Shoulder to Shoulder

Sometimes the things we do can seem mundane and not particularly pleasant. Today, I had to discuss, and convince a man from the Civil Aviation Authority that our procedures make sense and are safe. Because our flying is not like airline flying and we go to bush strips with rough, narrow surfaces, no air traffic control, no tarmac, no lines, lights or navigation aids, we have developed and use procedures that mean we can get people from one bush strip to another safely. It was taking a little convincing…

The previous two weeks were not like that. Our Liberia program is essentially a Uganda sub-base. It operates a Uganda registered airplane, flown by Uganda licensed pilots, according to the procedures mentioned above.

The airplane has been busy, since the base opened three years ago, supporting the large number of missions and non-government agencies that work there. It is nearly always full as it chugs up and down the coast visiting the isolated towns of the Liberian coast.

The thing about Liberia is that it is really humid and salty. As a result the soil gets very salty, vegetables barely grow, imported chickens give up laying eggs and metal rusts. Now, our small team in Liberia do a sterling job of looking after their aircraft, but it is made of metal. The aircraft is frequently washed to remove salt. Even the engine gets a regular internal shower, a kind of mechanical colonic irrigation. But nature is unrelenting and it was clear that 5X-OPE was going to need to come home for a spring clean, a full body spa, in order to reinstate a high level of integrity. So, I was asked to take another aircraft, 5X-SCO, out to swap them over.

We arranged to make the most of the flight by taking a full load of supplies to the Chad program on the way, and I would carry out some training in both Chad and Liberia as well.

Greg Vine, MAF Pilot

MAF Pilot, Greg Vine, during his 10km round trip.

As some of Africa’s rains were still falling in parts of the continent where I would be travelling, I watched the weather for the three weeks leading up to the flight. Strong winds were prevailing across West Africa, great for the outbound part, but needed careful planning considerations for the return legs. Henry, our flight operations assistant worked hard at arranging all the overflight and landing permits we would need, this was not an easy task. It was constantly necessary to explain who we were in order to avoid the hefty fees being charged to airlines and unsuspecting aviators. I poured over charts to determine which routes were safest, in terms of weather as well as terrain and security, as well as the most efficient. After quite a number of plan changes, it ended up being a 10,600 km round trip, flying over 12 countries and landing in 6. There was sunshine, huge storms and something I’ve never seen before, a brilliant, complete circle rainbow!

The trip was safe, albeit somewhat eventful. I loved the chance of being back in Chad, meeting old missionary friends, flying with pilots who have since been stationed there, and hanging out with locals our family knew when we were based in Chad from 2007 – 2011.

It was interesting and strange to fly over the country of my birth, so rich, green, and unknown to me and I was glad to arrive with an intact aircraft in Liberia. Something to do with the avionics stopped working but thankfully just as I had returned to land back in N’djamena where help was accessible and not while airborne. Once I eventually landed in Liberia the team were at the airfield to welcome me and their new airplane. It was a real honour to be a part of this and I was so aware of the body of people working together to make it all work. Thinking and acting for my safety and the success of the trip, running to carry out a hundred tasks in order to have everything in place. Not many of these actions are incredible, complicated things, but the result of the whole is incredible, and so much more than can be achieved alone.

Don’t ever forget that you are part of something incredible.

Article: Greg Vine, MAF Pilot
Photos: Jill Vine, MAF Communications