Check Those Instruments – VFR isn’t always so easy.

A few days ago I departed with a full load of passengers from Apahapsili (apa hap silly). The weather had been building on the ridges between Apahapsili and Wamena, but blue sky above the lowlands promised great weather to the north.

Even with full seats, I was pretty light. With 750 horse power up front, my Quest Kodiak posted a solid 1000fpm climb from the runway all the way up to 8000′. Above 8k I was seeing something more like 800fpm. Given my climb performance, I turned toward the top end of a valley. The ridge beyond lead to North Gap, which is the closest pass to Wamena. North Gap remains open and clear much of the day, even when storms brood either side of it. The ridge between me and North Gap had characteristic high build ups on them, but nothing concerning.

As I approached 10,000′ I worked myself into a corridor between clouds. At the end was a nice low spot where I could pass over and into North Gap. It was a little like flying up a canyon with a low pass at the end. As my climb performance degraded though, I began to realize I wouldn’t out climb that last bit of cloud.

The mountains are no place to mess with illegal IMC. No matter how confident you are that there’s no mountain there, never go IMC in the mountains unless you’re on an established route. I wasn’t about to do that, so I elected to circle once in the climb.

I knew my margins, I’d kept my out. I had room to turn around. What I’d not counted on was the disorientation from a steep turn out with no horizon. With clouds towering all around blocking my view of the horizon, I couldn’t visualize my bank angle or pitch.

It took less than a second. I lost my perspective, said out loud “disorientation!” and snapped inside to my instruments. Ahh! Better. 45 degree bank, slightly more pitch up than needed. A minor correction, and I finished my turn and passed over the clouds into North Gap uneventfully.

After years of flying, and even after recently reviewing here my past experiences of disorientation, it happened again. It can happen to anyone. The solution is simply however, when things get crazy, always go back to the basics. Check your instruments and fly the plane.

There’s a life application here too. For me, I find my time spent with God to be the thing that re-centers my life. When things start going sideways, I know I can trust God to be my steady guidance. What helps you find a balance, a center to orient your life?


Shooting Video in Flight

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.

Airstrip Focus – Silimo

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.


Delayed Again

A few weeks ago I bent over to grab my backpack. I was about to put the last few things into it that I needed for my flight day. The sun was streaming in the window promising a good day for my PPC/ICC (pilot proficiency check/instrument competency check).

It wasn’t to happen however. As I reached for my backpack, something gave way in my back. I’d had back pain in the past, and usually it went away in a couple minutes, or even a few hours. This pain didn’t just go away.

After sitting on the couch a bit, I texted my chief pilot with whom I was to fly. I explained what was happening as my back grew more and more painful. He told me to take it easy and rest. We could do the check flights on Monday. Since it was Friday, we wouldn’t lose much time and I’d have the weekend to recover.

That was four weeks ago. Since then I’ve learned that I’d not just pulled a muscle, but I had a herniated disc in my back. Much of the time since then I’ve been laying on my back in bed waiting. Now, after several weeks of recovery time doing gentle exercises at the direction of a physical therapist, I’m able to move about on my own somewhat. I still can’t bend over however, and sitting or standing for more than a few minutes rapidly becomes uncomfortable and even painful.

I’m not sure what’s next. Hopefully in a couple more weeks I’ll be able to return to work to a limited degree, and maybe even start flying a bit here and there. It could also be that I’ll end up needing to travel for more extensive medical care. Right now, all I can do is wait.

Regardless of what’s to happen though, I’ve been feeling generally quite positive. I’ve had more time to read, catch up on some thank-you notes, play some games, read to my kids, and even write some blog entries. It’s been a good, if somewhat boring few weeks.

What are some things that you would suggest to fill my time? Perhaps you have a book to recommend or an activity you’ve used to pass the time while bed-ridden?