Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Doors Open and Doors Close

It has been several years since I have posted anything to this blog. Most of the happenings of Bolivia Mission Aviation over the past several years have been posted to Facebook. Though social media is a faster and more common method to get news today, I find that sometimes the whole story may not be conveyed as effectively as a blog. Seeing that this site is still receiving page views many years later, I have decided to update my latest flights. In the future, I would like to video blog on YouTube and link it here.  


Doors Open and Doors Close 


A little over three years ago I flew our Mooney down to South America with the hopes that it would become a Bolivian-registered airplane after many years. We already had our Cessna 182 Turbo close to receiving its Bolivian registration. It had received a new engine in the U.S. a couple years before, and soon it would be flying. The Mooney also had a new engine, and by the looks of things, would soon also be flying in Bolivia. 

I flew the Mooney to Manaus, Brazil. The plan was to leave the airplane there for only a few weeks. I would be coming back to get the airplane later once the paperwork to enter the country was in order. Sadly, that day never came, and the airplane sat on the hot and humid tarmac of Manaus for three years! A series of events in Bolivia had prevented the Mooney from entering Bolivia. It was now needed to fly the Mooney back to the U.S. 

Mechanics from the U.S. arrived in Manaus to get the airplane ready for the flight north. After sitting outside for so long, the airplane needed lots of work to get it flyable. One of the biggest problems was one of the fuel tanks had gone bad. Rust debris had accumulated in the tank from sitting so long. It was flushed and cleaned out as best as possible. After checking, servicing, and fixing many components, the airplane was ready. 

I reached Manaus at the end of November ready to fly the airplane to our home base in Tennessee. I knew that flying an airplane that had been sitting for years in a foreign country was not going to be straightforward. I still had to get fuel for the airplane from another airport. The fuel needed to be transported by someone with the proper credentials, and there was only one person we knew of. A week later I had the fuel. While I waited for the fuel, I sat in the airplane troubleshooting the radio. It would turn on but would not transmit or receive. It was decided I would fly commercially to Miami, pick up another radio, and fly back. This would be faster than shipping it down and dealing with customs. 

A week later, with the radio working and a host of other problems solved, I was finally ready to fly north. It had taken me two weeks of running around to get the airplane out. The weather was good enough to fly after some heavy downpours, so I headed for Georgetown, Guyana. As I flew, I noticed several small items that needed more attention, but the engine was running flawlessly, and that was the most important thing. Five hours later I was in Guyana. So far so good. 

The next day I had a three-hour leg to the island nation of Grenada. And then five more hours over the many islands en route to Puerto Rico. I landed in Puerto Rico as some rain showers moved through the area just before sunset. Halfway home I thought, tomorrow I would attempt a seven-hour nonstop flight into West Palm Beach Florida. Time for some rest. 

The following day, the winds were looking favorable for the nonstop flight. I was glad to be flying one of the most efficient, fuel-sipping airplanes I have ever flown. Many times, I had depended on the Mooney's efficiency. This was going to be one of those times. Once in the air, I was burning 6.8 gallons an hour at an average ground speed of 142 knots. It would take me just under seven hours to reach West Palm while leaving me with more than two hours of fuel reserve.  

I landed in West Palm with no issues. The Mooney was flying like a champ. Only four hours more and I would be in Tennessee. I quickly filled up, filed my flight plan, and took off into the busy southern Florida airspace. As I was being vectored by ATC, having my route of flight amended, trouble struck! I had gone about 50 miles when the engine started sputtering and losing power. Informing ATC of my intentions to land, I spotted the nearest airport straight ahead and started descending. The engine was not happy. As shaking and popping sounds filled my ears, I was thankful it was still running. 

The landing was without incident. I taxied to the ramp and shut down. I quickly sent up a prayer of gratitude to our Lord, thanking Him for keeping this from happening a few hours earlier. I had flown thousands of miles over the ocean and jungle to just the right spot for this to happen. I pulled the cover off the engine and poked around. Nothing seemed amiss. I started the engine up and again the engine struggled. I found a mechanic who helped me check the airplane over. We couldn’t find the issue. Our mechanic would have to come down and look over the airplane. I headed home. 

As I write this, the airplane is being checked out. I am now back in Bolivia, glad to have gotten the airplane to the U.S. Sure, I didn't make it to Tennessee, but the airplane is now close enough that it can be flown up easily. We think the problem was the dirty fuel tank, causing the engine to ingest debris and causing a partial fuel blockage. We will know soon what the problem was.  

