a number of the pilots have had long flights and the odd unexpected overnight dodging raindrops. This is an account of such a day that I wrote not so long ago. What a day, flew about 8hrs including an extra 250nm avoiding awful weather – just about everywhere. It did not seem that bad getting out of Kajjansi but hit a wall of heavy rain after 40 miles and low cloud, west looked dark & foreboding, decided to go east along with another aircraft in the area.
This is part of a black cotton soil strip after recent rain best described as not great!
 Eventually got around the weather, somewhat off course and headed up to Arua for refueling, customs and Immigration. Arua had had very heavy rain overnight but the strip is well drained and although made of compacted murram is in tip top condition, as it is used by small airliners. Took on two barrels of fuel - 400litres - and headed NW out over the Congo to Yambio in SW Sudan another 1.5 hrs away. Visibility was good but gradually the ceiling got lower and lower and I was being forced more and more east and I wanted to go west and eventually the clouds touched the ground and as we did not plan on going any further by road, I had to divert to my bolt hole at Yei – always have an out in bad weather, actually once Yei bound all very pleasant. Munch a tasty flapjack – pleasant sugar boost. Waited half an hour on the ground, the wx is definately moving west, cannot wait too long if I am to complete the flight today. Soon climbing out and heading to Yambio again. Spoke with a UN aircraft that had sneaked out of Yambio, and he advised me it was not that good there, our Op’s Manager in Kampala had checked the satellite photo’s and he thought wx was moving off. Decided to route over Maridi, another good bolt hole, I could always leave the freight there and at least bring back most of my passengers to Entebbe, as I had been going there after Yambio anyway. Passing overhead Maridi, which has some low cloud, 


I look down and I can see the air-strip below the whispy clouds, so I carry on west. A wall of black weather stands proud and defiant on the horizon but I reckon it is just beyond Yambio town now and so of little consequence. Great, got in as the strip, though a tad damp is clear, 600kg medicines for Nzara Hoz & Tambora Diosc & 2 pax, already bright and sunny! Soon my  shirt  is soaked from sweat unloading and loading the freight, as really warm and quite muggy after the rain. Doors are shut, pax strapped in, the turbine is going full tilt and we are heading down the airstrip, bank left into a 180 and abt 30mins to Maridi, then a pleasant jaunt down to Arua , as I 




decide to clear the paper work there as well as  take on extra fuel.  Parked up we  hear the deep rumblings from a huge approaching storm, a large wall of darkness  steaming into Arua. Head out East where it is very clear but  difficult to find a way through tot he south, so after half an hour I am further from home than when I took off, my current escape route will take me for coffee at a mission station in Nimule back in Sudan! At last a clear gap ..... I gradually weave my way down country, pass Gulu – at least that is in Uganda, after that Masindi, then Jinja. All the time I press on and I have to calculate can I get to my diversion strip before last landing time and also feed in a few what if’s into the equation. Look at pax all happy reading their books or asleep, as despite the weather it has been pretty smooth. Samuel is ahead of me by 40 minutes but when I get to the clear airspace he was in, more bad weather. Fox-Fox tells me it is nice in Kampala, Entebbe weather is good but…… was just thinking it might be an overnight now in Jinja and I then I am through, beautiful & sunny, 'what weather' I say!!! I can still make Entebbe before last landing time by a few minutes, beautiful touch down, am sure passengers do not realise we are on the ground, they disembark quickly remarking , 'what a nice flight it was!' No paper work needed, so I can 'leg it' to Kajjansi, only 12 miles away, I am allowed another 15 minutes of 'daylight'. 


Traffic driving home is really heavy and takes forever, this is definitely the dangerous part of the day. Arrive back at the office almost 13hrs after I left it, tired with all the passengers and freight in the right place, twas’ a good day. 

Monday, 10 October 2011

A Great Photo can remind one of when - A Jolly Jaunt from Juba to Pagak


Have you ever snapped a photograph that as far as your concerned is great, in fact if one was not so modest one might even declare it 'brilliant', catches the atmosphere, captures the moment, it may or may not be technically good - you just love it. Well...

