Thursday, December 4, 2008

All over Bolivia

One of the most visible difficulties in Bolivia is the transportation. Roads are bad most of the year and impassable during the rainy season`s peak from January to April. Some towns in the central lowlands are reduced to islands with airplanes being the only secure link with outside world. Jeff has used his Mooney to overcome this rather significant difficulty. In one of my many hour long truck rides to town over the 30km of muddy road between the school and the town of Guayaramerin I calculated the mpg of the Mooney and a Toyota Landcruiser. Surprisingly they are nearly identical and the Mooney travels at 145mph at an economy cruise.
One of my tasks has been transporting people around the northeastern half of Bolivia. The day before Thanksgiving I made two round trips from Guayaramerin, Santa Ana, Trinidad and back with and extra stop on the last trip at San Joaquin to drop off a passenger. The goals were to transport the cook`s family from the school to their home in Santa Ana for the summer vacation to take a student home to San Joaquin and to drop the school director off in Trinidad on the first trip and pick him up on the second so he could do paperwork for the coming school year. The Mooney is a pilots airplane....At first I was cautious and apprehensive taking off with a full load and only 30 min of Mooney time in my logbook. Soon I was thoroughly enjoying the airplane in its element. I was pushing it and not trying for maximum economy because time was the limiting factor on the day. There are no lights at our home base and no landings are allowed at unlit strips after dark in Bolivia. I had fun watching the Mooney race the sun, and I also had some fun getting it slowed down. The controlers here are used to the C206 and the way the Bolivian pilots fly them so they usually don´t give a decent until ten miles out. I was flying twice as high as the Bolivians do and a Mooney doesn´t come down like a 206. Thankfully the gear speed is 150mph. Several times I droped the gear 15 miles out in order to make the field and not go zooming over. By the end of the day I had learned to start working on the decent from 40 miles out.
On the last leg of the day I was flying light with only the school director and myself, racing the sundown home. We were looking at all the 206 strips in the open grasslands near San Joaquin and noticing that they grew more scarce as we flew into the more jungle-like parts of northern Bolivia. 70 miles from home the engine started running rough and the plane acted like one cylinder was misfiring. We tried switching tanks, cooling the engine, warming the engine, rich, lean, left mag, right mag, boost pump on, climb, decend, nothing seemed to make a noticable distance. It would smooth out for no apparent reason and start again just as mysteriously. The Mooney has a good engine monitor and we noticed cylinder 4 was hotter than normal but no other signs of distress. To add to the trouble, one of the two oil temp gauges had been giving us trouble and now the fuel pressure gauge joined it and pegged out on the high end of the scale. The oil pressure gauge had always given Jeff a little trouble and was acting funny too. We were not sure we would make it home. Ruan flew while I played with stuff, trying to troubleshoot. He started a slow climb and we anxiously watched the GPS for the magic numbers that would allow us to make the rest of the trip as a glider if neccessary. The engine kept running and we arrived over Guayarmerin with thousands of feet to spare but we never figure out what was wrong. The engine was running better by the time we landed and mechanical investigation has been fruitless so far. I have checked the fuel injectors, sparkplugs, magnetos, and done the best I could to check compression with no gauge. The oil temp, oil pressure, and fuel pressure are all electric gauges and they seem fine now with only the fuel pressure acting up here and there. There are no facilities here and I left a lot of the airplane tools we have in Santa Cruz. This week I`ve been chasing down other problems I`ve discovered in my digging but nothing that points directly to engine roughness. Gas is suspect but the fuel screens are clean and when the engine went rough I switched to a tank that had been providing good gas all morning and problem did not change. It is still a mystery. Pray that either it doesn`t happen again or that God shows us the problem on the ground when we don`t have to practice gliding.


EEK said...

Yowsers. Jeff, Kyle, and now you with plane troubles (in descending order of severity, of course). Indeed, we struggle against forces of evil in heavenly places...

Brandon said...

Kyle showed me a picture of a Mooney. Looks like a nice fancy plane. Have fun flying it. I'm sure you'll figure out the problem soon. It was good to talk to you the other day. I'm praying for you. God bless.