MAF’s Technical Standardization culminates with a trip to the Idaho backcountry to a ranch located on the Salmon River. Allison Ranch was purchased in 1971 to serve as a Christian Retreat Center. All of the buildings are made from trees that have fallen in the surrounding forest. There is a saw mill on the property and the caretakers are extremely handy. There is a staircase made from a single tree trunk that was cut using a jig. The ranch is powered by a stream that flows down the mountain. We had occasional brown outs but the power was mostly reliable. The food was excellent and made from scratch, and the hospitality was as good as it gets. The Salmon River provided a soothing background for our restful nights of sleep.
We left Nampa, ID on Monday April 28th. It was a beautiful day in the valley but the weather grew worse as we approached the river. We had to climb above 13,000′ because of the clouds and descended through a hole in the clouds once we were near our destination. We stopped at Mackay Bar Ranch and ate our lunches. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was along the river. The sides of the mountains are steep and come right down to the river. It is rugged terrain that makes life and flying difficult. There are various homesteads along the river with runways cut out of the forest. It is similar to the runways we will use on the mission field, which is part of the reason it is such a valuable training tool. Many times we couldn’t see the runway until we were only 150′ in the air and had just turn around a bend in the river. We had to use benchmarks along the mountain sides to judge whether or not we were on an appropriate glide path. A benchmark might be crossing a clump of trees or a rock outcropping at a certain altitude. It was amazing how accurate we were able to be even though we couldn’t see our touchdown point.
We spent four days in the backcountry and had a ton of fun. We landed at a number of the runways and did several take-offs and landings at each one. Almost all of the runways are one-way strips, which means that you can only land in one direction and have to take off back the same way. The reason for this is because the strips usually end where the mountain begins! It makes the flying challenging and leaves a small margin for error. On these one-way strips, there is a point of no return when you are coming in to land. We call this the “abort point” and say, “Committed” because we are reminding ourselves that our only option is to land after that point.
There were a few runways that were particularly fun and challenging. The first of which is Yellow Jacket. Yellow Jacket is located on the edge of cliff 2,000′ above the river and down a small off-shoot from the main canyon. The runway is sloped up 9% at the bottom and increases to 22% at the top. It was only 900′ long but we had to keep our speed up once we landed or else we wouldn’t make it to the top of the runway. The other side of the canyon is close to the end of the strip so you have to turn immediately after take-off, and the final turn to line up with the runway occurs 150′ above the runway elevation, which means that everything happens quickly. There is also a culvert on both sides of the runway 1/3 of the way down, which means that you have to stay in the middle or you might find yourself in a ditch!
A fun story about Yellow Jacket. As we approached the runway on the third day of flying, we noticed the low voltage indicator light was on our annunciator panel. I checked the circuit breakers and our Alternator Control Unit Breaker had popped. It wouldn’t reset but we were able to land without incident. After we shut down we were able to reset the circuit breaker. Everything checked out when we started back up so we did another approach and landing. Halfway through this approach, the low voltage indicator light lit up again but none of the circuit breakers had popped. We landed and did some troubleshooting on the fly. It turns out that our alternator had quit on us. Fortunately for us we had brought a spare alternator and it was in great working condition. We spent 2 hours doing a little field maintenance and we were able to finish out day. This experience showed me first-hand why I spent a year getting my mechanic’s license! It will probably prove invaluable when flying in the remote locations in Indonesia.
Another runway was Whitewater. It is located along the Salmon River and there are dense trees on both sides. We flew down the valley and have a good 3/4 of a mile lined up with the runway for landing. It also has a upslope but the main concern are all the deer. We took two planes up for the trip and the other plane had to abort one of their landings because there were deer on the runway. After our crew made our first landing and were lining back up on the runway, we saw 7 deer cross the departure end of the runway.
If you want to see some of the footage from the trip, CLICK HERE!
After the Backcountry trip, the wives joined the husbands in a classroom for two weeks of Orientation. We are learning about living in and adapting to another culture. There was a two-day marriage seminar with a counselor (it was awesome) and we have talked a lot about appreciating differences in others people instead of assuming we are always right. One blessing that occurred last week was two leaders from Summit Christian Church came to MAF Headquarters to get a tour and see everything for themselves. They were able to sit down with the President/CEO and the Executive Vice President as well. We showed them where we have been living and they even sat in on one of our sessions. It is an incredible encouragement to have our church family/leadership be invested in us and the ministry where God has placed us.
Thanks for reading and staying in touch! We will be back in Reno soon and can’t wait to see you at Summit! God Bless you all!