I was in Pagak a little village near the Ethiopian border about 18 months ago, then Pagak was in Sudan now it is in South Sudan, they have not moved the country or village but.... , anyway being a border town both the Sudanese Pounds and Ethiopian Birr could be found working together in the little village shops. I had stayed overnight after dropping some passengers off, who were visiting some projects having flown in from Malakal and whilst getting ready next day to carry on, on my way I bumped into this friendly chap sitting quietly by his hut in the cool of the morning, he wore a delightful smile, as he pondered the day ahead and I felt the photo caught  the moment.

I was rather please in July to get a chance to go back to Pagak to drop off some medical supplies and a few other bits and pieces, when I had last landed it was hot and dusty, before I could land I had to chase off a football match that was enjoying the relatively smooth open ground.
Today all was quiet and the rains had not long been in the area, so whilst the day was warming it was still very pleasant. Alas it truly was a drop, load and go otherwise it would have been good to look for my pipe smoker but perhaps next time.


So here is a quick view of the latter flight 'A Jolly Jaunt from Juba to Pagak!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Recently I met Jim Le Huray MAF's newest Bush Pilot



Just before Christmas last year I was excited to meet our latest new MAF pilot fresh out from our training course in Nampa Idaho. He is working with MAF in Uganda, at Kajjansi our airstrip there, his name was Jim Le Huray and he has recently come out from Guernsey (land of the Guernsey Cow and the book Guernsey Literary and Potatoe Peel Society) . He is a very popular pilot both with Local and International staff in Uganda and the Congo but he is a particular favourite  with our passengers, it was found by our Operations Manager Dave (who is from MAF US) that when Jim was operating single crew (as most of our aircraft are) due to his unusually light body weight we could load an extra 80kg of passengers and/or freight on to every flight which he flew. 
He was quite a character and on a number of occasions when he tangled with the military his sense of humour soon solved a tricky situation. 
He had a particular heart to work with very young people, perhaps because he is altitudinaly challenged himself. Also he was eager to do a bit of filming with me the results of which we made into a short film which was shown on a couple occasion earlier in the year and the results were well received and Jim felt we could perhaps make a couple of films that might appeal to younger folk. When we did some editing together we found quite amazingly that on film our voices sound remarkably similar. 
Well my son Jonathan offered to be the main editor of the first of two versions of the first film of The Adventures of Jim Le Huray and it is called Jim Le Huray Bush Pilot. Which we find attached below. There is also an 8 minute version which is very different. Enjoy ... do contact me on bryan.pill@maf-europe.org

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Who on Earth is MAF?



Several folk have recently asked who is this MAF, I keep mentioning in my Blogg, well it is not the Ministry of Ag and Fish but  - Mission Aviation fellowship. 
So it was a good question... so I fed my my son Jonathan numorous cups of coffee and gave him two briefs one is he had to teach me some of the finer points of using Final Cut Pro X (read how to use it) and the 2nd was to come up with a 90 secs short - this is MAF. He could use any of my film. He spent quite a time on it and drank lots of coffee and I thought this was  pretty good. What do you think? Please do comment.


Do check out their site perhaps sign up for their free 1/4ly magazine.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The best part of flying has to be ...

       ... the 4 stripes on the shoulders, the way they call you Commander in Franco-phone countries, definitely the difference you can make to a  lot of people using a large piece of noisy aluminum, being part of a team that extends from supporters in Guernsey, Jersey, Sark, Alderney, UK, New Zealand, Australia and a few other places to the front left seat and everyone in between, possibly the fact that every one looks up at you (pun intended), fulfilling a boy hood dream or answering a call to fulfil your dream from the King of Kings - actually I'll go for all 7!

What is the best the best part of flying def...has to be the landing .... Here are a few African ones that I have filmed over the last few years, which you may find of interest? 
You can also find more on bigglesgsy on youtube.

Monday, 26 September 2011

What do you miss?


