Monday, May 25, 2009

Sunday, May 24, 2009


After I landed the Mooney in Santa Cruz and unloaded the television equipment I was faced with a problem of transportation. There was only one of me and two airplanes in Santa Cruz, niether of which belonged there. Soon I got a medivac call and had an excuse to dig the C182 out the back of Hangar 84 were David had left her. She was sitting sleepily in the back corner of the hangar, dusty, neglected and in debt. I paid the minimum redemption price, put oil in her engine, air in her legs and feet and off to the gas pumps we went. We fought terrific headwinds all the way north some 350 nautical miles. I indulged my ever present urge to push the power forward and use 70% of the 230 horses up front. The indulgence came without gratifcation though, against the 45mph headwind we could only make a pitiful 85mph. I usually cruise at or below 50% power so I am used to slow speeds in the 182 but this was by far the slowest I´ve seen. It was a beautiful day and I had a full four hours to enjoy it before my first stop at Blanca Flor to pick up the doctor. The doctor wasn´t there so loaded up a nurse and reluctantly agreed to let her intern come along. The medivac turned out to be a woman with post-childbirth bleeding in Galilea about 20 minutes farther north. We landed and the nurse gave the patient an IV right away while the crowd gathered. I ended up with 7 people wanting to fill the 3 available seats. It was a hard decision but I decided to take the patient, her husband and toddler along with the nurse. The intern was quite disgruntled at being left behind and there were others requesting a trip to the hospital. Those are the hardest times to be a volunteer pilot. I wished I had come earlier so I could have made two trips but the sun was setting and I only had time for one. I managed to escape with a bunch of ¨maybes¨ and we took off for Riberalta. One thing that everyone must learn who uses small airplanes for transportation is that, marvelous as they may seem they are not a sure means of transport, especially if you happen to be at the bottom of the heap in importance. As far as I was concerned, the intern was just along for the ride and the ride didn´t go all the way. I have had to leave my friends places when they were along to learn and I ran out of seats but I feel bad every time. Still I felt better than if I had let them all cram in....The other villagers who said they were sick were walking around looking healthy enough so I set the requirement for the malaria tech to pronouce them worth of a medivac before I would make a second trip. In Riberalta I made a quick call to George, my manager and he backed up my decision. No word came from the malaria tech so I continued home to Guyaramerin.
Finally I was faced with a trip by land to Santa Cruz. The whole time I have been in Bolivia I have never been on an extended road trip and experienced the other side of Bolivian travel. For a day or two it was looking like I might be able to make part of the trip by motorcycle but I ran out of time. There were two donors in Santa Cruz waiting for a ride around to the various projects that they were supporting. George said I had to be in Santa Cruz by Friday and it was Wednesday. That left only one option; go by air to Trinidad and take the short overnight bus trip to Santa Cruz. It was strange but I really enjoyed backseating to Santa Cruz.
The first leg to Santa Cruz was with Aerocon, the local airline in a Fairchild Metro W4 19 seat turboprop. I chose a seat right behind the cockpit and I had a chance to watch the pilots moving the controls and reading the checklists in heavily accented English. The trip that takes me 1.8 hours in the Mooney took just over and hour and by 7pm I was on a motorcycle taxi pulling into the terminal. The normal mob of sales people decended and I tried to think fast. I had expected to be charged over $10 for a sleeper bus so I was thinking of taking one of the cheap normal (read uncomfortable) buses for around $5. Somewhere amidst the crowd I hear ¨forty Bolivianos to Santa Cruz, sleeper bus leaving at 8pm.¨ That was certainly too good a deal bu I figured even if it wasn´t a sleeper it would be in my price range. I gave a slight nod and four of the many hands grasping my arms tightened their grip and started pulling me through the crowd. When we reached the little office cubical I scrutinized my captors carefully. From previous experiences watching my friends buy tickets I expected the prices and the times to all be ¨stretching the truth¨or all out lies. The head captor sat down in her chair and whipped out a seating chart, stabbed at a block with her pencil and asked for my name. I did my best to look seasoned and ungringo like as I suspicously questioned her. When was the bus leaving? How much did it cost? With a receite? When was it leaving? Are you sure? Show me the bus? and so on. My fears turned out to be ungrounded. She really honestly sold me a seat on a sleeper to Santa Cruz, leaving at 8pm for 40Bs...just like she had said. I was impressed, and I slept well. I arrived in Santa Cruz to a shocking 60F in the early morning and crawled in the back of the big truck at the Channel to get a couple more hours of sleep under a good thick blanket before the day began.

