Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Flying in Bolivia

Greetings from Bolivia! It’s the rainy season here and has it been raining! Just the other day I went to church with my rain gear over my church clothes. It’s a process getting to church every Sabbath, involving a couple taxis and one micro bus at least. God is good, and He has always provided a way to get me there and also on time. Sometimes it’s the little things that remind you that God is with you, and every now and again it’s the big ones.
Up until about a week ago, things kept going at about the same pace. I kept diligently working on preparing a house for a missionary family, while patiently waiting for news of the planes being able to fly again. David Gates came from the states with Jeff Sutton and his family in the Aerostar and soon things began tomove much more quickly. Jeff informed me of his plans and the status of the planes ability to fly. It looks like some more paperwork and waiting. The good news is the Aerostar has permission to fly for 30 days while it’s in the country, giving us time to make some urgent flights.
I had no idea that I would be flying the Aerostar. I’d seen it a few times in the states but never dreamed I’d be flying it someday. The Piper Aerostar is a twin engine, seven seat, high performance airplane that will cruise at 190 knots. The airplane is fast, making things happen much quicker. Due to the fact that it was designed for speed, it has some draw backs with slow speed flying.  The pilot must stay ahead of the airplane and respect its limits or it will bite him! (To see pictures and video go to http://www.facebook.com/captain17).
Jeff checked me out in the airplane and immediately sent me out on my first flight with Steve to northern Bolivia. I was to take a teacher and a family out to the jungle.  The flight served to help me not only with the familiarization of the plane, but also with the way flights are done in Bolivia. I quickly picked up most of the aviation Spanish, the harder part was figuring things out on the ground. Before you fly in Bolivia, you must fill out a flight plan and it needs to be stamped by the drug police. If you are taking passengers then things get a little more complicated as you need to fill out a manifest.  Getting all the stamps and having your cargo checked by the drug police is a pain, but it needs to be done to maintain integrity.
Flying back from northern Bolivia, I was starting to feel comfortable in the airplane. Since the flight brought us in late into Santa Cruz, I made my first landing at night in the Aerostar. We landed at Viru-Viru International airport, since it’s the only airport with runway lights. The next morning I had to retrieve the plane from the international airport and fly it a few miles to our home airport of El Trompillo. The process got messy when I was being dropped off at the international airport. Bolivian’s love to protest and they do it by blocking the roads. They blocked the road into the international airport so I had to walk around the protesters and into the airport.
A day later I had my next assignment, make two flights single pilot to Rurrenabaque. The airport sits on the edge of the flat jungle lowlands where the mountains begin. The weather was rainy with bad visibility at my destination. I filled IFR and headed out early in the morning with a volunteer, equipment for water, and a generator. The flight would take 2.5 hours and require some fine piloting to find the airport. I asked the Lord that he would open up the skies enough for me to see the airport and the mountains. As I was approaching the airport He did just that. I was able to descend low enough over the jungle to find my way to the airport. In visual condition I spotted the runway and mountains, making a safe landing in the rain.
I quickly unloaded, turned around and flew back to Santa Cruz. I made it back to El Trompillo airport, refueled, picked up my load and headed back to Rurrenabaque. The visibility improved the second time around and I felt much more comfortable finding the airport and the menacing mountains. I again quickly unloaded and turned around as fast as possible so that I could beat sundown back into El Trompillo where there are no runway lights. I made it back with 10 minutes to spare! In two days I had 16 hours in the Aerostar, half of that was in actual instrument conditions, covering some 2300 nautical miles.
With that introduction, I feel more than ready to take on any flight. Jeff has a few more flights in mind for me in the Aerostar, and hopefully sometime soon the other airplanes will be online. I have seen firsthand what God can do if you remain faithful to Him. Sometimes we grow uneasy when things don’t go immediately our way, and then he all of a sudden answers our prayers.  All I wanted to do was fly in Bolivia for Him, and he made sure that happened in bigger ways than I could ever have imagined!