So as this door closes, I am thankful for the Lord's mercies to his children. I am thankful for the many doors the Lord has opened for us in Bolivia. After many years I finally became a Bolivian Citizen which allowed to me to get a permanent Bolivian pilot license. Our Cessna 182 operates without restrictions, and we have been able to fly people in and out of places we could only dream about before. So, the Lord is good, regardless of the many challenges, we continue to operate and move forward in this wonderful work of mission aviation. 


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Black Gold for Bolivia

Bolivia Mission Aviation Newsletter - Black Gold
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Black Gold
These past few weeks have been very busy, as I find myself catching a break between flights to fill you in on what has been happening. The number of mission projects needing aviation support have risen, and as a result airplane maintenance, flight planning, and flying has all increased. All very positive news as we use the airplanes in the Lord's work more and more.
As the airplanes fly mission after mission, it takes more money to keep them in the air. One of the things they use a lot of besides fuel, is engine oil. Airplane oil goes by very quickly and is not cheap to buy. An airplane needs an oil change every fifty hours of operation, and lately fifty hours have been coming and going in less than one month’s time.  We have two airplanes operating, that means oil changes on a frequent basis.  Add to that the airplanes use of oil per flight hour and the money spent on oil starts to add up.
One way to reduce oil costs is to buy the oil in bulk. Buying a barrel of oil here costs $1500 dollars, saving us $600 dollars as compared to buying it a little at a time. We don’t have the funds to buy the whole barrel in one shot, but maybe that can change. Wouldn’t it be great if we could save $600 dollars on oil and use that money for more missions flying?
As you read and see the pictures of the various mission trips, please keep oil for the airplanes in your thoughts. If you find it worthwhile to help fund this aviation ministry with oil to help keep the airplanes flying, please click on the link to be directed to our donation site. All those connected with the airplanes, in giving or receiving the service the airplanes provide, thank you for your support. And remember, giving though Gospel Ministries International for this specific need is tax deductible.
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On the Rio Mamore
Runways flown to: San Joaquin-Guyaramerien-Riberalta-Trinidad-Santa Cruz

A few months ago the TV station missionaries made a mission trip to the Rio Mamore and surrounding town and communities. The experience was so positive that a new group formed to go back and continue helping the people along the Rio (river) Beni. The group was headed my Mirta who is from Argentina, who is also a physical therapist. Helping her was Emily (dentist) from Bolivia, Igor (nurse), and his wife from Portugal, and Katherine from Venezuela. Since not all could fit in the airplane in one trip, we made two trips, one from Santa Cruz, and another from Trinidad. I dropped off the team in San Joaquin, as they would go in by land to catch a boat, and I would return in a few days to pick them up.
When I returned on the day agreed upon for the pick up, I saw some very tired and hungry missionaries waiting for me. Much work had been done in very difficult conditions. Some of them had not even had time to shower. They were very exhausted and dirty, and where so happy to be going home by airplane instead of many hours by land. The stories of their work along the river were full of excitement and amazement! I could not help but imagine what they had experienced working for the Lord with the people they met along the river.
I had been having trouble starting the airplane a few flights back. Sometimes it would start, and other times it would take several minutes of waiting to get it to start. I had mentioned my problems to the mechanic, and even spent several hours in the baking sun trying to figure out what the problem was, but to no avail. So this time in San Joaquin when my first load was ready to go, the airplane refused to start. We prayed and waited as I assured them that it would eventually start. By the time it did, we were running out of daylight and I would not be back for the second trip until the next day.
Adding to the complications was a medivac call that had come in as I was flying in for the pickup. The second group decided to go by land to the nearest town where they could catch a bus to Santa Cruz. I was now free to fly the medical evacuation, so I dropped the first load in Guyaramerin and spent the night there. The next day I flew to the nearby town of Riberlata to pick up my Medicac and fly it to Trinidad. Everything was going well. I supposed the second group had already made it home to Santa Cruz.
I received word that the second group had missed their bus from Trinidad and that they were hoping I would land there and take them to Santa Cruz. So if they were tired and exhausted the day before, now they were really tired and exhausted, yet thankful that the airplane could take them at least half way home. Things were looking up for the group and I was glad to be able to help again.
When I dropped off the patient in Trinidad, the second group was all to thankful to see me again. We all piled in the airplane, and just like the previous day, the airplane would not start! Not again! It seemed to happen with the people that wanted to fly the most. We prayed, waited, tried again, and nothing. It would not start. I told them that given enough time, it would eventually start. Every time the airplane would try and start, it would run for a few seconds, and then it would die. Hopes would go up as the engine fired, as you could almost hear the shouts of joy coming, when quickly the engine would die, and bring everybody back down emotionally. This happened many times. Never was patience tried more than on that hot afternoon.
Eventually the airplane started! It was a great relief as the engine continued to run. Everybody knew they were going home this time. Mission flying is not for the weak, many unpredictable’s can and do happen as we fly our missions. You learn to adapt and keep going. A few weeks later the mechanic had an issue starting the airplane. Thankfully he found the problem and was able to fix it. We have not had the problem since. Only new ones to keep us faithfully are seeking the Lord in all our problems.
Flying for the TV station (ADVENIR)
Runways flown to: San Borja-Reyes-San Ramon-Guayaramerin-Santa Cruz

