Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Father Christmas explains why he flies with MAF in the off season

You may well have read this blog earlier in the year, it seems only 66 of you did so I felt it was worthy of a release at a more seasonal time.

Greasing a sled onto a steeply pitched roof top with 35kts of cross wind, at night, in driving snow would make even Biggles blanche but it  is all part of one evenings work for this man commonly called Father Christmas, St Nick or Santa Claus by his friends and followers. But what about the 'day job'? I had often wondered what it was that  he did during the other 364 days of the year. Some would say he spent his time  repairing and making new toys, others until they saw these remarkable photo's suggested that he spent time at his local Greenlandic Health spa, not so, whilst he looks pretty trim and sprightly for a man of his years, he assured me that it was the cut of his shirt and the sky blue that has always made him look thin
Well what about the day job? Here is the answer...

It was over a year ago that I met what I consider must surely be the world's most experienced pilot ever, this bush pilot extrordinaire then it was in an undisclosed part of Africa. So it was to my amazement that I have for the 2nd time met my child hood hero, only this time in an environment even more bizarre, one of  Harmittan's, dust storms, heat, rainy seasons that even Noah would have enjoyed and scorching sun that will boil an egg before you can say 'Bob's your Uncle! Well this world is all part of FC's day time employment. 

'So you work for MAF,' I asked, 'Sure do, Mission Aviation Fellowship, greatest flying job in the world,' his voice roared back at me, eyes grinned with a sparkle from under bushy eyebrows, his weather beaten bronzed skin, all seemed at odds with his some what full snowy white beard! "Well we fly these small aircraft, there are about 135 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. Sometimes it feels like Christmas Eve every day." he laughed loud and long as if this comment touched a memory. 

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Rat traps, a US$145 T shirt and a slightly shortened runway. All in a days work?

A couple of days ago I bought a little clay charcoal stove from the lady above and I paid her her asking price, the sum of 46 pence ($0.80) This morning I was in our office in Kampala and the conversation revolved around the fall of Goma and overnight events in Bunia and our response to them. On monday the group of boys below were laughing with delight showing me how their rat traps worked, they were rather nifty little things not unlike mini bows and yet had the power to re-arrange the hairstyle or worse of any passing critter of the short and furry kind!

I am sitting across from the Emporio Armani Shop at Dubai International, heading back to the UK for a family funeral. Dubai shops are so so busy, even at 2 in the morning, folk are shopping like there is no tomorrow and I do wonder how all those overhead baggage bins are going to contain their purchases! Just thinking 300 mad shoppers on a 777 that could be another couple of tons of stuff - wonder if they include it in the weight and balance! Even with 327, 000 commercial aircraft movements last year this is still only the 11th busiest passenger airport (6th Cargo) in the world according to Wikapedia. Still however nicely made Armani clothing is US$145 for a t-shirt does seem a tad on the steep side, though in fairness it does have a beautifully made name tag?

Had a great choice of shoes at the friday market on Makindye Hill I think if I so wished I could have bought all 40 pairs for about 40 US$

Kotido probably gets 3 flights a week when busy and as a result it lacks a little TLC. The airstrip was moved from the centre of the small town to it's present position perhaps 7 years ago and whilst it has a nice set of fence posts concreted into the red soil,  the wire that joins them has long since gone, in  actual fact I think it went AWOL a few weeks after installation.  Well the 1500m dirt strip is now more like 1000m as a rather nasty hole has appeared on the runway, it seems to have been part filled in but it would even now be more than happy to re-arrange the nose wheel or prop given half a chance. It is on top of a culvert which runs across the width and under the airstrip, so we are not so sure what is happening there yet! So the culvert marks the end of the runway now.

A young woman travelling business class was asked to leave our flight before we could take off, I have no idea what it was about but matoke (Ugandan's favourite food- see right), drink, pride, bad temper and the confiscation of something special may or may not have been involved but either way the consequence of a good protracted rant was expensive!
The world is so full of contrasts, and values and things of importance change with ones Geography. It can be difficult to make sense of it all and I guess that is where faith can give balance to life's dilema's

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The Final despatch from 12°6′N 15°2′E.

