Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Second Week of Training

Photo courtesy of MAF
My (Kevin) second week of training has already come to a close. Here is what I have been doing all week.

On Monday, all of us missionary pilot mechanics gathered together in the training lab with both maintenance instructors. They went over all the general maintenance practices of MAF. This is more like an orientation to learning the guidelines, or as we say in the south, they were fixin' to get ready for somethin' else. They continued through the entire day and most of Tuesday.

On Tuesday afternoon, they split us up into two groups. One group had guys that will be serving at a base with only turboprop aircraft, so they went with their instructor to another training lab. For the most part, they  studied about one engine the whole week, called the PT-6, made by Pratt and Whitney. Even though they operate aircraft made by a two or three different companies (Quest, Cessna, Pilatus), they still use the same engine.

The other instructor worked with mechanic and I, who are going to bases with the Cessna 206. So they started reviewing the maintenance manual chapter by chapter, looking at all the different breakdowns for systems, parts and maintenance. The instructor provided information based on what MAF has learned in  their nearly 35 years operating these planes in the field. In general, they displayed things that typically break (often with the actual piece that broke and was removed from service) and examples of places to look for cracks and wear caused by hundreds upon hundreds of landings in the bush and rugged, short airstrips. What is great, is that we get a jump start on learning the idiosyncrasies of the airplane, when normally it would take years to learn all this. Let's face it, we have operated at least 30 or more Cessna 206's for up to 600 flight hours each per year, for 30+ years. I would be concerned if we didn't learn a thing or two...hundred...

Unfortunately, there are two issues with the Cessna maintenance manuals. The first issue is the print date of the manual. Cessna created the maintenance manual the same time the aircraft was designed in the early to mid 70's. Even then, they borrowed information from other similar and older aircraft and the book has had only a handful of revisions since then. Sometimes, the data is flat out wrong, or will reference other sources that are now out of date as well (amazingly the Federal Aviation Regulations and other FAA approved data is constantly being updated and dare I say... improved?).

Think of it this way. When the first iPad was created, it came out with a user manual. What if Apple happened to borrow some info from the iPad or  iPod? After the product was used by consumers for a few months, they found they could do more things with the product than the manufacturer mentioned in the manual. But consumers also found problems that were not mentioned when purchased. After Apple discovered both the problems and benefits, they used that to make a new and improved product. This leads us to the second issue.

The manufacturer of the aircraft publishes service information (called Service Bullitens, or Service Instruction Letters) to help mechanics with ongoing and common problems. But because MAF constantly operates so close to the edge of the aircraft's performance, while still being within the safety margins, our aircraft experience stresses and forces which cause the aircraft to break and wear in ways that Cessna is not even aware of.

MAF is always trying to stay one step ahead when it comes to safety. They publish their own internal "maintenance advisories" to increase awareness and safety of the aircraft we use in the field. Part of my training has been going through the Cessna manual, page by page, chapter by chapter, with advisory additions/notes made where needed. This way, when  I'm out in the field, I will have notes providing me with additional things to look for or possible "modifications" that might be needed to improve the reliability of the aircraft.

So, Wednesday through Friday was a continued thorough study of the 206, which has some systems with more than a striking resemblance to those of the Cessna 182. I will be flying both the 206 and the 182. Also, some of the very basic information learned this week can be carried over to the Cessna Caravan.

And there you have it - week two of training! Next week, we get to fire up the engines and start doing checklists... and FLYING. Hopefully we can post some videos, too!!

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Day in the Life of Adah

Our guest writer today is Miss Adah. She decided to write all about her day.

When I woke up this morning, mommy came to greet me! Boy was I happy to see her.
She was very nice and changed my diaper for me. So them mommy washed my "Ya-Ya" for me. I was very sad to be separated from her, but she was very dirty.
After watching Ya-Ya spin for a few minutes, I decided to help mommy with the dishes.

After dishes, mommy changed me into my clothes and let me listen to my music.
Then, I decided to dance on the stool.
After dancing, I thought I would play with the farmer truck that MAF left in the apartment for me to enjoy.
By now, I was hungry and luckily mommy had finished making breakfast. So, first we prayed together.