I received an urgent call from our President David Gates one day. He explained to me how the TV station license was in danger of being lost. Apparently, time had gone by and the license now needed renewing, and with that came obtaining support of communities that benefited from having a repeater station in their town. We also needed the support of other communities that would benefit from the signal in the future and the various programs offered by GMI in Bolivia.
The task was simple enough, collect signatures of support from key people connected to government at these different towns. With a tight deadline to meet, we had no time to waste. We hit the skies as soon as we could. Federico (Argentina), and Sarai (Puerto Rico), a newlywed couple, would accompany me in finding the right people at the different towns. We had no idea where to start when we landed at our first town. We sought the Lord’s direction and began asking the locals at the airport questions.
When we asked an airport worker where we could find these important people we were seeking, she said she knew and she would call for them to come right to the airport. We were amazed at how things were working out. Soon we had four key people who had the authority we needed. We began to talk to them about what we did and presented to them what we did in Bolivia. We talked about the schools, aviation program, health clinic, prison ministry, health fairs and TV station.
The group was very enthusiastic and really wanted our presence. One lady said that our airplane was needed as they had people coming to the airport looking for airplanes when emergencies occurred. I left them my contact information and told them I’d be happy to fly any emergency.  We soon had our signatures and promised them that we would come back and provide health talks at their schools. Praise the Lord, in less than three hours we had found what we needed and were off to the next town.
Arriving close to sundown at our next stop, we headed into town and found a place for the night. None of us had been to this town before. It was decided to investigate a little before heading to bed. We found out where the mayor lived and secured an audience with him first thing in the morning. The next day we showed up bright and early at the town hall and waited for him to arrive. In the meeting we also had a few men who lead in the town. As they listened to our short presentation, we explained to them the many ways they could benefit from the work we did.
Soon enough, we began to realize that this meeting was going to be a disappointment. As we ended the mayor told us he needed more time to think it over. Our spirits were low as we left the meeting. We could not understand how these people did not cooperate as did the people from the other town. Time was running out and we had just wasted a couple precious hours as we needed to fly to a second town later in the day. We prayed to the Lord that He would show us the way. As we talked, it occurred to one of us to get a listing of all the phone numbers of all the people that worked for the town.
We secured the phone list from the town hall secretary and picked the person on the list that lived the closest. The man answered his phone and told us to meet him at his house a few blocks away. We arrived at his humble home and sat around his front door. His wife offered us cold citrus juice as we presented to him our mission work. He liked everything we had to say and wanted us to come back soon. Praise the Lord! We got our signature of approval and now needed two more to be able to leave for our next town.
We dropped by a school and talked to the principle. He too liked our ideas of helping the school. Things were looking up. So we headed to another local school and again they liked our ideas. Three signatures in less than three hours, without knowing anyone, the Lord guided us to just the right people. We quickly grabbed our things and headed for the little airport. As we climbed up to altitude it was early after noon and we were all hungry, but thankful of the Lord’s blessings.
After a yogurt lunch I landed at our next stop. I did not have time to go with Federico and Sarai as I needed to head north to pick up passengers from the school. I told them I would be back in three hours. We prayed and parted ways, they looking for the signatures while I flew off to the north. I landed and fuelled up, loaded the airplane, and turned around and headed back south. Touching down,I pulled up the tower. I did not know what to expect. Had we found the signatures we needed to head home? It was about an hour before sundown, and I needed to get in the air if we were all going to make it home.
The call soon came in, the Lord had done it again! The signatures were found in a couple hours and the people of the town really wanted our help. Our mission was a complete success. We all crammed inside the plane and took off into the sunset. As darkness enshrouded us, we were happy that once again the Lord had provided what we needed. This mission work was not ours, but His. We were doing His work, reaching those who need to hear about Him, and we were all witnesses of what the Holy Spirit can do if we are willing to work for Jesus.
Later that night we landed at the international airport, the only airport you can land at after sunset in this part of the country. We pilled in the car of the TV station director and related to him how the Lord had worked it all out. We were tired, but satisfied with the outcome of our trip. We plan to go back next month and start the mission work they asked for. Please keep this project of reaching more people in Bolivia in your prayers. The door has been cracked open to spread the gospels to these towns.
Familia Feliz Mission Trip
Runways  flown: Rurrenabaque-Reyes-Trinidad-Santa Cruz