Mooney Miles

After my adventures walking between villages in south eastern Guyana I caught a flight back to Georgetown with Gary Lewis, one of the GMI pilots in Guyana. From Georgetown I continued on to Puerta Rico. I had to go into the big international airport at San Juan because I was going to landing at 7pm, the closing time for customs at the smaller airports. It was my first time clearing US customs by myself and I was quite nervous. It didn't help when the tower called me on final and notified me that they didn't "have a visual" on my landing light. I didn't reply because I had known my light was burnt out since I left Bolivia. God certainly blessed my time there in San Juan and I was able to clear customs with no hassle and the two officers helping me were quite friendly. Actually paying the landing fee took me as long as clearing customs, but the airport authority to whom I owed the money let me use their computer to file a flight plan on the internet. I had no desire to spend the night in a big international airport, and I wanted to get as close to Tennessee as possible to assure a non-stop flight the next day. I landed at Boringuin, PR late and got the FBO to fill the Mooney as full as possible. Jeff had warned me that the people there had a language chip on their shoulder so I tried to speak only Spanish. I was quite pleased with the results. I didn't speak any English till the helpful worker said goodnight and left me to sleep in the small lounge above the hangar. The truth is, aviation terms and asking for things for my airplane are my strong point with Spanish and I can't hold a normal conversation yet. The next morning I was up and waiting for the worker to unlock the door and let me out to the airplane. After some confusion over US Dept of Agriculture requirements, which wasted 30 mins, I was on my way. Ten hours and thirty minutes later I was circling over the Collegedale airport looking for familiar cars in the parking lot. I owe a great deal of thanks to Becky Gates for loaning me her IPod. Sermons and recorded books are unbeatable for staying awake for long hours with good old Oto doing the flying (the autopilot), I even got some pics of the Kennedy Space Center. David was at Collegedale to meet me with a crew of GMI volunteers and Jodi came a few minutes later : ) I spent a wonderful weekend with the Snyders and even got in a trip to Michigan on Sunday. For the return trip to Guyana I had the company of Kyle Kennedy, GMIs head mechanic and inspector. He was on his way down to Guyana to do an inspection on Adventist World Aviation's Cessna 182. I was more than grateful for his help, in fact I wouldn't have made it without him. We stayed up pretty late Tuesday night working on the Mooney and I came down with a fever on Wednesday. We had the airplane loaded but every thought of water spurred Kyle on to more maintenance. By the time all was ready and all our packages and intructions had been received the weather had cut off the route to Miami, FL. There was nothing to do but find a way around because my permission to enter Bolivia expired Friday and we had no more time to spare. We landing in Miami, FL at 11:30pm fueled the plane and got a little more than an hour of sleep on the grass beside the plane. At 2:15 I was calling in a flight plan and we started up at 3am. I knew we were running a little late so we pushed the speed up a little. The whole day was a race against the Sun and we touched down in Georgetown, Guyana with about 5 min to spare. Later we found out that David had been watching our progress and had obtained special permission for us to land after sunset in Guyana, an unheard of thing. One piece of advise I would offer is watch out for these Lockheed flight service weather briefing people. They love to talk. I would guess we wasted 10min that day on helpful weather briefers who would not stop talking.....
I spent the night in Georgetown with the AWA mission pilot family there and I was back in the air by 10am on my way to Bolivia. Thankfully I was more rested so I was able to stay awake for the 7 hour trip. I know God was looking out for me and I felt very much at His mercy especially if I started imagining a forced landing in all the Amazon jungle I was flying over. I was very grateful to Him when I landed safely in Bolivia and even remembered my Spanish on the radio. It was Friday afternoon so I went out to the GMI school for the weekend. Monday I finished the trip by flying to Santa Cruz and delivering all the TV equipment and one passenger to RedADvenir.
International flying is stressful but for me I wasn't too bad because David was available on the phone to help me whenever I needed it. Still I have no desire to do that trip again any time soon without two engines.