Am Sitting at Joe’s Kitchen in Manchester Airport large hot coffee steaming before me being kept company by an omelette that could only be described as a sausage and mushroom Frisbee.  Not quite what I expected when I put my order in but I’m sure it will hit the spot. Catching these red eye flights is hard work you know - In Guernsey these are the 0700 ETD’s, just glad I am not one of the crew!  There is something about airports that always make me day dream about journeys past, adventures lived and opportunities taken. Thoughts turn to the question, what am I missing most .... umm memories drift lazily by as I tune into my own personal imaginary TV station, Ahhh images of my Instrument proficiency check and MAF Base Check start to appear and my logbook all signed off but actually they are memories of stress and relief, time to change channel :-

On my way into the office from the MAF Guest House zig zag around numerous pot holes - today’s selection tend to be either large and shallow or deep and crunchingly short - do you hit them fast or slow, head on or at an angle - you only really know after the event? Pedestrians, goats and a herd of rather impressively horned Acholi cattle flash by my windows in the early morning gloom, seems somewhat windy with some dark & damp clouds overhead. 
Have my usual fight with the office door, are keys designed to keep you out or let you in ummm, after a brief struggle I guess the latter, pick up some freight from the office, along with the paper work and head out to Kajjansi just over 20 mins drive on a good day, wx already seems somewhat calmer now  and it will not be long before the day starts to warm up nicely.  African mornings are delicious, can almost smell the freshness of the dawning Ugandan day. A whiff of my Cappuchino adds a certain reality to my ponderings. 

Heading up to South Sudan and picking up passengers at kajjansi and Entebbe today. Have a brief chat with a couple of the passengers before finishing my walk round to see if the aircraft is correctly glued together.  But before I start up for the brief hop 12nm hop to Entebbe to clear customs and immigration, I pray (love this bit), blessing the passengers ministry, work and onward travel, inevitably all laugh when I give the briefing and remind them that “should you decide they did not enjoy their early morning breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, then feel free to use the white bag inside the blue envelope inside the clear wallet …but plan ahead as it takes ages to get it out!” At Entebbe have 7 pax, as well as some freight, combined with fuel, I am as full as full can be. All passports checked and I get a copy of a stamped manifest and we are free to go. Tower give start up and taxi clearance very promptly “Taxi and hold at 17 and clear to cross 12”.  Engine checks complete and tower give me my departure clearance, “MAF Charlie Oscar cleared take-off 17 right turn, initially not above 5500 (ft) on a 320 heading”. I read back the clearance, release brakes, apply full power, hold the centre line and we are off into the wild blue yonder, bank over an array of ariels and assorted aggressive military equipment and head northish for the next 200+miles...

Better tuck in, as the omlette will soon grow cold...  Yei (just west of Juba) flew almost 3/4 of tonne of medical supplies to the Anglican church clinic, these supplies will make a great difference to a lot of people. They had had heavy rain in the morning so the strip was really soft in parts, the grass is growing fast on both sides 



making the strip appear somewhat narrower than it really is. Watch a twin engined aircraft come in and its full reverse thrust give their aircraft a remarkably efficient coating of red mud and soil, having said that mine has a nice smattering across the paintwork! Some engineers where mending a Ugandan twin that had aborted a take-off a few days ago and had a rather heavy conversation with a tree! Two German volunteer students, Joseph and Simon help me unload; they manage to fit everything with the aid of a shoe horn into both of the trucks they had brought up.

Golly it is only about 6 weeks since I last flew and I’m already day dreaming about it, the smell of the Kerosene, fresh rain, dust in the noon day air but actually they are just memories what I really miss is a warm embrace, an outstretched hand of trust, arms raised in praise - those moments when you feel the Kingdom of God is touching down on earth.
PS I appreciate some of you will notice the photo is of 'RM in picture 1 & 'IL in picture 2- well done! I am sure you spotted they were taken in Ikotos S Sudan and Kotido Uganda.

It might look like peanut butter but if your hungry it's a banquet


From my July Blogg. I was asked to tell a little more about Plumpey nuts, so thought a spot of video would tell it all...
Gave a chap from Save the Children a lift 1hr 20 flight back to Juba and asked him how long would it have been by road? 'Oh 2-3 days assuming you can get through!'

Parts of South Sudan's small network of roads are quite difficult to travel by road at the best of times but there are seasons in the year when they become downright almost impossible to navigate and that is when MAF really does come into it's own .... 
Flying over a thin brown pencil line in the green sward below me, the road as if  drawn with ruler disappeared into the distance, yet closer examination showed it as a mass of puddles, ponds and small lakes,  that must easily turn to a quagmire once any weight is applied to the surface, especially where there is black cotton soil - should think that was the end of  that, till things dry out a bit!  

