Friday, December 24, 2010

From the December Logbook

First of all, I must apologize for the lack of posting for such a long time.  I do have a good excuse though!  For the last month or so, we have been slowly fixing up a house here for the next family to arrive mid-January.  There have been many things to fix up, including re-wiring the house, installing an inverter, stabilizer, and batteries (that weigh more than I do), as well as re-plumbing the entire water system, cleaning, and remodeling the kitchen.  We had started the process when we had a little extra time from the flight schedule, and continued to work on it little by little, until I found out that we needed to move...almost immediately.  Our landlord had decided to start construction on a second house inside our property, and that poses a huge security risk.  So, not wanting to wait until after Christmas, we decided to move right away.  And that meant a lot of work needed to be done in a week, not two months.  Needless to say, we have been very busy preparing for Christmas, packing and unpacking, wiring, plumbing, and cleaning, all while still flying.  I am now the only 206 pilot here as well, since the other pilot has gone back to the US for the birth of his first child.  Now on to the logbook....

I grab all the usual flight gear, but this time I make sure not to forget my overnight bag.  That's right, the flight schedule today takes me several hours to the South and West of Bunia, too far for me to make it home before sunset, so I'll be staying with some missionaries out in the jungle.  I get to the airport a little earlier than normal in hopes of getting a quick start.  But that's a rare thing here.  I do the normal routine of making sure both myself and the airplane are fit for flying, then I turn my attention to the loading of cargo and passengers.  Today is a little different too...because of the avgas situation I need to carry all my own fuel for the whole trip.  All four of the airplane's fuel tanks are full, plus I have 7 jerry cans of fuel to take along with me.  I have to remind the staff that fuel and passengers both can't go in the cabin at the same time, and I don't really think the passengers want to ride along in the cargo pod (no window seats down there). 

I'm taxiing for takeoff only 30 minutes later than I wanted to, not too bad, I still have an hour of flexibility in the schedule.  I takeoff for a city called Bukavu 250 miles to the South, along what has to be some of the most striking and beautiful terrain in all of Africa, with one passenger and almost 10 hours of fuel.  December brought the dry season here, and with that comes haze, smoke, and visibility that can be down to a mile or two.  We pilots trade dodging thunderstorms and unlimited visibility for smoky skies and stable weather.  Even though this leg will take almost two hours, there's no time for inattention.  With the low visibility it's very hard to see clouds, and there are many mountains and volcanoes along this route.  If I just carelessly fly along and follow the pink line on the GPS, I could fly up the wrong valley and find myself unable to outclimb rising terrain and unable to turn around as the mountains close in around me.  With that in mind, I pull the chart out and study my route carefully, making note of prominent landmarks and coordinates.  I also decide to make a plan B just in case plan A goes bad.  This trip also takes me over the Equator and into the Southern hemisphere, where believe it or not, it's the rainy season right now!  As I get closer and closer to my destination, the weather begins to deteriorate more and more, and I am forced lower and lower to the ground.  I snake my way through the valleys and around the volcanoes, peering into the haze for the landmarks I found on the chart.  I dare not make assumptions either.  One thing I learned in school was always to verify landmarks from the chart to the ground, not the ground to the chart.  Why?  Because everything on the chart will be on the ground, but not everything on the ground will be on the chart...just another opportunity for me to mistake my position and fly up already mentioned wrong valley.  The visibility is so low in places as I fly over Lake Kivu, that I check and verify my instruments often, as there is no horizon for me to do so outside.  I land in Bukavu right on time, making up 15 minutes because of a great tailwind.  I unload my passenger as well as most of the fuel I brought.  I leave just enough for 3 hours of flying time which will get me to my next destination and back with an hour and a half to spare.  All the paperwork and taxes are in order, so this portion goes quickly as I help load a 55 gallon drum of fuel and other cargo for my jungle destination of Kama.  Bukavu sits in a big bowl at almost 6,000 feet, and with a fully loaded non-turbocharged airplane and low visibility, I am very conservative on this takeoff.  I don't have far to climb though until I reach the bases of the clouds, heading West into the jungle.  The weather is not all.  I am tense and alert, ready in a second to turn the airplane around if a mountain peeks through the haze.  I am crossing ridges at a few hundred feet, just like they taught us in training, only this time it's for real.  There are real clouds, real mountains, and real danger.  After 30 minutes of this, I'm starting to feel drained and tired, but the mountains are now dropping away and giving me a little breathing room as I reach the edge of the jungle.  I sit back for the first time since I took off, but now I have a new problem...there is a solid layer of clouds 200 feet above the jungle canopy for as far as I can see.  I decide early that if it doesn't look good in Kama and  I can't see the airstrip when I fly over, I will just have to fly back to Bukavu.  Better to save the stuff for delivery another day than never deliver it at all.  As I reach my destination, the clouds are no better, but I do spot the airstrip, and it looks wet.  I quickly give up on a normal approach and circle a few times as I gather together my plan.  I have been here before, and I notice that the airstrip lies just to the left of a river.  I also notice that there are several "holes" in the clouds along the river, both on the departure and approach ends.  The river is relatively straight until it reaches the airstrip where it bends sharply to the right, parallels the airstrip, and then continues on past the airstrip.  I decide that I can drop below the clouds and fly up the river safely, take a look at the airstrip and continue past the airstrip over the river and pop back up and over the clouds on the other side if things don't look good for landing.  I make a mental note that this landing needs to be spot on, and drop below the clouds, following the river as planned.  2 miles, 1 mile, 1/2 mile, finally I see the end of the airstrip and adjust the power so I can land where I want to.  55 knots, descending at 500 feet per minute, things look good and I continue.  Just before my touchdown point, I pull the power back, raise the nose and land almost exactly where I had planned.  Splash!!  Water goes everywhere.  I am slowing down in a hurry so I check the brakes very briefly to make sure they're working, and add a considerable amount of power to help me control the airplane until I get to taxiing speed.  People come walking out of the jungle as I approach the parking area and shutdown.  I get out and everyone wants to shake my hand and greet me.  My boots sink in an inch of mud, but the airplane, with its oversized tires holds its ground.  I unload the airplane with the entire village's help.  Many of the younger people come to me and say, "Goood Morning Captain," even though it's early afternoon...hey, it's the only English they know.  I greet them in Swahili and they smile.  Soon, the airplane is loaded again with cargo bound for Bukavu.  I am soaked and already dreading the return trip.  I takeoff the way I landed (the way I know is good), splashing huge amounts of water until I liftoff and head East.  The weather doesn't look any better, and before I know it, I'm back to crossing mountain ridges a few hundred feet above the trees.  I pass over small villages, with farmers outside tending to their crops.  One even has the audacity to pick up a stone and throw it at the airplane as I pass by.  No matter, I have other things to worry about right now.  I make my way back to Bukavu again to pick up two passengers, freight, and more fuel for another flight out into the jungle.  We load quickly as I have no time to spare...the sun doesn't wait for me like it did for Joshua over Gibeon.  My destination now is a village called Kipaka, about 100 miles past Kama.  Honestly, I don't have much hope for the flight, but as we takeoff, I notice that the weather had drastically improved in only 30 minutes; I am real happy about that.  So I settle in for the 1.5 hour flight and give my passenger a headset.  I am taking her "home" from the US where she goes to college.  At the last minute she got enough money for the trip home to Congo to be with her family for Christmas.  It's always nice to have someone who speaks English on a long flight over the jungle!  We talk almost the whole way, and even though the Lord wouldn't be holding the sun for me, he did make a nice big hole in the clouds right over our destination!  We circle overhead a few times as I study the airstrip.  I have never been here before, so I am a little more cautious than normal.  As I make my approach I notice the first 300 meters of the airstrip are unusable because the grass is taller than the airplane, so I adjust my touchdown point on final approach, and switch to a "short-field" landing technique.  I land firmly, put the flaps up, and squeeze the brakes hard.  Everyone leans forward in their seatbelts and I hear this old airplane creak, but it doesn't complain.  We stop a couple hundred meters from the end and taxi to the parking area.  I am glad this day is over!  Now on to the stack of paperwork and a good night's sleep!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bug Battles...Continued

