Monday, February 15, 2016

A 60 Degree Calcius Change Really Isn't That Bad

It's been a while since I've written anything here.  I don't like to write here just for the sake of putting something out there, but I'd rather wait until there is something that I want to share before I sit down to write.  The last couple of months have been, umm, (say it slowly) s.l.o.w for flying here in Mongolia.  From what I understand, this is not unusual for this time of the year.  When the cold weather hits, many people leave the country and head for places where the weather is a little easier to live in.  Those that remain behind don't travel very much, as if there are any problems their life can be in jeopardy if their vehicle breaks down.  As a result, my flying also slows way down.  Any flying that does happen over winter ends up being medical flights when we are called on to fly the sick or wounded.

This year, even that has been very limited.  For most of the month of January, our airplane was grounded in the hangar for some much needed maintenance.  We had one of our MAF colleagues from Australia come up for 2 weeks and perform a vast number of checks and work to the avionics on the plane.  We also were able to do some maintenance that needed to be carried out, but which is hard to do when the plane is flying regularly.  Once the maintenance has been finished, we waited again as the Mongolian authorities checked over the work and did a few inspections before issuing us our certificate of airworthiness for the next 12 months.  Many people don't realize, but airplanes can't fly without an overwhelming amount of paperwork being done.  Tongue in cheek, the rule of thumb is that until your paperwork weighs about the same as your plane, you haven't done enough of it.

Because our airplane was fixed to the ground for so long, it created a small problem.  Twice a year I have to fly what we call a "base check".  Think of it as a mini flight test with MAF approved check pilots.  If my base check expires before I have another one done, I can't fly until I do get it done.  In a program where there are multiple pilots it usually isn't a big deal if one pilot is "out of check" for a day or two before doing his base check.  For me, if I don't get my check done, the whole flight program grinds to a halt until it is carried out.  With me unable to use our plane, the check pilot who was scheduled to come here and check me had to cancel his flights and I wasn't able to do my check.  As we discussed the available options, one stood out as being the most logical.  I could fly down to Uganda and carry out my base check there while our plane here was still grounded.  That way, when our plane was ready to fly again, I would be as well, and there would be no unnecessary delay.

So it was, on the morning of the 6th of February, I headed out to Chinggis Khaan International airport and caught my Turkish Airlines flight out of Ulaanbaatar and over to Istanbul, Turkey.  There I had a short layover and was soon on another Turkish flight, heading southwards for Entebbe, Uganda.  I arrived early on Sunday morning and was soon quietly slinking through the door of the house where I was to stay for the next few days, trying not to wake up our friends who live there.  I tried to grab a couple hours of sleep before everyone else woke up, but I had a hard time falling to sleep because my brain found Kampala to be so quiet (there's a sentence that I never thought I would write)!

It was so nice to be able to see the Wunderli family again, who became close friends of our while we were in Uganda.  Their kids have grown like weeds in the time that we have been gone, and it reminded me how much my own kids have been growing lately.  It was a pleasure for me to be able to join them and attend the church that we had gone to when we lived in Uganda.  I spent the rest of the day with the Wunderli's, visiting and even managing to play a few games before finally crawling into bed that night.  Uganda is 5 hours behind Ulaanbaatar (UB) time, so it was no problem for me to fall asleep after staying awake for the entire day.

The next morning I awoke feeling very rested and refreshed, and headed out the door with Simon (Wunderli) to make our way to the airfield for my flight.  Traffic in Kampala is still traffic in Kampala, and reminded me that traffic CAN be worse than the traffic in UB.  One of the big changes in the MAF Uganda program since we have left there is that the main MAF office has moved from Kampala out to Kajjansi airfield, where everything is now done from one location.  Our family left just a few weeks before the office moved, and so everything there was new to me. 

The new office building at Kajjansi
It was great to be able to walk through the door and greet all of the friendly faces that I had not seen in 7 months.  The new office looks great, and even though there have been many "new office issues" to work through, it was easy to see that the space was a much, much better fit than the small, cramped quarters that they had been using in Kampala. 
MAF Uganda pilot Dave Forney talks at the front desk with the receptionist, Evelyn.
The bookings and operations ladies, in their new, more spacious location in the new office.
 After looking around the office and getting my bearings, I headed out to my ride for the day.  My plane that I would be flying for my base check was an old friend, 5X-FRM.  FRM is a plane that is owned by Far Reaching Ministries (FRM), and is maintained and flown by the MAF Uganda crew.  Even this plane had changed since I had flown it last, as it was now boasting a new FRM paint scheme that had been put on it in the time that I had been away.  It was a great feeling to be able to sweat and be warm all of the way to my bones as I did my pre-flight checks on the plane that morning.
5X-FRM, my ride for the morning, boasting its new paint scheme.

The flight line that morning, with one airplane already in the air.
With the plane checked out and everything looking good, we belted into the captains chairs and taxied out onto the red murram airstrip.  I was surprised both by how much I had already forgotten about flying at Kajjansi and also by the things that I still remembered.  It had also been 7 months since I had flown behind a "glass cockpit", and remembering how to work the modern avionics and where to look to find the information that I needed took a little time before coming back to me.  One of the nice things about flying is that planes fly the same everywhere in the world.  The laws of physics don't change from Mongolia to Uganda to Canada, so I was still able to do a decent job for my base check.  It was a little tougher than it would have been if I had flown it here at UB where I feel at home, but it was still very special to be able to fly in Uganda again, even if only for one short flight.

After the flight, I had a chance to hang around the office for a couple of hours.  The new office is owned jointly by MAF and by Engineering Ministries International (EMI), a group of professional engineers who minister to other missions by offering professional engineering services that are specifically developed for their unique situations in developing countries.  EMI makes use of the top floor, and MAF has the bottom floor.  At lunch time I was able to join another Canadian pilot and visit in the new lunch area.  (pictured below)

The lunchroom at lunchtime.
That evening I was able to join Dave and Joy Forney at their house for supper, and had a great time with them and their family.  They are another family who became good friends of ours while we were in Uganda.  It was a little sad that Karen and the kids were not able to join me, but with such a quick trip it just wasn't practical, or economical!

Tuesday was a great day.  I had no flight commitments that day, and my own flight back to UB didn't leave until late that night (early Wed morning).  After a bit of a lazy morning I was able to meet up with Dave and Jana McPhee, friends of ours who I grew up with back in Canada.  They work at Restoration Gateway in northern Uganda, and they made the trip down to Kampala just so that we could meet and enjoy lunch together!  We did enjoy our few hours together, and I was even able to expand their "bubble" of known roads and places in Kampala, as I directed them through traffic on a route that they had not known of before.  It was so good to be able to see them.

 Supper that evening was with Greg and Jill Vine, more friends from our time in Uganda.  After a good visit with them, I headed back to the Wunderli house to say my goodbye's to them before we all headed for bed.  I was able to get in a few hours of sleep before hearing my taxi drive into the yard at 1:00am.  My flight left Uganda at 4:55am, and scarcely 23 hours after that I found myself looking out the window at Ulaanbaatar as I landed back home.

I have to admit, the whole trip was a little surreal.  I wasn't expecting to be able to go back to Uganda, and it was all over in the blink of an eye.  I'm glad that things all worked out this way though, as our plane now has all of it's paperwork in place and I have my base check completed and am ready to fly.  Now we will be able to continue fly any medevac requests that come through, and continue to prepare for the busy summer of service that lays ahead of all of us here at Blue Sky Aviation.  Who knows where I might end up next!

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