Even with the long arm of MAF getting around here is not easy. Have just had 4 days flying up in the north of South Sudan, loved it I have to say, a demanding environment. Amazingly green, I had jotted down on my knee board when the muse was upon me, ‘The verdant grasslands stretch before me, a luxurious green carpet as far as the eyes can see, to my right  the Nile winks in the morning sun.but the rains have been light this year ...well the media have let us know that, so the disaster ‘sown’ years before, unfolds in northern Kenya, Eastern Sudan and Somalia. 


This trip much of my freight was plumpey nuts and I add below a spot of film that perhaps fills in a few gaps on these strange squidgy aluminium foil packets ...

video

Plumpey nuts fill many an eager stomach and provides for physical needs & hope for another day, alongside this runs the Jesus Church, purveyors of spiritual hope.  Only a fool says in his heart that you only need one of these.



Saturday, 30 July 2011

Ahhh the fragrance but it is what is inside that counts

Have you ever been to your local airport, on a hot summers day to watch the frenetic activity on the apron as aircraft after aircraft are unloaded and despatched or perhaps you've been jawing in a old hanger long past it's best, telling tales about 'there I was upside down', when you catch on the air a something, a hint, a fragrance, the scent that stops you mid sentence ..... the delightful and unique smell of hot turbine exhaust gas - burnt Jet A-1 or Kerosene to the uninitiated. There is nothing, absolutely nothing quite like it to throw your mind back to dreamy boy-hood days of Viscounts & Heralds engines whining nose twitching as they spool up, glass landings on the

Jamuna (aka Brahmaputra) River alongside the Jibon Tari Floating Hospital, turbine gases wafting in the open window in the shimmering tropical heat or the sweaty unloading of life saving plumpey nuts to the creaking of a cooling exhaust in Southern Sudan.



Have you wondered what it is though that makes this mind transporting 'drug'. Well it is a rather expensive piece of kit, called a PT-6, this is a turbine engine bolted behind the prop, as shown below.
It operates to the very scientific formula of
                                 Turbine + Fuel = Noise + More Noise + Aircraft Movement  + Fragrance
A remarkable piece of very reliable equipment not so dissimilar to Frank Whittles prototype of some 74 years ago.
Funnily most people like to board a nice shiny aircraft and don't give much thought to what goes on on the inside, tis true to say that generally speaking if you look after the outside then probably you are also looking after the inside but actually in aviation it is what is on the inside that truly counts. We love our engineers as they are very thorough, picky and do a great job - no one wants an engineer to rush or take short-cuts. Actually what is on the inside is really important to the pilot and not just mechanically but what we carry....
                     
You know though there was a man who was a great believer in the statement that it is, what goes on on the inside that really counts. 
I have recently just enjoyed a great book about this remarkable man written by Eugene Peterson and called The Message well worth a read.
So next time you catch the fragrance of those glorious exhaust fumes remember 
1.we cannot neglect what goes on inside of us either 
2.sometimes we need a spot of maintenance
3.we need to make sure that what we carry around with us on the inside is useful and perhaps jettison some of the junk!
.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Plumpey Nuts ......what a great name for a food - that truly saves lives

Plumpey Nuts what a great name for a food.....
"Ok I will take 9 boxes in pod B, 8 in Pod C and the other 45 in the cabin." Sweat tickles my nose as I do the 32nd twist and turn, great for the waste line but doubt I'll never be able to limbo dance again! Loading Plumpey Nuts in the Juba heat, the new Capitol of South Sudan is hard work but we soon have them on board and strapped down. 
The refuelling truck pulls up and I load on board 512 litres of Juba's best Jet A-1. Once the fuel is signed for I double check the weight and balance, as whilst the aircraft is full (not a kg more can it lift), it actually looks pretty empty with all the seats out, as the cargo I am transporting today is pretty dense. 

I am about to move about 5 tonnes of these boxes and other assorted medicines and supplies up to northern Southern Sudan for SCF over the next four days as well as pick up an AID Sudan team. The plumpey nuts (what a great name) in particular will save countless lives and make a real difference to many, particularly children in extremis.

