Monday, March 17, 2014

Goat + Missing Passenger + Weather = Another Day at the Office

One of the last blogs I wrote, I went to Djolu. I went there again several Saturdays ago.The traffic was very light on the way to the airport, which gave me a bit of time to study the clouds. There was a high, thin overcast with low, scattered rain clouds. Not a problem, and the satellite image looked good too. Here is a link to our only weather resource here, for those interested in how we get our weather.

Because it is such a long flight, the timing is critical or else we cannot make it back before sunset. So I got to the airport early and prepared the airplane. While I was filing the flight plan, I got a call that weather was great at my fuel stop, but my first passenger hadn't showed up yet; nor could he be reached by telephone. The check-in process for passengers can take an hour, or longer, and it was already 7 so this was a problem. He was just going to be along for the ride and the true purpose of the flight was the passengers in Djolu waiting to come back. So we made the decision to leave without him and arrange something in the future.

I was able to get out of Kinshasa in a very timely fashion, breezed through my first fuel stop, and then on to Djolu. After landing, checking the fuel and a few other things, I turned my attention to my 3 passengers and their growing stack of bags. On the way, I was able to find a great tailwind and landed about 20 minutes ahead of schedule. The problem is the engine burned 20 minutes less fuel. Therefore I landed with more fuel than I had originally anticipated and thus had less available weight. Either way, it should not have matter. I had 250 kilograms (550 lbs) available. Unfortunately, they brought 280 kg (620 lbs). An hour later (now 40 minutes behind schedule) we got the weight down and then came the puzzle of where to put it in the airplane.

Finally we were loaded, started it up, finished the checklists and radio calls and proceeded to add power for takeoff. As I continued the takeoff roll, I noticed the goat who was grazing at the edge of the runway was now in the middle of the runway. I hoped he would move when he heard me coming, but nope. As part of our training in Nampa, we spent a whole day practicing takeoff aborts which are trickier than they sound. So I got to do my first aborted takeoff with passengers...fully loaded....on a hot day. We stopped quickly, turned around and taxied back. Someone started to chase after the goat on foot. Then another guy going to help the first guy. Then a guy on a motorcycle...then 50 other guys running down to chase 1 goat off the runway. So 10 minutes later, after the goat was long gone, everyone else finally cleared the runway and we were able to take off (1 hour and 10 minutes behind schedule).

After a long slow climb to 10,000 feet I was able to find another great tailwind and started making up significant time. I noticed some clouds building just on the horizon. The closer we got, the bigger they grew and the darker they became. I began deviating around them hoping they wouldn't put me too far off course, but alas no matter how I weaved, I had to go several miles out of the way to safely navigate around them. Even the most experienced seamstress would have admired at the weaving I had to do for the next 75 miles. Finally with all the clouds and rain behind me, the race to sunset was back on. I called back to base on the HF radio, and we determined a very quick fuel stop in Semendua would get me back with about 30 minutes of sunlight remaining.

After an incredibly quick re-fueling and bathroom break, we were back in the air. Air traffic Control was able to help out, and I actually ended up landing with about 40 minutes to spare. Add up another 9 hours of flying and 1050 miles to the log book.

Did I mention I love my job?

1 comment:

  1. These everyday stories of not knowing what to expect, be it goats or tailwinds, have to keep your work anything but totally routine. For me reading, this is an adventure and I mentally follow along the flight. Thomas Haynes