Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Adventures with the medical team (Pictures)

Riding the bus to town to go flying.

Indigenous people

The real jungle

George in a fit of thirst. This photo was placed by his bedside the next day as he suffered the infamous Mal de Gringo.

Checking out an unfamiliar airstrip. The thing on the right is a road.
After landing at Conquista(the kids can be a handful)
Sunset at Riberalta after a day of flying


Singing songs with the kids at Blanca Flor. We taught them Lord I Lift Your Name On High in both languages .

And Our God Is An Awesome God in Spanish. Jeremy and his Ukelele were a big hit.

Sick men at Forteleza

ADRA Bolivia in Riberalta

David Gates´ faithful Twin Commanche
The team from left to right: Me, Jeremy (Swiss), George (Romainian), Fredrico (Argentinian), Fernando (Brazilian)


The first week of February we had a team visiting from North Carolina. David Markoff is an eye surgeon who lives and NC and comes to Bolivia every year to do surgeries in a clinic near Santa Cruz. He attended Collegedale Academy with David Gates and through that contact he had the opportunity to make a quick tour of northern Bolivia this year. After visiting Rurrenabaque (see previous post), the team came to Guayaramerin with plans to visit some remote villages. They spent their first night at the Richard Gates school were I live when I am not flying and the next morning they screened El Yata, our neighboring village. Thursday morning we left early and headed to Blanca Flor VFR with low clouds and rain. About halfway there the weather suddenly closed in and I had to make a quick decision between filing IFR or landing. I looked down at the GPS and noticed I was within a mile or two of a really nice runway I had marked during a previous overflight. I turned towards it and arrived overhead within about 30 secs. I immidiately noticed that there was a soccer goal on the runway and that it was wet grass with little chance of braking. I made a quick pattern and discovered I was too high and fast for the combination of the soccer goal shortening the available runway and the grass being wet. I made a second approach at minimum speed and set the airplane down as close to the end as I could. It was raining so hard I only had a fuzzy picture of the runway. The airplane was right at gross because I had planned on landing in Blanca Flor which has a 3500ft hard gravel runway. I got on the brakes and was decelerating decently when suddenly the airplane started slowing down really fast. I was afraid that I had hit a mud hole and we were about to get stuck so I brought the yoke full aft and added a bunch of power. Then I looked out the window and saw what was going on. There was water spraying everywhere, we were hydroplaning across a large puddle. Thankfully the ground was hard so there was no danger of getting stuck. I think I only used 300 meters because the puddle killed all my speed. We taxied up into the middle of the village past the soccer goal which had been speedily removed, and shut down in the pouring rain. We were met by an American who spoke English. He invited us in to his house and proceeded to tell us about the place we had just landed at. It is an Indigenous village and his family has been there 25 years. The people don´t speak Spanish so he has translated the New Testament and Genesis into their language. We were all very impressed and happy to have made a contact. Soon the weather cleared and we continued on to Blanca Flor where the doctor found plenty of work. More than 50 people recieved glasses and when away very happy. When we ran out of time and patients we headed back to Riberalta, bought gas and took off for Santa Cruz for a night landing at one of the five lighted airports in the country. The next morning I went back to move the airplane over to El Trompillo airport where there is avgas but the weather was bad and I had to sit and wait for 2 hours. By the time I flew to Trompillo, bought gas and took the bus back to the TV station it was noon and I was running out of time. I needed a fire extinguisher to comply with Bolivian regulations and there was none to be found. I decided to postpone my flight till Sunday rather than fly to Rurrenabaque without it. I have already been ramp checked there three times and let go on the promise that I would by a fire extinguisher the next time I went to Santa Cruz (you can´t buy them anywhere else).
Sunday, with a borrowed extinguisher I took a load of missionary luggage and a volunteer to Rurrenabaque then hopped down to Trinidad to pick up more luggage for Guayaramerin. Monday I was back in the Mooney bringing two men from El Yata down to Santa Cruz for Dr. Markoff to do cataract surgery for them. Sight is a wonderful thing. Jesus didn´t have electricity, expensive instruments, huge suitcases of eyeglasses and an airplane for transportation, imagine how exciting for him to give sight with just a word or a touch. Praise God for that and praise God for doctors who can and will do something to help people see better even now.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