I spot the airstrip 15 miles out, a khaki patch standing out as clear as a bell, against the sea of waving green, as despite the lack of rain, the grasslands look surprisingly lush from the air. First load in is to Waat over 200nm north of Juba, it is a new strip for me and as it is a freight flight, I bank hard over the black cotton soil airfield, getting a good look at the land below me. Boxes seldom complain about such manoevers, then line up on the centre of the airfield and pass very low over the somewhat rough surface in an effort to encourage the cattle wandering across it to 'push off.' Also gives me a chance to look out for any standing water or any other obvious hazards that might be there to trip me up but it has not rained for a few days so there is only one area about 200m long that I had best avoid.  The cattle amble off, noses in the air, somewhat irritated by this giant fly that has just zipped past their 'horn tops' at 110kts. Another couple of hard banks keeping the circuit really tight and I am lined up again on the field, to the right of where I guess the runways centre line should be, as best avoid the muddy areas that would definately ruin my day if I landed on them, a rattle of wheels as I apply reverse thrust and brake hard and my shoulders push against my harness. Scotty (5X-SCO) stops in no time and I taxi to the far end of where I think the runway ends!

Once on the deck, Save the Children's truck reverses up to the rear freight door and the straps securing the cargo are quickly whipped off as I have to do this again before the day is out, we get the cargo unloaded. I start passing the boxes out,  this beats any gym session. The Land Cruisers suspension groans under the load.

 Here I have Jim Le Huray my co-pilot resting for a while on the plumpey nuts on a later flight up to Akobo, now that is one 'rubbish' airstrip - not much fun when dryish, suspect it soon becomes unusable when wettish!
'
Plumpey nuts are  are in a distinctive red and white box each weighing 14.7kg, this is one load of 'peanut butter' that is going to a very good home .....

Wikapedia say  Plumpy’nut is frequently used as a treatment for emergency malnutrition cases. It helps with rapid weight gain, which can make the difference between life and death for a young child. The product is also easy for children to eat since they can feed themselves the soft paste. The fortified peanut butter-like paste contains a balance of fats, carbohydrates and proteins (macronutrients), and vitamins and minerals (micronutrients). Peanuts contain mono-unsaturated fats, which are easy to digest. They are also very high in calories, which means that a child will get a lot of energy from just small amounts, important because malnutrition shrinks the stomach. They are rich in zinc and protein — both good for the immune system and to aid long bone growth in reversing stunted height, while protein is also needed for muscle development. Peanuts are also a good source of vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps to convert food into energy.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

ROSS - A visit to the newest nation in the world.

The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.” 

Don Williams, Jr. (American Novelist and Poet, b.1968)
Well I agree really BUT I love going somewhere new and so I kinda' like getting to the destination and if one is honest, there are times the journey can be a real pain!
Bursting out of the rain covered hills it was a delight to find a huge amphitheatre of space before me and it only took a minute or so before I spotted my destination, a thin brown strip amongst bush, huts, fields and houses. 
Banking hard over the end of the airstrip, I looked down below me and it was hard to believe that somebody really had built a concrete house, shop or whatever it was to become, right at the end of the airstrip. Not a problem landing but it sure shortens the strip for take-off. Figured a little rudder at the end of the take-off run would get one round the obstruction but the two lorries parked up nearby would have to move.

The undercarriage clunk clunked as it hammered over the rough surface, kicking up a cloud of dust & sand into the warm Sudanese air, one felt the straps pull firmly on ones shoulders, as one stomped on the brakes along with a 'burst' of reverse thrust. In seconds the aircraft had slowed to a walking pace in less than half the 800m available and I parked up in a relatively scrub free area off the runways side. People seemed to tumble out of the bush, with a real festive air, as everyone and I think I mean everyone, came out to see the machine that had newly arrived. Does seem there are only a couple of arrivals - on a busy month!
I love this photo of the busyness of a typical bush strip!
I was picking up a delightful young couple working with AIM (African Inland Mission) who were off to the coast for a well deserved 3rd Wedding Anniversary break, they had been in Ikotos learning the language and getting to know the people for some 18 months  - I wondered could I do that? I also had two chaps on board - wearing their chaplaincy T shirts - they had been training godly soldiers to become Chaplains/Pastors in the army in Nimule.  Amazingly Bosco one of the first such graduates from this programme just happened to turn up at the field - wearing his somewhat older much but equally much loved Chaplaincy T-shirt!
Well taking off ... with a few interesting obstructions at the end of the runway, I thought it best they moved the trucks, easy, ummm well it would have been if the engine had still been in it. Still a bit of maths and with my weight (aircrafts, not mine personally!) and a few knots of breeze down the runway, taking off towards the obstruction was still best and it should be no problem - with an obstacle clearance departure. So it was full power, rattle bump judder as we hurtled over the ruts and despite the heat the Caravan left planet earth as per the book, much to the delight of the several hundred spectators, goats and dogs lining the strip. Banking left we head low over the countryside before we commence our climb and 250nm south.
Evidence that I was there ... golly love this job.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