Although a rat is not a bug, it falls into the same category of "really nasty and does not belong in my home."  What you are about to see might be a little disturbing, just a warning. 

 For the past few weeks we've heard "things" in the kitchen.  At first it was just hearing things, then we found evidence...stinky evidence.  So I bought some traps, like the one that goes "snap!" and some rat glue and poison bait.  I started with the bait, and at first they were eating it up by the package, but it didn't seem to be doing much.  So I went to the snap trap and only managed to nearly snap my thumb off.  The cheese was always gone, but nothing was ever caught in the trap.  So I moved on to the really really sticky glue spread in a circle around a little piece of cheese.  Well, all that produced was a bunch of rat hair, so I started to get a little frustrated and desperate.  So last night, me and Joy decided to take things into our own hands and try to lure the rat into a plastic bucket with some cheese.  After two hours of chasing the rat around the kitchen and almost succeeding, we were getting pretty angry.  Then we realized there were two of them, and I got a great idea from my survival training.  I asked Joy to go get my survival knife, some duct tape, and an old broom handle.  She feverishly taped the knife to one end and handed it to questions asked.  After a little more screaming, and a bunch of missed attempts (those things are fast!), I finally managed to skewer one (I will spare you the picture of this one, pretty gross).  I thought I had missed on the first stab, but definitely pinned him down on the second.  Finally success!  After waiting til he stopped moving, we threw him out on the trash pile and I started to get ready for bed, it was already 11pm.  Then, I heard the other one squealing and running around the kitchen, so I grabbed my spear again and thought I'd give it one more try.  This one was a much harder shot though, he was crawling around in the cabinet, underneath all the pots and pans.  So I waited and watched for a minute, and then I had the perfect opportunity right in between two glass bowls, so I took it.  Suffice it to say that there are at least two less rats in this world.  I slept good last night.