GUMPS, GUMPS, UMPS and and Kites

Friday was January 30 and I had the Mooney back. Praise God! When it is airworthy I love it and when it isn´t, I tolerate it.
The plans are going forward to expand the orphanage/primary school in Rurrenabaque to include a secondary program. On Friday I took a Bolivian family to check the place out, they are both teachers at the school in GY. It is 250 miles to Rurrenabaque and we didn´t get off till 3pm because of rain and wet runways. Instead of a 2.5 hour trip in the 182 at economy cruise we made it in 2 hours burning only 7 gals an hour. I like Mooneys....but I need to remember those wheels are up until I put them down. For the last 100 hours of flying my prelanding check has been this: Gas-on both, Undercarriage-down and bolted (forever), Mixture-rich, Prop-forward, Switches-landing light on for cows and people on the runway. With the Mooney I had to remember not to brush over the Undercarriage part. You better believe I was doing my Mooney gumps a bunch of times before touchdown. Gas-on full tank, Undercarrige-down, check indicator on floor, on panel, selector handle, DOWN, Mixture-rich, Prop-forward, Switches-Boost Pump, Landing light, Strobe, ON. And repeat and repeat and Undercariage, Mixture Prop and land...
Definately worth the trouble for the extra speed and fuel efficiency.
Sunday I left Rurrenabaque at 6:30am and flew the family back to GY. Then I had a plan for 2 round trips between Trinidad and GY, about 500 miles a round trip. There were two families of Brasilians in Trinidad headed to Brasil to help with the GMI projects there. I had asked Chichito to find some passengers for me for the GY-Trinidad legs of the trips that would be empty. When I arrived in GY he said he had three passengers. A friend of his was organizing it and said something about one being sick or a nurse (the two words sound similar). I taxied to the gas pumps and loaded up with gas and waited, and waited and waited in the rain. I wouldn´t have waited long if they hadn´t told me that one of the ´passengers´had gunshot wounds. Then we heard that the ambulance had run out of gas, so it would be ´7 minutes´ which in Bolivia means about 45 min. Finally the man arrived. He was huge for a Bolivian but we got him into the Mooney with his daughter and the nurse. I flew them to Trinidad and on downwind for runway 32 I was doing my GUMPS and the tower called me on the radio and said something about continuing to Santa Cruz, I just ignored them and did another GUMPS and asked for clearance to land, which they gave. When I landed and shut the engine off there was a flurry of people around the airplane. The Brasilians were there along with the man´s family and nobody was speaking English or even trying to speak to me. I couldn´t even get out. Finally I yelled through my tiny pilot window for Daniel to come translate for me. I had offered to take the man to Santa Cruz but his daughter said the Trinidad was better for them. I wondered because Santa Cruz has the only real hospitals in the lowlands, Trinidad doesn´t have much. Anyway turns out they did want to go to Santa Cruz and had a ticket out of Trinidad, but the flight got canceled. That is what the tower had been trying to tell me. When I discovered that I ran to the office and got a new flight plan for Santa Cruz and we were off again. It was an interesting flight. We were in and out of the clouds and I was trying to dodge the worst of them for the man´s comfort. Then approach kept asking me for what kind of ambulance I wanted at the destination. In between estimates and talking on the radio I had to ask in Spanish, with no headsets what kind of ambulance the people wanted. Finally the communication was accomplished but it was a challenge. Then as I approached Santa Cruz I became aware, through listening to the position reports on the radio, of a Bolivian small plane at the same distance out and 2000 feet above me. I expected to out run him because I had the Mooney at 24/24 and we were doing about 185 mph. Instead we stayed even for about 10 miles. The controller started asking for position reports every 2 miles and it was interesting. I reported 48 miles and 7000, the Bolivian reported 48 and 9000 feet. Then we both reported 46 and then 44 and suddenly he reported one mile ahead. We were in and out of the clouds and I started looking carefully for the plane. I figured it would be a Cessna 210 because of the similar speeds. I figured he was really puttin the gas to it to get ahead of me. I unknowingly dropped to 6800 feet in my nervous scanning out the front windsheild. Suddenly I spotted him, a C210 ahead and slightly below me. I called traffic in sight and told the controler we were at the same altitude. What followed I didn´t need perfect Spanish to understand. The 210 pilot got quite a scolding for decending without permission and busting seperation. He even had the nerve to argue back. Not something you would see in the states very often. After that excitement and a lot of GUMPS I landed at El Trompillo and taxied up to the ambulance. You can pray for the man, he had six shots to the gut and didn´t have a very good chance of recovery.
The next morning I got up at four and flew a medical team to Rurrenabaque and then did the two trips with the Brasilians from Trinidad to GY. The next day I did another trip to Trinidad, two trips between Trinidad and Rurrenabaque and back to GY, all full. That made for about 20 hours in the Mooney in four days. One one of my landings at GY there were two kids flying a kite on the runway. I waited till short final and then executed a go-around. The very next takeoff a man pulled out onto the runway ahead of me and crossed it without ever seeing me. He proceeded to ride his motorcycle down the right side as I went past, just barely airborne. There is always something to keep pilots awake down here. Pray that I never forget my GUMPS.
Today is Wednesday and I am supposed to go get the 182 dirty for a couple days with a team of eye doctors. Then I´ll take them back to Santa Cruz on Thursday night.
Thanks for your prayers and support.