It was only a little hole but it was a pleasing sight!

The heavy brooding clouds had lowered themselves to smother the mountain tops or perhaps the forest covered mountains had ascended into the grey rain laden cloud layer, either way flying low up the valley it was pretty obvious that getting over this small range of mountains was not going to be easy.
All three of our Caravans headed north yesterday, into the newest nation on earth; the Republic of Southern Sudan.  We had managed to pick up a satellite picture of the weather in the office at 0630 to see what we might expect and it looked decidedly damp over yonder border, the satellite image showed lots of green = wet, plenty of  yellow = very wet and several hefty dollops of red = who cares how wet they are, you don't want to go there.
Actually my area was pretty colour free and despite an update date saying it looks fine.... I was low over the trees looking for a way over the range. You do have to wonder if any one ever visits these densely forested areas very beautiful, rather nice to see them at almost 2 miles a minute. A couple of useful rules flying in mountains of any size & colour always have an escape route and if you are in a valley make sure it is big enough to do an about turn in. Decided to go north first as it looked lighter but the clouds came down as the valley went up - sounds like a song, am I thinking about Noah and a flood? Well time to do a u or valley turn, warn the passengers - ideally they need to be the right type of passengers, which these were - they had been training soldiers to be Pastors for a few weeks - they had some great stories about Jesus, God & the Father but another time. Watch your speed neither to fast nor to slow, put some flaps down and 60 degree bank and she turns on a sixpence and we head back down the valley.
Warned base that did not look great and I was wondering if I might need to skip Ikotos but then I saw it a hole - you can see the hill clearly on the other side. Now 20 miles further south, I could probably have got round with ease but remember I am using up fuel.
This little jolly round the mountains was no big deal and enjoyed by all but it made me think of all the times I have been in a tricky spot and with wisdom & faith God has turned up trumps, the inevitable coincidence - now who was it who said the more I pray the more coincidences occur (rhetorical qu)?
Conclusion. Nipped through the 'hole', rather nice on the other side. Landing at Ikotos one cannot help but notice the building being built right on the end of the airstrip guess that is also another story!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Farewell friend... Why do you have to go?








You wave good bye, excited at the adventures new that lay before you, as you look back your friends hands are perhaps only half raised, their smiles are saying 'thank you for coming' but their eyes are shouting, 'why do you have to go?'........

My wife and I have had many privileges in life and some of those have come about through working with some remarkable people in some amazing places. We spent 4 years in the Nilgiris Hills in South India before we eventually joined MAF which has taken us on other adventures and we have 'suffered' many farewells.

Today in Uganda .....  approx every 6th sunday Kampala International Church splits into geographic zones, rather than meeting in one of it's two regular sites. Zone sunday meetings are quite different, smaller more intimate, allows friendships to develop and more folk to be involved and use their gifts and there is always food. Here we are meeting under the shade of the Makindye and Lubowa zones marquee.


...twas a great morning talking and sharing about the pains/challenges of life and how God walks us through them. We worshipped together, shared communion, said some farewells then enjoyed each others company over a meal.


Ummm farewells.... one of the hardest parts of working overseas is letting people into your life then having to let them go again, whilst true for everyone in life, it is especially so when you work abroad. The temptation is perhaps, to close ranks to newcomers, not get so close, after all they will one day leave, as you will also one day. Jesus requires us not to travel alone but to join with and be joined by fellow travellers, be it perhaps only for a season. 
Funny first impressions aren't they, research says we sum people up in the first 27secs! perhaps you think in those early minutes, that  your going to be stuck carrying their burdens, then they surprise you, as they stoop down and carry yours!  True maybe on other days you may have to struggle with theirs, but so often it is not at all like that, it is days of chatting, eating, drinking, laughing and companionable silence. Perhaps they will journey a long way with you, yet you thought it would only be a day or two, whilst others will just travel a 'few miles'. Whatever you do enjoy each days journey.