Then, I dug in!
After breakfast, mommy put Ya-Ya outside to dry. While I was helping mommy with the clothespins, my friend Laron came by to visit.
 After laundry, we put on our shoes so we could go to the horse ranch nearby. I got to pet the dog.
After petting the doggy, I got to pet one of the horses.
Next, we went home to take a nap. I slept for almost 2 hours. By that time, I was ready to wake up and watch some Wiggles.
Well, mommy only let me watch one song before she made me take care of the trash. Sheesh!
As a reward, I had some tickle-time with daddy.
 But I got tired of that. So, I went to play peek-a-boo in the bathroom.
Next, I practiced being a mechanic like daddy and took apart my airplane.
 Then, I wrestled!
After putting daddy in his place, I put jewelry on him.
Afterwards, I played cars.
 Then, I got daddy's nose!
Suddenly, there was a noise outside! I had to go investigate and found some more of my friends playing. We sat and talked.
 Afterwards, I wanted to play ball, but daddy said it was bath time.
That is okay. I like baths, too. While I was in the bathtub, I got hungry. So I told daddy that I wanted to eat.
So mommy got me some food.
But I still wanted more.
After eating my snack, I washed off.
Once I had on my jammies, daddy started to read me a story. But it was scary, about a giant who was fighting with a little boy.
I couldn't listen anymore. I even plugged up my ears!
So, I got to pick out the next story. I read it out loud to everyone. I told the story of the creation.
Then, mommy prayed with me before rocking me to sleep.
I had a good day and fell asleep before my bedtime. What a busy day!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Safety Philosophy

Today, the spouses were asked to attend a training. It was the training for MAF's safety philosophy. As a matter of fact, this is what standardization is- we are here, in Idaho, because they are serious about teaching and applying their safety philosophy. They are teaching us how to fly very safely in a very demanding environment.

Have you ever stopped to think that there is a risk involved with any and every job out there. Don't believe me? Have you ever tripped at work? Have you ever hurt your back lifting up something too heavy? Have you ever been shocked plugging something in? It doesn't matter where you work or what you do, there is always a risk involved.

What people do on a daily basis is weigh their risks versus the possible benifits. The risk of tripping over my own two feet on a daily basis is so minimal, that I take that risk and continue to walk. But the risk of being stabbed by a pair of scissors is much higher when running, therefore, I do not take that risk and will walk with the blades safely turned down. Most people do not allow their daily risks to influence their day to day lives and go about their business without even stopping to access any possible dangers! Just look at how many people cross the street in an area that is not a crosswalk!

Well, lucky for us, MAF has is an entire department devoted just for safety, and their goal is to minimize the risks involved with our jobs. The department does things like training, flight reviews, in-field safety audits, and runway checks every three years.

So, let's use a real world example of a common risk and how MAF would respond. how are risks and hazards minimized?
Let's say you have to walk up these stairs everyday for work. Well, MAF would perform a standard safety audit with three goals in mind: identify, access, and reduce. First, the problem(s) must be identified. These stairs are missing guardrails, each step is uneven, and their height difference is mismatched. All of these factors are risky and could cause a fall. Then, the situation is accessed for its level of hazard based on surrounding factors (like accessibility to others, hazards found around it, how often the stairs are used, etc.). So if the stairs are used frequently by workers, then I would guess the level to be a medium level of danger. Finally, the hazard is reduced. Perhaps a guardrail is added and maybe a few steps are replaced. The goal is to reduce as many risks as possible, since it is impossible to remove all risks in life.

The same example can easily be applied to flying. MAF has a trend monitoring program in place that allows the safety department to track deviations from our standard operating procedure. For example, let's say every Monday of every week I will fly a certain group on a certain route, and someone else will fly the same group on the same route on Friday of every week. During the dry season, we can make it back fine by one hour before sunset. But once rainy season begins, we begin to struggle to arrive before sunset because of bad weather. The safety department notices an increased frequency of late arrivals, after sunset, and they start helping us look for ways to get us back on time during the rainy season. One way would be to shorten the route, or another would be to add some training so we could modify our standard procedure to help meet this need.

Here is another real world example: At MAF bases all over the world, we use the very popular Cessna Turbo Cessna 206. Let's say one of the 206's in Indonesia has a certain part break.We have an identical plane in Congo and the same part breaks on ours, and also on the 206 in Lesotho. Because we are not in contact with the Indonesia or Lesotho bases, we would not notice the trend, but because of MAF's safety system in place, they do, and they can publish a Standardized Maintenance Procedure to alert us to a common issue.

There you have it! A basic idea of our safety policy in place. We have heard that "our overall goal is not to arrive at the destination, our goal is to have safe landings. Arriving at the desired destination is just gravy." We are so very blessed to be a part of an organization who has developed a system to keep us as safe as possible.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The First Week of Training

Kevin studying for class
Kevin has been hard at work this week with ground school training. Classes begin everyday at 8 AM and end around 5 PM. The only exception is a late start on Wednesday for Chapel, which is from 8 AM - 9 AM. He is allotted a 30 minute break at 12. This is only the first week of training.

