Friday, 3 May 2013

A Morning in the Life of a Diesel 182 in the Sahel Lakeland!

04:28 I am wide awake, how is that possible the alarm is not due till 0430! Leap out of bed, shower, mango and mug of rooibos, drive, open hanger doors, pick up weather, passengers briefed. Under the calming effect of my noise cancelling Bose headset the throaty rumble of the diesel Cessna 182 is converted to a complex mix of sound the gentle clatter of a tractor with the hissing chatter of a sowing machine. I love tractors and the sound of a sowing machine brings childhood memories of mother sowing flooding back. So...

The diesel 182 is MAF's newest tool in our aviation toolbox. This airframe is a '79 so it's hardly new yet if you look up SMA's history (Societe de Motorisations Aeronautiques) you will find this engine is. It is one of the new generation of aircraft engines that use diesel technology but burn jet fuel (Jet-A1), the same stuff our turbine Caravan burns, as does your favorite Jumbo jet.  Jet fuel-paraffin/kerosene is cheap compared with Av-gas, more environmentally friendly, plentiful and a safer fuel. Plus this machine burns about 2/3rd of the fuel of the avgas powered version so fully fueled it can carry a bladder busting 9.5hrs of fuel at 110kts/hr that is a fair old speed & distance and because it goes in straight lines a lot more economical that your average Toyota or Land Rover bouncing circutous routes at 50kts below you!

The early morning Chadian air is delightful, warm, fragrant full of promise, imaginations of the tock of willow on leather flicker through ones mind as one ponders the prospect an ‘English summers day’ ahead of us, though I come mid-morning the Saharan sun has very different ideas. The colours are all ready washed out by the bright sun as we climb on track through 5000ft, the land to the left and right merge into a khaki haze. To my port is the Chari River, as it wends it's way towards Lake Chad, it makes a distinctive border with Cameroon and we are only a stones throw from Niger and Nigeria. Our two local passengers are delighted with the views on this short 80 mile, 45 minute hop, they work with Margareta a Swedish linguist who we are going to pick up from Bol.

Bol a small town that has a 800m asphalt strip on one of the many shores of Lake Chad. It is not long before the 'every shade of ochre' turns into the greens and blues of a beautiful spread of glittering waters. Such a contrast to the golden sand dunes 'a few miles away'. Whilst the Lake has receded dramatically in recent years, remember MAF started working here in a floatplane in the mid 60‘s! It was never that deep in parts and even now varies with the season, a couple of feet of water depth can make a huge difference to the area covered by water.

We skip onto the 800m asphalt strip in a cloud of sand as TT-BRT bounces into land and taxi to the little terminal where  Margareta our Swedish passenger is waiting for us, everyone seems pleased to see the aircraft arrive - I doubt it is a busy place! 
Camels, horses and donkies amble cross the airstrip on their way to and from town. Whilst there are trees and shrubs the lakes effect stops only metres from the shore line as a lot of the soil is silver sand. Margareta is so thankful for our aircraft and chats freely telling me stories about how the flying makes makes such a difference to her travels and she goes onto say that over the years it has saved the lives of a number  of people who she has managed to get flown out.  I think she would be worth chatting to as you feel she has many many tales of God’ providence to tell. 

                Some passing camels drift by to have a look at our ship of the desert. 
                                                                                               Then we are off.


  1. Another interesting glimpse of a bush pilot,s life, thank you for posting and for the work you do.

  2. Fascinating. Many thanks Bryan.