A really warm thankyou to all those through-out the world who have let my wife and I into their lives and allowed us to share in each others loads.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Click...


'Click,' the last clip of my 5 point safety harness slots into place as I strap into the left seat of my old friend Bill.
Bill - 5X-BIL a 20 year old Cessna 208 Caravan, a 600shp Turbine powered single engined air machine with attitude - room for 1 pilot and 9 passengers - rather like this shot of Bil in Pagak, Southern Sudan. We have had a lot of fun together, having travelled many thousands of miles, shifted hundreds of passengers and many, many tonnes of sweat inducing freight, from dogs to wellington boots, Kitchen sinks to chocolate.

Running through the checklist ...starter on and the turbine spools up, love that whine, if your lucky you might catch the delicious smell of the exhaust gas - burnt turbine fuel - wonderful.
Taxing out we are soon lined up, gentle breeze from the right, Bil vibrates with eagerness, as we leap down Kajjansi's grass and murram runway, first we're off to Entebbe International Airport only 12 miles away to refuel, clear Customs and sort out Immigration paperwork. I have Joey Lincoln and his wife and three small children on board, Joey is a pilot with MAF Congo in Bunia and is also an aircraft engineer - his father is Chief Engineer for MAF Congo based in Kajjansi! They had been working on one of MAF Congo's aircraft that had been parked in our hanger. We also have a couple of other NGO passengers  along with us as well, all seem very happy to be heading home.

It is only 160 miles on a 304 heading to Bunia, 1hr 10 min by Caravan but a long drive to this town in nestled just over the border in Eastern DRC. Climbing out to 10,500ft, it is a glorious day .just need to doge the odd cloud  Soon Lake Albert is in sight and once we are half way across - at the border, not a red dotted line in site despite looking hard for it over blue water's below. We descend into Bunia, crossing the ridge is beautiful, as we slide low over the high ground. The photo below shows a typical congolese town red rusted corrugated iron and dusty roads.  The airfield is easy to spot as it has a tarmac runway that today is easy to spot against the green background. Many UN helicopters squat half asleep like giant bumble bees, guarded by Bangladeshi UN troops, a pleasant and friendly bunch.
Paperwork is fairly speedy today and we only have 4 people to pick up. So we are quite light and all are ready and waiting. My clearance from the Bangladeshi controller is turn north from runway 28, which gives me a different view of town as every-time before it has always a southerly turn. Smoke billows out from a number of fires in the fields, in a few months their smoke will really help reduce visibility, as I am climb back over the ridge, turn on course heading back over Lake Albert, Entebbe bound... thinking what a great job I have.

Down Town Movie Time

Wednesday evening we entered the arena of downtown Kampala traffic - cars to the left of us, lorries to the right, cycles all over, we dodged our way through numerous close encounters emerging unscathed from our short battle, at our destination a somewhat battered old cinema. Not the talkie theatre of yester-year with faded velvet seats and usherets with torches.  But a somewhat down at mouth structure, seating for 50 in plastic seats on a bare concrete floor (or 150 in oxygen free, total discomfort) and a screen which was a white washed patch of wall. However it was home to a new church and a great place to show a movie!
I had gone out with Sam to show a Jesus film. Sam works with the Jesus Film Ministries, he travels all over Uganda at invitation, to show a variety of films about Jesus.
What a delight it was to meet some of these men and women whose lives had truly been turned upside down by an encounter with Jesus.
One of the guys who came, produces perhaps some of the best Chappati's in town, to get my order in, a lovely older lady called Anne who just loves these people as her own, acted as my guide, as it was not exactly on a main thoroughfare. You enter a 'lorry park', trashed lorries abound, duck under a trailer attached to a huge articulated behemoth (watch your head), squeeze alongside a wall and the trailers side, at the back is his little stall, uncooked chappati balls stand ready to be rolled and fried on a slightly rocky table, his home is a nearby wrecked truck. Greeted by a huge, a very real smile, order is placed, 'I'll bring them around when I come to the film.'
One of the mysteries of faith is that it is likely you would not have wanted anything to do with many of these folk a few years ago, certainly some would have been branded as dangerous, actually the sort of guys and gals Jesus kind of liked hanging around. Yet they had been transformed, are being transformed  - polished up, so God's image shines through such they are now truly our brothers and sisters.
The delight of the evening for me, was at the end, praying for queues of folk, as much wanting the pleasure of being prayed for, as much as their desire for God to meet their need be it for wisdom, healing or their marriage. Praying for folk really can be addictive ........

