A day with a missionary pilot.
Monday, July 12, 2004
7:00 AM: Kiss the wife! Out the Door. Down to the Missionary Supply Store. The supply buyer and the store manager are there to meet me. We resolve a few questions about the flight plan for the day, arrange some last minute details and plan a few more details for tomorrow. Then we load the van with about four hundred kilograms of cargo and finish by signing the paperwork. We pray, committing our day to the Lord.
7:20 AM: We drive five minutes to the airport and unlock the gates, doors and airplane. I give the airplane a preflight check, double check the fuel, add the oil, add or remove seats and belts as necessary, preparing the aircraft for loading. Today we have Charles and Mike. These guys are mechanical and electrical experts. There is a lot of work to do in the Sorimi tribe, so they will spend two days fixing and maintaining things there.
7:35 AM: Weather Sked! (Weather Schedule) I get on the radio and call stations related to today's flights. "Nakwi, Nakwi, Wewak Hangar." "Wewak Hangar, Nakwi." "Good morning Greg! How is your weather this morning?" "Our weather is fine. There are some low clouds in the tree tops near us but lots of blue sky over toward Iteri." "Thanks, Greg. We expect to be in the air about eight o'clock, and into Sorimi by nine fifteen. That should put me into Nakwi to meet you about nine forty-five." "Thanks, Randy. We will meet you there." And so the scheduled radio communication goes with each station until the needed weather information has been gathered.
8:00 AM: "NTMA Wewak, November Tango Foxtrot preflight radio check" "November Tango Foxtrot, NTMA Wewak you are coming in loud and clear." "Thank you, Diana, we are taxiing Wewak for Sorimi now." "OK, have a good flight!" ... "Wewak Tower, November Tango Foxtrot" "November Tango Foxtrot, Wewak Tower, go ahead." "Wewak Tower, November Tango Foxtrot taxi Wewak for Sorimi, POB (passengers on board) three, ELT check complete, request taxi." "November Tango Foxtrot, Wewak Tower, clear taxi runway two-eight, clear enter back track and line up." After a few minutes. "Wewak Tower, November Tango Foxtrot ready." "November Tango Foxtrot, caution bird strike hazard exists, clear for take-off, make left turn." We give the engine all the gas it can handle and soon we are flying over our house looking at Diana as she waves from the front porch. The next hour and ten minutes is spent chatting with my front seat passenger as I listen to three radios and scan engine and navigation instruments. We talk about security issues in Wewak, plans for work in Sorimi and plans for returning to Sorimi on Wednesday for the trip home to Wewak.
9:15 AM: We arrive overhead Sorimi and scrutinize the runway looking for people, dogs, pigs, holes or long grass. The airstrip looks clear so we finish our circle and land. Taxiing up to one of the houses, people run from the village to meet us. Charles and Mike unload their tools and baggage, then head over to the house to unlock it. Both missionary families are in their home countries right now due to family and medical needs. I say good-bye and climb back into the airplane. Charles and Mike will fix the tractor and see that the runway grass is cut. We hope the Sorimi people will hear the Good News in their language next year!
9:45 am I'm in the airplane on the ten minute flight to Iteri. The Iteri tribe first heard the Good News about Christ some years ago. The New Testament has been printed in the Iteri language and missionaries interact with them primarily in an advisory manner. The Iteri believers are growing and reaching out to others with the Good News. Our passengers, Greg and Heidi, live in the village of Nakwi, which is four miles from the Iteri airstrip. The church at Nakwi is still very young as the gospel was presented there for the first time about three years ago. Approaching the airstrip I recall the time it took a Short Term team five hours to hike with me down that trail. Now the trail has been improved. If the river is low enough Greg will bring Heidi and the kids on the six-wheel ATV in about half an hour. Greg and Heidi will be going with me to Hewa which is about 120 miles east of Iteri. Greg will help Keith by evaluating his language skills. Heidi will encourage the ladies and let the kids run with their fellow missionary kids.
10:15 am Dripping with sweat, we have the airplane packed full of people and luggage. We wave good-bye to the Iteri and Nakwi people who have gathered near the aircraft and soon we are climbing to fly over the beautiful rugged mountains toward Hewa. Greg shares the recent events in Nakwi and how they have settled in since their return from the USA several weeks ago. We talk about the language check and what is involved there. We talk about the trip to Yabru near the end of the month when Greg will travel to Wabaku to help the Wabaku missionary team start their "kick-off" into full time language study.
11:15 am: We arrive overhead Hewa and circle for landing. Hewa is tucked in a narrow valley at five thousand feet above sea level and surrounded by ten thousand foot mountains. The airstrip has a ten percent slope, so the ground rises up to meet us in landing. Keith and Angie, Jonathan and Susan are there to meet us. It sure is good to see their smiles. Jonathan has finished formal language study and will appreciate having Keith join him in the translation and lesson preparation after this final language check. We unload Greg, Heidi, kids and cargo then put on a bit of fuel for Malaumanda. We need to bring Eric up from Malaumanda to help Greg with Keith's language check.
11:45 AM: The airplane and I are climbing climbing climbing. I'm glad the engine is doing the work! Malaumanda is only about twenty miles away, but those huge cloud-covered mountains are between Malaumanda and Hewa. I find a gap in the clouds somewhere well above the ridges and enter into a valley on the other side. Down, down, down to three thousand feet above sea level. I circle the airport, looking at the winds and activity around the runway. The slope is only four percent here but the tailwind on landing can make the runway seem short. Eric and Judith are in the parking bay as we stop and let the turbo-charger spool down for a couple of minutes. We talk while we load the airplane, but keep moving as I have many more miles to go today. Judith is looking forward to visiting with Angie, Susan and Heidi all at one time! What a treat! Stephen is too young to know much of what is going on, but his mom is going to have fun talking about babies! Malaumanda tribesmen come to look with leaves hanging fore and aft from their vine belts. A machete and an axe are constant companions. One has a question about the price to fly to a neighboring airport. The gold company is pulling out of the area but there is money to be found by panning. Soon we are loaded and taxiing to the top of the airstrip for take-off. We also have two young teenagers on board. Manuel and Brennan were in Malaumanda for a week visiting their friend Shell during the school break. Now they are on their way to Wewak.
12:45 PM Here we go up, up, up again. We travel parallel to the ridge looking for an opening between clouds to get into the other valley. Eric, Judith, Stephen and I are looking hoping this won't be a long flight. Soon we find a break and are on our way down, circling over Hewa. As we taxi in between the houses we notice several tribesmen are brightly dressed and have painted their faces. These must be my passengers for the flight to Kairik. There is a big gold company in Kairik and they must look good when they arrive among their friends there!
Well, that's half a day, but I don't have half a night to finish the day right now. I hope this helps your understanding of what we do here in Papua New Guinea.
Diana supports the flights by keeping track of flight movements by radio, taking messages, finding answers, communicating with drivers and refuelers to meet the NTM airplanes coming to Wewak. She is wonderful!
P.S. This day turned out to be more exciting than anticipated. Clouds built up to 12,000 feet (low spots) over the 10,000 foot mountains turned a fifteen minute flight over 20 miles into 40 minutes of climbing. A climb rate of 500 feet per minute at maximum gross weight from 3,000 to 12,000 feet takes eighteen minutes and after arrival you have to find a gap away from the rocks. So we skirted the mountain while climbing. Swirling winds at Hewa made the landings exciting rapid power changes to compensate for down drafts. You might say this job is anything but dull!