One night just over ten years ago my brain played a trick on me.
I was cruising along in a Beech 1900 over Western Africa. The weather was poor. Outside the front window haze rushed by in the deepest gloom. I was hand flying that bird and staring down the six pack of instruments, daring them to move.
The inner ear is a funny thing. And that night, it conspired with my brain to make me think I was about to die. Slowly I felt my body turning. I knew the symptoms. I was entering into classic vertigo. I ignored my gut which said that any minute now the contents of the cockpit were going to fly across the cabin to my right. That’s where down was, my brain said. Straight out the right hand side window.
I casually informed my captain that I was fighting vertigo, and kept my eyes frozen to the instruments, fighting to believe them.
After a while, the feeling passed. I continued on the flight, and we safely landed in Dakar. This kind of disorientation is not unusual, but it can be very deadly.
When it happened to me, I was lucky enough to have another pilot flying with me and recent training to help me fight the feeling. Not everyone is so lucky.
Fred Zanegood wrote about a similar experience he had as a new pilot. As I read through the article, I was reminded of that dark night so many years ago. I’m glad I took the right steps in my situation, though I probably should have handed control over until I was no longer disoriented. It’s a lesson to think about for me this evening.
Have a read through Fred’s article, and remember to always take that choice of extra caution. It could save your life.
I have come to really enjoy recording video in flight and then editing it later. It’s been pretty fun to see some of the results and to share it online. If you’ve wondered how to do it yourself, here’s an article that lays out some of the tricks behind a good in-flight video.
Here’s a video that I put together a few months ago.
I usually spend a fair portion of my flight day between 10,000′ and 13,000′ in a non-pressurized aircraft. Hypoxia is a normal part of life at those altitudes. Take at few minutes to read this great article from Flying Magazine and refresh your knowledge on high altitude flying.
via High-Altitude Flying: What You Need to Know | Flying Magazine
I fly to Silimo at least once at week and sometime almost daily. It’s a short 15-18 minute flight from Wamena as long as the weather is good. Its short but not very steep. The hardest part about the runway is that the abort point is over half a mile away from the touchdown point. That means that once you’ve passed that point you have to land or accept an accident.
I’ve had my fair share of fun in Silimo, and even a few scary moments. Generally though I thoroughly enjoy flying there. The folks on the ground are friendly and there’s a deep missional history there. That history wasn’t always so friendly though. In fact, it started with an ambush.
Years ago a missionary who was looking for a certain village was attacked by the local tribe. He had hiked into the valley and the men were waiting there for him. When he realized what was happening, he did the last thing his attackers expected.
He laid down. Lying there on the rocks and mud he told them he wouldn’t stop them from killing him because he loved them. The spears and arrows never flew.
Now, that man’s son visits Silimo regularly continuing on the work his father started. Creating an alphabet for the tribe, teaching them to read, giving them a school, bringing access to medical care, establishing a church, and giving them the Bible in their own language.
Like many villages in Papua, Silimo’s history of connection to the modern world starts with a western missionary appearing in their village. The history continued with the construction of the airstrip. And now, I’m helping write that story as I fly to those villages. Reflecting on this makes me hope I can write a chapter for these villages in the example of that first missionary, one of love and care.