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Seeing is Believing?

Breath taking new evidence has just emerged that an exciting new Tarzan film may well be released soon - this unique photo was captured of our hero swinging effortlessly through the trees in an area of forest in the Entebbe Botanical gardens last used in the 1930's Tarzan production. This remarkable actor was heard to cry 'Yahoooo' as he swung from liana vine to liana vine - so this film is obviously made with British backing! 
I have photographic evidence and it is recorded in black and white yet some people doubt the veracity of what I have written.  Truth is worth looking for...

Saturday, 4 June 2011

24 hours ...

There was a beautiful 80 year old 4 masted Barque the Sea Cloud moored in the Little Russel a few days ago and I wondered how long it would take me to sail to East Africa. 
 Departing home always leaves me with an peculiar feeling, saying good bye, sadness and excitement.  My journey would have taken 10 days to complete by air in 1931 - I know as I have a first flight, dated air mail cover, or weeks & weeks by sea. 
 Bags in the car at 0920, only about 6 minutes to check-in at Guernsey airport, good ol Aurigny's ATR72 started up on time, by 1020 I was heading north into the mid morning sunshine. Coach to Heathrow - ipods are wonderful things, then a 5 hour wait before they would let me into departures for a decent cup of coffee!
 
Always wonder where every one is going at Heathrow,  after all I had a perfectly good reason to travel, as I was Uganda bound for work.  Every one shopping shopping shopping, so many looked board, impatient, tired, sad and some just lonely......

 The views from my bedroom are quite remarkable as the sun rose. I'd received a rather nice up-grade which meant the morning looked splendid over Niger at 540kts. Arguably breakfast was some of the fastest food  I've ever eaten.
Just 24 hours later I arrived at the MAF Guest House and some of the shops around the corner seemed so much quieter...
One thing I love about my job is enables me to be part of other peoples journeys, being a purveyor of hope.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Trust for sale only US$7,945

... was doing another Flight review a couple of days ago and it got me thinking.
Did you know you can buy piece of mind and absolute trust for just US$ $7, 945, it is available to everyone regardless of race and nationality. Perhaps I should explain, but first have you ever wondered when it is cold and grey outside, why many birds prefer to point beak into wind and hunker down staying nice and ‘comfortable’ on terra firma?
Cold and grey means lots of cloud... tests show that a pilot untrained in instrument flying (flying in cloud), will on entering this ‘solid’ fluffy stuff, so they can no longer see the ground or sky, will loose control of their aircraft within approx 90 -120 seconds with alarming results!
To survive they must switch their attention from their senses - which will almost certainly be saying, ‘all is well’, as they watch greyness flashing past their windscreen, to the aircraft instrument called the artificial horizon. This piece of kit is found right in front of the pilot at the centre of the aircraft ‘dashboard’, it is exactly what the name says it is, as it shows you where the horizon would be if there was no cloud i.e which way is up.  The trained pilot is taught to trust what it says with his life. The information it provides you see, is honest and true, it tells you if the aircraft is flying straight and level and shows you what to do if it is not. So even when your body and mind tell you otherwise, follow its advice, as trust it you must.  
They are very reliable instruments yet... I had one go very sick whilst flying way up in Sudan just before Christmas but no problem for the trained (training training training) aviator.
I always think your trust is one of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone and one we need to learn to give freely but wisely, however when receiving someone else’s trust, boy do we need to treat it with care, as if we break it, spending another US$7, 945US  will not guarantee a replacement. 
For that I am afraid you are going to have to receive forgiveness and another consequence can be that which is broken in a minute, can take many years to repair.