Well my next assignment is back to Uganda at the week-end. So I thought I would get my Final Despatch from 12°6′N 15°2′E, aka N'djamena in Chad, down onto paper. 
Here in Guernsey we are having our runway re-surfaced and I guess they may being doing a few other things to the tune of £80+million and in Alderney there is debate about whether to keep their grass runway operational - my answer is; when there are minimal sea links the answer this is a no brainer, keep it open!
In MAF we have some interesting rwy surfaces! Actually before landing we run through a little mnemonic. 
Wind direction, strength. Is it gusty, what about the x-wind, tailwind.
Length - but can you use it all? Any new ant hills, heavy rain, unexpected pond on left side, can all
               shorten it and make it seem some what shorter thn the last time you came!
Altitude - If it is hotter than 'normal' it's as if the airstrip is now higher than it was and therefore you 
               need more rwy. So a cold morning arrival can mean the airstrip seems to have shrunk 
               somewhat when it comes to a noon departure at 45C!
Surface - dry season nice.  Wet season, soggy, slippery and unusable! Watch out black cotton soil can 
              catch out the unwarry, as it has a crust that you can break through. Is the sand carved up by
              big aircraft bad news!
Slope - are you landing up hill, down hill or with gentle side slope?
Obstacles - In the tropic things grow ever so fast, holes appear - caused by wart hogs, ants, termites. 
              There may be some animals crossing, thinking of crossing and those who are not thinking 
              about crossing but will anyway!

Rather nice Congo airstrip

Don't assume, check it out. Not a bad attitude to life really.

Here sand is the surface of choice and the golden vista can make even finding the airstrip tricky and after a few heavy lift transports have been in and out the surface resembles a soft beach and great care must be taken ideally to find the firm stuff and not to come to a halt on the soft sand as hauling it the out, is really hard work. Here I am pulling the aircraft, off the strip onto a harder rocky surface for overnight parking. 
In the south the rains have been very good and grass is appearing all over the place. After rain the top cm can be very slick and can involve quite alot of dancing on the rudder pedals to hold the aircraft in a straight line when landing. Even areas that are rarely green this have a verdant tinge and rivers start to flow and over flow making drivable tracks and roads unpassable, cutting off communities. 

The rains keeps the frangipani, donkies and crimson breasted bee-eaters happy though!

Sand causes some wear and tear on the paint work and here the Caravan is getting a check out. Note the oil cooler on the left. The rains keep the aircraft clean!

Jim's Film, Jim Le Huray Bush Pilot, just the thing to inspire little people into the world of aviation!

There is nothing, absolutly nothing quite like the whine of a PT-6 turbine coming to life, propellor spooling up,  a whiff of turbine fuel & exhaust carried through the vents, a couple of Ugandan Cranes (national bird) pause their courtship as the prop noise distracts them but for a moment. My eyes are fixed on engine instruments, poised to disable the start-up if all is not well but all is well...So let's go fly. I'm Jim Le Huray Bush Pilot.

Why not share my tweaked version of Jim Le Huray Bush Pilot to some of the young people you know. It might help inspire them to become the Bush Pilots, Engineers, Managers, Learning Technology and IT staff of the future for MAF or for many of the other amazing flying and mission organisations operating around the world.
So why not give them a glimpse of my world.  

I  have been flying in Uganda and working alongside the MAF Congo programe as well as flying into South Sudan, as well as in Chad since I joined MAF at the start of 2011. I am one of the newer MAF pilots and certainly the lightest. I am based in the Island of Guernsey (land of the Guernsey Cow and the book Guernsey Literary and Potatoe Peel Society) and I generally end up flying alongside another MAF pilot Capt Bryan Pill. 

I am very popular pilot  mainly as I only weigh about 3kg so there is room for an extra 80kg on any flight that I fly!'

So if you want to know more about MAF whay not E -mail me on

This is  a lovely story Fred van Gorkum told me.
Alas I call Fred, Frank!