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!