Dirty Airplanes

Bolivians keep their airplanes very clean considering that you can count all the paved runways on one hand. Thankfully my hangar manager loves to wash airplanes...
Poor guy I really kept him busy this last week.

January 25 was the election day down here and the constitution was changed. We were not allowed to travel at all so I stayed at the school and helped with projects there. Monday morning we went to town and David Gates was there waiting for us. It is like Christmas when he comes. He always has things long awaited, and timely wisdom for problems. The school in Guayara is being flooded with new applicants and the directors are looking for solutions. It appears that they will started a secondary program at the orphanage in Rurrenabaque. That means there will be lots of missionary transportation in the next few weeks before school starts.
I spent the day giving the 182 a much needed oil change and check up. It is running great and already has flown about 100 hours in Bolivia. David brought an overhauled magneto and new fuel transducer for the Mooney. I spent the afternoon and the next morning getting it all installed and test flown.
Tuesday afternoon we sallied forth again with the Brazilean doctors and landed at Ingave. We were able to get a boat to go down the river and visit the indigenous village but there was almost nobody there. They were all out picking Brazil nuts. The doctors did treat a few people and we made it back to Ingave and then Riberalta in good time without pushing sunset. The next morning I took Ruan to Ingave and then I took the doctors to some strips that were new to me. We landed at Mara Villa and found the people very receptive. They knew about David Gates and REDADvenir and told us that thanks to God they were all healthy. We went on to a large village called Sena, and discovered that they had no imidiate needs either. After stopping back at Ingave to check on Ruan we hopped a couple minutes by air to two other villages close by. Monte Bello and Candelara. At both places were very happy to see us and excited to have the doctors come see them. We picked up Ruan in Ingave and flew back to Riberalta. It was my last day flying the doctors and I did more take-offs and landings then any other day so far. It was a good finish for their trip. I hope they´ll be back.
When I got back to Guayara I walked around cringing at the thought of Chichito seeing the 182. Unfortunately I can´t post a picture right now. I had cow manure on the pilot´s side of the tail and under the left wing. That was the clean side....The right side had cow manure in an artistic spray pattern all up the passenger door and down the side of the airplane. It is about the 3rd time I have come back with manure. The other times it has been red mud. Chichito said I deserved a spanking ;) At least the airplane isn´t accumulating dust.....
And Praise God the engine keeps running.