This month of April has been one busiest flying months in Bolivia that I can remember. With our Mooney down for maintenance, the Cessna 182 Turbo has been the only workhorse, and boy has it worked hard! At the beginning of the month it had an oil change, and now as I write this its almost due for a second oil change.
A missionary group from Argentina came to help the children of Familia Feliz, the orphanage at Rurrenabaque, Boliva. They asked me to fly them to the school, the only problem being there were over 15 of them and we had only one airplane flying. I worked out shuttle runs in order to move so many people. Some of them I could take all the way, others would need to catch up with me at a closer by airport.
On my first trip, I dropped off my load with no issues, but as I got in the plane and tried to crank the engine, I heard a grinding noise. Not now! I still needed to run a shuttle and come back before heading home before sunset. Not only that, but as I looked over the engine to see what the matter was, I was informed the airport would close at sunset, and not reopen until a few days! Get out! I had to figure out the problem and make it out before I got stuck! If I could only get to a nearby airport that was 5 minutes away I could continue to move people, if not, the whole mission trip would be in jeopardy.
As I tried to figure out what the problem was in the sweltering sun, I decided to take a break and have some lunch. It was near four in the afternoon and I had not eaten all day. Maybe if I ate it would help me think better. But I could not eat comfortably knowing I needed to leave. All kinds of thoughts raced though my head. If I got stuck here, when could I get this airplane fixed? I prayed. A pilot came by and offered help, but what he told me was not any help. The situation looked grim.
I fiddled around, tried this and that, trying to see what I could do to solve my crisis. Then a light bulb came on. I believe the Lord put the idea in my head, as I tried it, the engine came to life! Praise the Lord! Again He had solved my problems in the nick of time. It was now close to sunset. I had no time to make any more flights but the one out to the nearest airport. I put the cowling back on the airplane as quickly as I could, filed a flight plan and took off for the nearest airport. I was relieved when the airplane left the runway into the air.
The next day I was able to move the rest of the first group. And a few days later the rest of the group made it to the school with very little problems. A couple weeks went by, and I was back moving the same volunteers out a plane load at a time. Much needed dental work was done at Familia Feliz while the missionary dentists and helpers where there. I spent a night while the group was working and I got to see firsthand the help the children and surrounding community received. There were dental seminars for the kids to learn how to have healthy teeth. Many benefited from the dental work performed.
Some of the volunteers also helped put new roofs on the classrooms. Others helped in the kitchen. In the evenings there were special prayer meetings and in the early mornings prayer vigils. The group left a big impact on the children’s lives. I hope to fly more of these groups in the near future. There are plans for next month to reach more people though health seminars and bible work. We don’t have the funds in place, but by faith we will move forward. We have the airplane flying to move people, and by the Lord’s grace he will put in people’s hearts to give so that the boots on the ground here can carry the work forward.
If you like what you see and would like to see the airplane expand its work in the lowlands of Bolivia and beyond, please pray for us. We need your support to keep operating the airplanes. If you remember at the beginning of the blog I wrote that we are looking to buy a barrel of oil?  This oil will go towards keeping the airplanes flying in the same kind of mission work you just read about. To donate for oil, click on the "Donate Airplane Oil" button below. I look forward to writing more stories soon.

God Bless,

Herman Gonzalez
Chief Pilot
Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Herman Gonzalez
Gospel Ministries International
Project Name: Bolivia Mission Aviation
874 South McDonald, TN 37353
1 (423) 473-1841 or 1 (423) 473-1842
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