Monday, February 25, 2013

Giraffe, lurking cumuli and other monsters

I am enjoying the Caravan course here in South Africa. Today, when I was over Kunkuru, evaluating a dirt airstrip from the air, I made note of a certain four-legged obstacle on short final. A noisy low pass was all that was needed to chase away this giraffe grazing from a tree about a hundred yards in from the end of the runway. I'm used to watching out for power lines and telephone poles which don't move about. Giraffe are a whole new level of interesting obstacles.

The Cessna Grand Caravan is a lot of fun to fly and I'm starting to get a good feel for it. It is big - the bottom of the pilot's door frame sits at about mid chest height - it has lots of power (although those who fly it complain that it needs more) and it glides like the dickens. Actually the Canadian-made Pratt & Whitney turbine engine is so reliable that most Caravan pilots will never need that feature. I'm looking forward to filling all 13 seats with interesting people who are doing really cool things around Uganda, DR Congo, South Sudan and finally Chad.

Today we we're doing some IFR work on the way back from Kunkuru. IFR is flight by reference to instruments alone. Marco, my instructor and resident MAF guru, was wanting to get me into some real IFR weather today. His wish was fulfilled when we entered cloud about 20 minutes from home base in Lanseria. Flying in cloud is always a bit of a faith exercise. Prior to entering cloud, your instruments do a great job of confirming what you can see as plain as day outside - that the blue needs to stay up and the greenish brown needs to say down. In cloud, you suddenly switch to being severely focused on those half-dozen glass circles and their every twitch and roll. You're a dog looking at your bone waiting for the kill command, you're a cat peering into the fish bowl. Ok, a little over the top perhaps - but at once, six or seven needles are all you have to keep you upright when every spatial instinct in you is trying to convince you you're already upside down.

Why is this worth writing home about? Well in Canada, I rarely got to spend time actually in the clouds. In winter we would always try to avoid icing - freezing cloud/water particles building up on your wing causing the wing to quit flying - which usually happens in clouds when it's freezing or below. Conversely, in summer, while you don't have to worry about icing as much, you have no way of knowing if within the cloud there lurks the dreaded towering cumulus - those massively tall thunderstorm clouds which like to eat little planes for breakfast. Most MAF Caravans have a handy device for finding these monsters and planning our route around them, just out of their reach. The weather radar dome, mounted on the right wing, scans 40 miles in front and paints us a colourful picture of what can't be seen in the clouds ahead. As long as we stay away from the pink and red areas, everyone gets home safe.

Today we were in the soup until popping out the bottom - nicely lined up with the runway - and I kept the blue and greenish brown from switching places. For all these reasons, and many others, I'm looking forward to tomorrow's flight - let's hope the forecast calls for grey skies again. I'll snap some related photos when I'm able.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Entebbe Airport

I wonder how many blog posts are written from airport waiting rooms? Here I sit at the Entebbe airport in Uganda. No, we didn't just arrive...we've been in Uganda for 5 days now, and I'm already on my way out again. This time I'm bound for Johannesburg, South Africa via Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The flight leaves here at 01:40 and arrives in South Africa 12 hours later. If you figured out that those destinations aren't exactly in a straight line either, then extra geography points to you. There was a flight booking complication, but then there's always something. I guess it will give me extra time to study for the next two weeks of intensive Cessna 208 Caravan training. And, as someone who likes to spend time in the air, the longer route is just fine. At least I didn't have to make the trip by bus either.

Our first five days in Uganda have consisted of getting the guest house we're staying in set up with groceries and essential living stuff, meeting the MAF Uganda team and ensuring that Merilee is set up to live by herself with the kids for two weeks. Everyone has been very welcoming and we've been hosted at a different house each night for dinner. We're living on the side of one of the 21 hills on which Kampala is built - Makindye is the name of the neighbourhood - and we're a 5 minute drive from most of the other MAF families. This has meant that we've been borrowing one of the MAF vehicles when they are available. We've both been having a go at driving on the wrong side of the roads which are mostly in bad shape with a few in amazingly terrible shape. Merilee has taken the bull by the horns and has been doing most of the driving to prepare for these next two weeks while I'm away. Not only is she conquering the crazy roads and hills and being on the wrong side but she is doing it all with a stick shift! I'm immensely proud of her and how she's adapting to it all. And if you know Merilee you know she possesses a natural ability when it comes to relating to others so she's miles ahead of me and I'll always be playing catch-up when it comes to the all-important relationships here in Uganda and then in Chad.

There are plenty of observations, stories and details to share...we're writing them down and will share them when we don't have flights to at catch.

For my part, I've been along on two MAF flights in the Caravan to get a feel for the plane. Got to fly a little too. I found these to be a ton of fun and a very useful precursor to what I'll be doing in South Africa. I wish I had access to some photos to add to this post but they will have to come with a later one. I'm told I'll have lots of homework each night in South Africa but I'll try to squeeze an update in there somewhere.