Well, as promised, here is a story about the aviation program. It’s not the one I had planned, so this will become one of a series of stories.
Yesterday morning, I woke up at something like 2:30 am with a tremendous thought. It was a freeing thought. I guess it’s not related to the story, except that it kept me up all night long. Being in N’Djamena to submit paperwork at the civil aviation authority and hoping someone caught their commercial flight in so I could take him down to Béré to help with things, I had sufficient internet to occupy my time looking for useful apps for my phone. At any rate, I guess what I’m trying to say is I got a grand total of maybe 4 hours of sleep.
Morning hit, and I ignored alarm after alarm trying to finally get a couple more minutes, but to no avail. I finally woke up, took a cold shower (there are only cold showers in this country unless you’re really special), ate some breakfast, and started to get ready for the day. I was going to go in to town after submitting the airplane paperwork to look for some supplies for the NC. I took the short walk from the guest house to the civil aviation offices, dropped off my paperwork, and headed back to grab my stuff, when I got a text from Olen, “Want to fly down and back up?” I thought, uhh, not really. My paperwork should be processed today, and I should be around if they have questions.
As I conversed with Olen, though, it became clear the need. One of the staff’s wife was having heart issues, and needed to get to a place where they could get more testing done. Sure, that’s why I’m here. I still have permission to fly in this country for one more day, I may as we’ll make the most of it. It’s 9am, if I can keep the turnover time to a minimum, I should back up here before 2:30, then I can check back in on the new flight permissions and still “ride the sunset express” home with my incoming passenger if we get the permissions on time.
I made my way quickly to the airport, and started pre-flighting the airplane. Things were looking good, so after filing my flight plan I jumped in the plane ready to go. “Oops, forgot something!” Ran back inside and took care of business before my 2-hour flight, then went back, figuring I should probably drag the plane out a little before starting. Jumped back in the plane. “Wait, where are my keys?” I looked everywhere, couldn’t find them. Not even in the random places. Crawled out of the airplane. Ran back to the bathroom just to check. Nothing. Did I drop them at the tower while filing? Not likely, but must be. Let me check the airplane one more time, I don’t want to walk all the way down there. Opened the plane door, and there they were behind my seat cushion.
They say third time’s the charm, so for a third time I jumped in the plane to go. I guess it worked, and so I was off. On the way down I made sure to let Olen know when I would be there so they would be waiting for us, we could refuel, and go. Well I had a nice tailwind and shaved maybe 10 minutes off my flight. Then, because it’s Africa and nothing seems to go quite according to plan, I sit around for more than an hour after refueling. Thankfully my beautiful wife had a lunch ready, so we sat in the hangar and ate while waiting.
Finally the passengers arrived, and after a little arranging and weight reducing we were all loaded up and ready to go. I jumped in the plane, hopeful to get up before the aviation office closed so I would know if we got the new permit before the weekend. Started the airplane.
Nothing. The starter didn’t engage. The battery was charging fine on my flight down just a couple hours ago. I didn’t leave any lights on, what could be wrong? Tried again to the same result. The prop was like a lazy man who was watching his favorite show, oblivious to the world around him. “Man, today is not my day for getting into the airplane ready to go somewhere…” Thankfully Jonathan was on hand, so we looked at it together. We tried jump starting it. Nothing. It had to be difficult, didn’t it…
So we took off the top cowling (like a car hood that’s screwed on) and took a closer look. Every wire looked normal. All leads and connections looked solid. Nothing looked amiss. Battery showed regular voltage. Finally, Jonathan figured, “why don’t we just knock on this solenoid here, and see if that does anything.” So with passenger holding the brakes and me just reaching in from the outside, we made sure the prop was clear and turned the starter. Wouldn’t you know it? Fatty got off his couch to get himself some chips! Aka, the prop moved. I’m then able to crawl into the airplane for at least the 6th time today (but only having started once), start the plane a second time, and roll out for takeoff. As I’m setting up navigation and everything, Olen drives his truck down the runway to watch us off. Final check, roll into position ready to power up, then I see Olen tear back onto the runway and race in the opposite direction. Sure enough, a family of 5 or 6 goats were hanging out down there and needed chasing off. As he cleared the runway again, I powered up and away we went.
Approximately 2 hours later, about 4:30pm we arrived in Ndjamena to a bit of a rough landing. I drop the passengers off, then climb back into the airplane again to taxi to where I’d park for what would inevitably be the weekend now. The solenoid needs to be hit again. I’m not taking the cowling off now, I’ll just drag it the 300 yards or so, whatever. Tried to budge it; didn’t move. Nothing wrong except an uphill start and poor leverage. Thankfully one guy came and helped me push it down, or I might have had to resort to opening it up again. Wrapped things up in the plane, went to get out, and everything was locked for the evening already. Great. Started walking back towards the terminal when I hear my name called from where I parked. The guard! That was just leaving, but the taxi guy I had called to pick me up told him I was there, so he let me through.
Civil aviation was indeed closed, and my incoming passenger was delayed until Tuesday noon. Got my medevac to the guest house, and stayed up until 9:15pm when they had tickets, at which point I called the taxi guy back and asked him if he could come get them and bring them at 2 in the morning to catch their flight out at 4:30am. He said sure, as long as I call him to wake him up beforehand. Finally, I went to bed exhausted. At 2:45, I wake up having forgotten to set an alarm, and find they worked it out anyways and are gone. They paid for our room, to boot! Finally, slept in peace after almost exactly 24 hours. Now the plane is stuck in NDJ until at least Monday waiting for the office to re-open, so we can see if our paperwork was processed.
Such is the life of a mission pilot in the African bush…