Thursday, February 12, 2009
For the Pilots
This post is for the pilots. Just to give you an idea of what a day flying in Peru is like. Granted, this is one of the longer days, but it just did happen today and here is the story!The alarm goes off at 5am. I get ready for the day with breakfast and am out the door and driving to Cashibo, where the airplanes are, before 6. Get to the hanger, file a flight plan, check the NASA satellite for South America grab my gear and head down to the float plane. At 7am the passengers are there and Pablo helps me load and tie down the cargo. We pray as a group and are off the water at 7:30. It is two hours to my first fuel stop, but today there is a 15 knot headwind and I sadly watch the GPS dance between 99 and 102 knots. High overcast for the first hour until a lower layer develops and meets me at my cruising altitude of 4,500. Another cloud layer is up ahead but I see a space where I can duck under it and find that it is clear below with just a light rain falling.I manage to get back to 4,500 still under the overcast and land at the first fuel stop in Industrial. After docking next to the bank. I unload five 5-gallon plastic jerry cans and walk over to a shed that is locked up. This is where we keep fuel in 55 gallon drums. I siphon out almost 40 gallons and fuel by hand through a funnel and filter on top of the wing.After being on the ground/water for 40 minutes, I am back in the air. Just one hour now to Galilea, but there are clouds all along the ridge line between me and the destination. I talk via HF radio with the community and they report light rain with low clouds. Not good. I make a course change and head for the place in the ridge where a river cuts through. I decent to 700 feet above the water and follow the river through the gorge. Just below the clouds, I have about 5-7 miles of visibility but there is still light rain. I follow the river for 20 minutes and arrive at the village location. Ceiling is now 500 feel but there are breaks in the overcast. I land against the current and dock where a group of 30 people and kids are waiting for us.After unloading a couple, their 3 children, and all their baggage I quickly climb up on the wing and check my fuel in the left and right tanks. Good, 40 gallons for an estimated 1.5 hours of flying plus 1 hour of reserve fuel at 16 gallons per hour. I write own the tach time on my flight ticket and quickly weight and load more cargo. Two missionaries are returning to Pucallpa after 3 weeks out in the jungle visiting many of the churches along this particular river. They are happy to see me!Off the water and the cloud are definitely broken now, I climb on top and can see a low spot in the ridge at 3,500 feet, I cross at 5000 and start my decent to the next location of Boca Chivasa. I have never been here before but I have a drawing from our chief pilot. As I arrive over head I immediately see two canoes tied up at my docking location. I perform 3 full circles over the landing sight evaluating the current, approach path, and takeoff path. I also look for boat or logs that may be float in the river. I elect to land into the current again and have to modify my final approach leg as there is a slight bend in the river. I touch down on one float in a turn and smoothly set the other float down as I power back to idle, drop the water rudders and send a message over the HF radio saying I am safely on the water. Two more passengers get on and I weigh their cargo and check fuel levels gain. Perfect, we are within the weight limit by 30 kilos and I can tell by how the float are sitting in the water that C.G. is at the aft end to give me a little more cruise speed but the water line is still 2 inches below the back of the floats so I know I am fine.After casting off I open the throttle half way with mixture in ICO. Master on bust pump on. Wait till I hear the tone change that the pump is circulating fuel and there are no more air bubbles, mixture rich momentarily to clear the distributor line and give a small prime. Clear prop! One, two, thee, four blades go by and the engine catches. Mixture rich and quickly retard the throttle, 1000 RPM. I love that hot start technique on the Continentals! I go through my ¨P´s¨ Power (alternator) Power (ammeter showing charge) Pump (boost pump off) Pump (vac pump indication) Pressure (oil pressure indication).It is 1 hour back to Industrial and by now the cloud base is 1500 agl with tops of the broken layer at 5000. I pick my way through holes and corridors up to 5,500 where I am above it all. I clean my hands with some hand sanitizer and eat an apple and grapes as I watch the clouds float by. Lunch to go!Now with 4 people aboard, I realize yet again what a privilege I have to transport there people in Peru! They are all older than me but have seen fit to put their confidence and safety in my hands... something I do not take lightly. I ask the front seat passenger if he is anxious to see his wife and two kids. He nods and smiles!After refueling again by hand, I takeoff for the tow hour leg back to Cashibo. On the way back almost everyone takes a nap, except for the pilot. The morning overcast is still there, I estimate bases to be at 10´000 msl. I fly back at 5,500 in perfectly smooth conditions and enjoy a tailwind as I see 125 knots of ground speed. After an hour and 15 minutes I switch tanks and note that I should have 8 gallons left in that tank if I need it. By the time I get back to Cashibo I am down to 20 gallons total fuel. A smooth landing back at Cashibo in spite of the quartering crosswind. I unload the cargo and fill out the paperwork. It is 4:30 in the afternoon and I head up to the office where I spend another 20 minute figuring out the billing for the flight and completing my flight ticket, 7.1 hours today, 5 landings, and 1 tired pilot!Hope this give you a small glimpse into what flying in Peru is like. There is so much more like how you load chickens and lawnmower engines into the airplane, or communicating with ATC in Spanish. But maybe that is for some other time.