Friday, May 15, 2009

My week in Guyana

After my adventures in Trinidad?Tobago David and I flew back to Guyana for the night. In the morning we flew the Mooney on special permission into the interior and landed at one of the larger villages. From there we got a ride with James Ash, one of the local GMI pilots over to the village of Kai-Kan. We spent Sabbath there and participated in the dedication of their new church. Kai-Kan is the village where David got his start as a volunteer about 13 or 14 years ago.
Sabbath afternoon I wanted to go hiking and I asked some of the missionaries if there were any good places around. To my surprise they informed me that they had been walking all week and they were all enjoying the break. I also learned that they had to walk but to the Davis Indian Industrial College on Sunday. I asked David what his plans where and I decided that I would rather walk than fly...We were all excited about the idea. David and Becky said that all pilots should walk to get an idea of what the natives do for transportation, the missionaries were friendly and welcoming and I was excited to get out and stretch my legs.
We left about noon on Sunday and hiked less than four hours to our first campsite. Monday was our big day with a solid eight hours of hiking. I guessed that it was about sixteen miles mostly on the savannah. Monday night and Tuesday were a little rough. Our camp on Monday night was in a beautiful location in a ravine just about a waterfall. We set up camp and it soon was apparent that the campsite was adequate for about a dozen people. Our group was over twenty. There was a nice structure of poles lashed with vines that supported a tarp and about ten hammocks for the girls. The boys constructed a shelter that comfortably held about six hammocks. After that we were on our own. We finally ended up "bunking" some of the hammocks, slinging one very low and another very high because trees were so limited in the space under the tarp. I slung mine from makeshift post on one end and a tree on the other. The tree end stuck out beyond the tarp a significant amount so I spent a bunch of time trying to rig a small piece of plastic to make up the difference. Much to my dismay it started to rain shortly after we all went to bed. I laid in my hammock vainly hoping that my little plastic would shed the rain. It didn't....I went on laying in my hammock trying to decide if I could sleep with a slow trickle running under my back. Finally, after my pants were already wet, I decided that it wouldn't do and got up to fix the problem. After about thirty minutes of fiddling I climbed in to test my set up for at least the fifth time and no water came in. I took a deep breath, pulled my blanket close against the cold, tried to ignore my soggy backside and settled in to enjoy the night. Getting wet had been second on my list of worst problems for the night. My hammock falling was the worst possible circumstance. Only about ten minutes after I settled in there was a cracking noise and my hammock settled onto the wet ground. Oh NOOOOO. I climbed out and inspected the damaged, soon I was joined by Steve Duncan, a missionary who was sharing my post. We were glad to discover that the smaller of the two post anchor set up had broken so we adjusted the large one, drove it a little deeper into the swampy ground and propped it with the broken pieces. After drying our muddy feet as best as possible we climbed into bed again. Another ten minutes went by and then CRACK! We both hit the ground with a solid bump. Our post had snapped off completely! There comes a point in any wet sleepless night of camping when I say to myself "it will be a miracle if we get any sleep tonight." These were my thoughts when the second post cracked. There wasn't even a dry place to sit so I was wondering where I would stand until the rain stopped. Steve was sure that we could come up with a solution so we started looking. I had been the one to cut and insert that post and it had taken a couple hours to make our setup. I knew I didn't want to go through that all again so I was determined to find a tree to tie to. We found one tree all the way across the shelter and by switching some ropes we were able to free up a long one to reach the tree. I waded out into the swamp and tied the rope as high as I could reach and brought the loose end back under the tarp. We were able to sling both our hammocks from this one rope and thanks to God it was a strong one. The next morning we woke up rested and almost dry, to a raging river just a few feet below our shelter.
After the night of rain the trail was very wet but we didn't have too far to go on Tuesday. The last few miles took hours though because we were back in the jungle going downhill on slippery mud almost the whole way. The mud was a whole new experience for me. I do not envy the locals who deal with it every day.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"N8201H taxi to gate 2...."

Tower: "November eight two zero one Hotel, taxi via Charlie to gate two, this frequency."

Me: "Via Charlie to gate two with you.....ah, November eight two zero one Hotel requesting progressive taxi instructions."