MAF has been around since 1946 and has the experience that only comes with years of learning and growing. This week of training is filled with ground school for all pilots. It is one of the most important weeks, building a foundation of information.

Kevin has classes on Aerodynamics; use of flaps at high altitudes; abort procedures; air strip evaluations; emergencies; SOP (standard operating procedures) & checklists; take-offs, landings, and approaches to name about a third. Well, what does this mean in Layman's terms? Let's say you want to be a brain surgeon (yes I am totally comparing ground school to medical school!). You don't just take lessons from some Joe with equipment. You go to school. You learn about anatomy and physiology (aerodynamics). You learn about how the electrical circuits in the brain change with age (use of flaps at high altitudes). You learn about risk factors such as blood clotting and tumors (abort procedures). You learn about the importance of performing a complete medical physical on a patient (air strip evaluations). You learn what to do if a patient experiences a life threatening emergency (emergencies). You learn about how external factors like nutrition and exercise affect your overall health (SOP). You learn you job from the inside out.

In other words, Kevin is "drinking from a fire hose" with information chocked FULL to the brim on how an airplane operates, including the physics behind it. He is learning about how MAF operates, each of their procedures and why they operate that way (based on experiences). He is learning all the parameters needed to know for standard operations, including all the rules and regulations.

For instance, just to take off, he has to calculate many things: the weight and center of gravity of the airplane, passengers and cargo; factor in where all of his stops and navigation checkpoints along the way will be; determine how much fuel he will need to carry everything and everyone; determine how long that fuel supply will last and add at least a one hour reserve; make certain he will have time to return to base by a minimum of one hour before sunset; calculate how long the take off roll will be on that particular day; calculate how far down the runway he will be when he reaches 75% of his takeoff speed; calculate if he will be airborne by 75% of the runways length; determine if the runway is soft, firm, slick, wet or dry and then figure out how far he can go on the takeoff run and then stop without hitting something if there is a problem. THEN, he must complete the pre-flight checklist, tie down his cargo with ratchet straps and netting as appropriate so it doesn't shift in flight, the before entry checklist, greet and brief his passengers ( in French) complete the before start checklist the start checklist (memorized), the after start checklist, the before takeoff checklist, the immediately before takeoff checklist (memorized), start the takeoff and check the power, the speed and turbocharger, check the abort point, decide whether to stop the takeoff or continue before reaching the abort point, then actually take off. Then, starts a whole other slew of checklists and calculations to do. Are you confused yet?

Homework for "Weight & Balance"
And that is what he has learned up to this point. Ground training isn't even half over yet! It is amazing how structured and safety oriented MAF is, and yet, we are still able to very safely fly into some VERY unforgiving areas, with bad weather, heavily loaded and still have plenty of margin of safety. This is yet another purpose of standardized training. The flight instructors here have a combined total of over 100 years of flight experience with MAF. They safely help us learn to have confidence in our aircraft and our ability, first on the ground, then demonstrate it in the air.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Travel Update

To bring you up to speed, we traveled to Nampa, Idaho for our final training on Saturday, August 10th. We awoke bright and early at 5 AM, just so we could hit the snooze button and wake up again at 5:15 (we had to start the day off right!) We loaded up Kevin's dad's truck with our 4 pieces of checked baggage, 2 carry-on's, a back-pack, and a diaper a baby! After an uneventful drive, we brought all our luggage in to check in for the flight, only to find a 1.5 hour delay. That delay would bring us into our next airport 30 minutes late for our next flight. So our ticket agent, who was from Mali, Africa, worked hard to get us into Boise as soon as possible. For those who don't know, they speak French in Mali. So once we got done with our introductions, asking about family, etc (as is the typical African custom), we completed the rest of our business in French. That was a nice surprise and gave us some encouragement.

