We have been flying for a few weeks now and it has been an exciting time. I have started my official checkout after spending a few weeks doing ride-along flights. I learned how to handle the paperwork and how to communicate on the radio. (To be honest, I am still getting used to the accent and common reports asked for by the Tarakan tower, but I am doing better than before.) Now, I have had the opportunity to handle the controls, navigate to the airports in a region called the Krayan, and learned to land at some of the “beginner level” airstrips. (These airstrips still have challenges but they are longer and allow for a little more margin of error.)
When I begin flying solo, I will have a set schedule each day.We head out to one of the larger, paved strips called Long Bawan. After this, I will fly out to some of the smaller villages that surround Long Bawan. Then, I will either take the passengers out to Long Bawan or to Malinau, which is about halfway between Long Bawan and Malinau. These flight days can last from 7 am to 5 pm, though I am limited to 4 pm when I first start flying by myself as a safety margin.
For now, I have been flying with two of the instructor pilots and getting acclimated with some of the airstrips. The first strip we checked out is in Long Layu. This strip is almost a half a mile long with a grass/dirt surface. It is pretty level and fairly wide. One of the fun challenges is that the final approach course when landing to the south is very off-set. We flew at about a 30 degree angle to the runway and we were turning to get lined up with the runway until about 5-10 ft above the ground. It is a fun challenge and you definitely want to be ready to react to anything.
The second airstrip is in Pa’Upan (like saying Pow-Paan), which is about 10 miles away from Long Layu. (It would still take about 5 hours to drive between the two because the road is a work in progress.) Pa’Upan is a mostly grass strip that slippery when wet. It is shorter than Long Layu with water buffalo pits off the western edge. The village is nestled between mountains and hills, which make it a very challenging landing spot. When landing, either to the east or west, you lose sight of the runway and have to make a rough guess. When landing to the east, you have to fly between two low hills and start turning on final approach without being able to see the runway. It is definitely an exercise in faith! It is important to fly a stabilized approach with set “bench-marks.” This means being 300′ above the ground between the two hills and about 2oo’ when turning to final approach. If these conditions are not met, then I will go-around and try again. This is one of the ways in which MAF helps pilots make wise and safe decisions. The approach to the west is offset like Long Layu but not as drastic. The key to this approach is to hug the terrain and watch out for the wind!
The third airstrip is in Binuang (like saying Bee-new-ahng). This strip is a bit shorter than the other two. It is made of grass and dirt and the north end can get a little soggy when wet. The approach to the north goes over the river and rice paddies (called sawah). It is important to approach at a slow airspeed (55-60 kts) so I can stop with plenty of margin. Like most strips, there is a soccer field right next to the runway. My instructor and I got “stuck” in Binuang for a few hours because of poor weather. We watched another operator leave before the clouds really closed us off and it was fun to watch the local kids stand on a fence and get blasted by the prop wash when he started up!
In addition to learning how to land at some of our different airstrips, I am brushing up on flying in and through clouds as well as flying near terrain where turn radius can become an issue. I have to say that flying in and around clouds is some of the most fun flying I have ever done. I like to compare it to a puzzle that needs to be solved. I know where I am, I know where I want to go, and now I get to figure out how to make it happen. I kinda feel like superman when I turn right around a cloud to go through a “hole” on the other side. It is challenging and every day brings something new. The most important thing when flying in the clouds and in terrain is to always have an escape route. We never want to get into a situation where there is no “out.” It may sound dangerous or a little unnerving, but MAF has done a great job in teaching us how to operate with margin so can recognize dangerous situations and steer clear. I am confident that I have been given the skills and tools to operate safely and make wise decisions.
All in all, it has been a lot of fun and I hoping to fly solo soon. I am sure I will do a few more operational days with the instructors and they will let me know when I am ready to go!
In other news, we learned we are expecting a boy! We had a gender reveal party and I was responsible for filling the cake with blue sprinkles (since I already knew the gender). I cut into the cake with Adelina and the blue sprinkles came pouring out. We are super excited, though Adelina is still hoping for a younger sister one day. We are also excited to let you know we will be coming home in early May for the birth of the baby. MAF has a new policy that encourages families to come home for a mini-furlough midway through a term and it couldn’t have come at a better time for our family!
So, we are excited to come home and spend some time in Reno when we welcome the newest Vana into our family. Hopefully we will get to connect with many of you while we are around!
We have a few things that we would love to have pray with us for:
- Please pray for the health of Jessica and baby boy #3.
- Pray for the health of our family as we are trying to get rid of some uncomfortable parasites.
- Pray for safety as I begin to fly here in Indonesia.