Such was my arrival at TTPP the international airport of Trinidad/Tobago.
The tower proceeded to guide my around the back side of the terminal to gate two.
There was no marshal with bright wands to guide me so I was wondering how to park a Mooney at an airliner gate. I decided to turn half a circle so I could simple taxi away later but the tower had other ideas.

Tower: "November eight two zero one Hotel, please park on the center line."

Me: (Craning over the dash to see the lines painted on the asphalt) "Roger, eight two zero one Hotel."

I paused for a minute, then shut off the radio and went through my mental shutdown checklist: "Lights off, Radio off, Elevator trim neutral and off, Mixture, Mags, Master, take the key OUT."
I climbed stiffly out of the airplane after the 2 hour flight, it had come right on the heels of the 4 plus hour flight from Manaus, Brazil to Georgetown, Guyana that morning. I was in Trinidad to pick up David Gates and hurry him over to Guyana for a church dedication. I walked around the airplane and took a few pictures simply for the strangeness of the parking area.

A quick look around convinced me that I would need some help. There were no doors open to the terminal. I grabbed my folder of airplane documents, locked the door and went looking for a ramp worker. I found one right away and he was super helpful, taking me all the way to the Port Health office, my first stop. He asked one question that I didn't understand though "Do you have an agent?" Of course I didn't, I had no idea why I would have an agent. He also warned me that I would need a nil cargo manifest, but I brushed it off and went into the office. Immidiately that same question again "Do you have an agent?" I explained what I needed to do and the men at the desk looked confused, then one of them asked
"Did you spray the airplane?"
"No" I said, "this is a small passenger plane, not a spray plane." More confusion....
"But did you spray the airplane?" "Where are you coming from?"
"Oh that is an endemic country, you need to spray the airplane."

Ding, light going on in the pilot's head....they have a regulation here about this, this is the Port Health office after all.

"OK, can I go spray it now?"
"No, you mean you didn't spray it before you opened the door?!"
"Well, no, I opened the door and came here, I didn't know about spraying."
"Well can I go do it now?" I said
"You are supposed to spray it with that stuff there, who is in the airplane?"
"Nobody, I came alone. Can I buy some and go spray it."
"Oh we don't sell it."
Now I was really stumped, I couldn't get my papers stamped till I did this, and somehow I was supposed to know about it and have bought the stuff somewhere else. I thought I had hit a dead end. So this is why I need an agent hmmmm....
Suddenly the whole mood of the men changed..."Hey look, I'll go spray it for you, just come this way."
Off we went to spray the airplane. When we returned they started stamping my papers. There was confusion about how many each office would need. Some for Port Health, some for Customs, some for Immigration and one for me. They all had to be stamped. I hit the next dead end, "Ah I don't think I have enough of these General Declarations..." "Could I pay you to make some copies?"
"Oh our copy machine isn't working, maybe immigration can."
"Ok then I'll go to immigration and come back, that is my last blank copy...."
THUD! the man's stamp pressed wet red ink all over my last copy.
"Ahhhh that was my last blank one.....!"
"Oh" blank looks....
"Oh we'll fix it..."

I wandered off to find immigration with masking tape trying to cover the mistake on my last blank. Finally I found the office and went to one of the desks to explain my situation. Before I knew it the masking tape was gone, replaced by real white-out and I had 10 new copies. The lady wouldn't let me pay anything. Then I couldn't get into the PH office again, their doorbell didn't work it was locked. I had to flag down a high up immigration supervisor to let me in. After an hour I had all the paper work done and I was ready to find David and file a flight plan. I was painfully aware of the fact that I didn't have a cell phone and I didn't know where he was. I started working on the flight plan problem. I guess that I would have to taxi across the runway to the GA ramp to file a flight plan but I wasn't sure. Finally an AGENT showed up and offered his services for $150 plus the $100 landing fee. I talked with him in Spanish and convinced him that I didn't really need help except to leave the building and to find David. He graciously let me use his phone only to discover David's phone was turned off. Finally he found David for me and we got everything straightened out. I had arrived at 12:30 and I think we were finally off the ground at 4pm. All we ended up paying was the $14 landing fee and thanking the agent. I have no desire to park at gate 2 ever again.