Photo: Checking in and already flight delays and changes. :(
Our original flight plan was Knoxville to Detroit to Minneapolis/St. Paul, to arrive in Boise at 1:50 Mountain time. We were still travelling to Detroit but with a longer lay over, and the next connection was in Salt Lake City with another longer layover. This would put us into Boise at 6:30 (Mountain time). Dealing with the delay for two adults is no problem, with a kiddo however, that is another story. We were hoping to arrive in time for an afternoon nap, instead, we were to arrive for a late bedtime. But we arrived with all of our bags in one place and we were together and safe, so we were grateful.
Adah did AMAZING during the first flight, even getting in an early morning nap. She did FANTASTIC during the first layover, playing with her toys and charming bystanders. We ate an early lunch/late brunch thanks to Delta and she stuffed her face! She did SUPERB during the second flight, inching her way into first class by being her adorable little self!
She was OUTSTANDING during our second layover. We enjoyed a nice little dinner together and played with other waiting children. Unfortunately, our tired little monkey was just about over it during the last flight, that was only 47 minutes long. Luckily, we were in the back of the plane as she fussed. We were simply glad she didn't have a major meltdown.

After arriving in Boise, we met our ride and drove the 30 minutes to Nampa. Adah resumed with her cuteness and entertained everyone in the car now that she had room to stretch her legs. We unloaded and unpacked while Adah attempted to unwind.
We were all asleep by 10 PM (12 EST) and were ready to go the next day again.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Late Night

I want to apologize for the gap in posts (again). These past few weeks have been a blur. We have been packing, sorting, dividing, purging, inventorying, purchasing, cramming, folding, weighing, and moving. Tired yet? If not, here is an outline.

Step one. We asked for guidance on what to bring and we were instructed to think about our daily routines and one by one write down everything we use. Just think about all the mini steps you go through each morning to get ready: soap, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, vitamins, etc. After coming up with a list of some of these things, we proceeded to step two.

Step two, picture yourself in a third world country and ask other missionaries what items from the above list are available. If available, are they outrageously expensive? For example, is there a certain brand of toothpaste you like or will generic do? I have to use sensitive with extra fluoride on a daily basis, which is not available. Do you mind spending $35 on a single sippy cup or do you have space to pack them? Do you use Ziploc bags? Because they are not found at all, just like aluminum foil. Once you have marked this on your list, you may proceed to step three.

Step three - buy missing items from your list. Some of our supporting churches really came through for us and held a supply drive for us. There were so many things we did not own or we needed to purchase more of to have as back-up. For example, we needed thermometers and lots of them. We need them for the refrigerator, freezer, and oven because when you are dealing with intermittent electricity, food can quickly spoil. But hey, what's a little botulism among friends...also, do they make a trichinosis vaccine??? We also had to purchase lots of personal items like deodorant, toothpaste, Tylenol, first aid supplies, batteries, and baby wipes. You don't realize how much you use until you try to count up a three year's supply! Now that you have your missing supplies, move to step four.

Step four (a) inventory and (b) attempt to fit everything into tubs/luggage. These two were pretty much hopelessly merged into one big mess. All items needed to be checked for HAZMAT before final packing. We ended up removing RainX, rubbing alcohol, and aerosol cans of bug spray. As we inventoried, we placed the item(s) in the shipping tubs to make sure they would fit...

We are limited by weight and space on what we can bring with us. Keeping this in mind, the goal is to be pragmatic with what we take. Let's face it, a Keurig single cup coffee make is not going to be a useful item in Africa. We needed to simplify and step four (a) and (b) turned into step five - purging!

We purged a large supply of winter clothing (we did just spend a winter in Canada!); we purged electronic kitchen gadgets (they are supposed to have 220V, same as Europe, but the voltage [if present] has been measured anywhere between 300V and 90V); we purged large paintings and extra picture frames; we purged unused baby toys; we purged extra tools (Kevin cried); we purged, and we purged, and we purged until we thought everything would fit....then we repeated step five.

Step six - fold, squish, and stuff! We were blessed to have a handful of helpers that day as we removed everything from the tubs, and separated all articles into piles by category. We had a pile for the kitchen, a pile of tools, a pile of linens, a pile of toiletries, a pile of crafts, and a pile of electronics. If something happened to one of our tubs en route, it would be devastating if we had "all of our eggs in one basket", so we split up the category items and put a little in each box. As we placed an item into a box, the box number had to be labeled on the inventory list for future reference. We also re-visited step five...

Step seven - weigh each tub. We had to make sure each tub was under 150 lbs or it would have required additional work in order to ship. So, we weighed boxes, moved articles around, re-inventoried the items, re-weighed...and got re-acquainted with step five...again....

Step eight - sigh with relief that we finished... at 11 pm...the night before we left for Idaho...

Photo: 1,903 lbs, 125 cubic ft, 12 bins, & 1 tool box...our shipment is READY!!!
1,903 lbs, 125 cubic ft, 12 bins, & 1 tool box...our shipment is READY!!!