Circle of Fire

Here’s another story that Jim told me; this one started out as a flight to deliver some French folks to a game preserve in Burkina Faso. Again, this is more paraphrased than direct quotation.

“It was after the end of the rainy season, about November, and we were going to land in this game preserve in Burkina Faso. I knew approximately where the runway was, but the grass had grown tall with the rain, and completely covered it. I made a pass over the field, trying to see where the runway might be. I found it – at least I think I did; it was hard to tell – and circled around to land. After I touched down and cut the throttle, one of the front wheels (it was a taildragger aircraft) dropped into a deep hole that had been rooted out by a warthog – remember, everything was overgrown with grass. I looked over at the wing, and the impact had shoved a spar from the landing gear up through the wing. It was a mess, and I was not going to be able to fly that plane out of there. I taxied it in to the airfield and tied it down for storage. We’d have to get a new wing built.
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Airplane Ride

One day last week one of the mechanics, Jim, and I were the only ones in the lunch room. He served as a pilot in Africa for thirty years, flying with SIM. He’s still with them, but has been essentially farmed out to JAARS. In addition to starting up their flight service in Niger, he’s also a mechanic and a talented sketch artist. I got him to give me a couple of stories.

“When I was based out of Niamey, Niger,” he started, (things in quotes are more paraphrase than direct quotation) “there was a little boy, about three years old, who loved airplanes. His parents were with World Vision, working up in the desert with the Tuareg people, and every time they came to Niamey he would run around the hangar and look at all the airplanes.

“The World Vision base was out in the desert about two hundred miles north of Niamey. One evening, they had a party or celebration there, and all of the kids were playing around outside. Well, in the dark, this little boy ran across the cover of a dry well – it was rotted through, and gave way. He fell thirty feet, straight down. When the adults lowered someone down on a rope to pull him out, the three-year-old was completely unconscious, and his head was starting to swell. They sent a radio call out to Niamey for Jim to take him to the clinic, and for a plane to be ready to take him to Europe for treatment, if needed. Continue reading

Helios and Ground Loops

Helio Courier in the hangar

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving! Mine was pretty fun. Two of the families from the hangar get together every year for the meal, so they invited me to join them … good times!

I heard a number of stories last week, so I’ll spread them out over the next few days. I also met some people:

Ray is a pilot-mechanic serving in Cameroon. I’d guess he’s in his mid-thirties; he and his family are at the JAARS center to do his recertifications. (Most of the pilots that JAARS picks to serve overseas have to have extensive flying hours, as well as the FAA Airframe and Powerplant mechanic certifications.) He’s pretty tall, and nearly bald, and when I met him near my apartment on Tuesday he was taking out the trash. He recognized me from the aviation department meeting on Monday, and stopped to say hello. We got to talking, and it turns out that his father is a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, so he knows some people at Purdue. The base in Cameroon, he told me, has a Robinson R44 helicopter and three light aircraft, including a Cessna 206. (We’ve got a PC-6 in the hangar that will be ready to go back there soon.) They had been working out of a really old, small hangar until recently, when they finished work on a new hangar. However, they’re still pretty understaffed. Cameroon is the only base that Wycliffe/JAARS has in Africa, although the different mission aviation organizations do work together. Continue reading

Carriers and Cycling

I had dinner on Friday night with Jim and Jan, a couple who is retired from the Navy and are now volunteering with JAARS/Wycliffe. During his twenty-five or so years with the Navy, Jim served on at least three different aircraft carriers, including the USS Midway – the same one that I got to tour and party on at the beginning of August, in San Diego. He was telling us stories of the Vietnam and Cold Wars, and how Soviet trawlers would like to annoy large American ships by continually crossing their paths, tempting collisions. Carriers are big boats, and they don’t stop or turn easily. Plus, turning a carrier changes the direction of the deck runways, which isn’t good for any pilots who are airborne at the time. Continue reading