Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Contrasting Chronicles Part I

I thought I would find it interesting to chronicle a couple of my days at work, to contrast the difference between when I fly and when I don't. I have to say, though, that the flying day is not exactly my average outing!

Our Kodiak & helicopter fleet

09 October 2014
0545: Arrive at work. I should have been in earlier, but I should be ready as I spent yesterday preparing for this flight and if I arrive too early then I risk exceeding the 12 hour duty limit if there are any delays. 

The loading is complicated - split over 3 aircraft, so I go over its division with the loaders, who'll also weigh and prepare it.  Cargo that was dropped off yesterday is loaded into the helicopter whilst it is still in the hanger.

When it gets light, I start checking the weather on the couple of web-cams that cover my route. I need to decide whether to track more-or-less direct to my first destination, or take the longer but more likely to succeed coastal route. The critical area isn't visible, so I decide to think about it for a while, hopeful that the Kodiak will get airborne first and then I can ask them for weather. A report over the radio from the destination says that conditions are good there. So at least I know that if I can get there, I can land.

Go to chat to the Kodiak pilot. He's sick - a replacement  pilot will be on their way in soon. So much for asking the Kodiak ahead of me for weather! Our home airstrip is currently sitting in fog, so everything's going to be delayed! Go and pass on the 'good news' to the passengers.

Push the helicopter outside and load the rest of the baggage so we'll be ready when the weather clears up.

Look at more weather information to try and decide which route to take. I need more fuel to be able to take the longer route, but if I take extra fuel and then can route direct I'll arrive too heavy to be able to carry my cargo for the next leg. Text a friend who lives in that area to see what he can see, but no reply. The edge of Australian weather radar shows a fair amount of cloud around where I need to cross a 7200 foot high 'gap' in the mountains, so I decide to take more fuel.

The replacement Kodiak pilot is nearly ready to go and the fog is lifting, so I load my passengers and start up.                         

Leg 1

0736: Get airborne. I am 35 minutes late, but couldn't be helped, given the weather. A few minutes later the Kodiak gets airborne, too. Just as well, as I need them to overtake me and drop my cargo for the next leg at my current destination! Thankfully they go quite a bit faster and are able to go direct, through the weather, rather than going around it like I expect to.

The weather isn't quite as good as I'd hoped. I have to follow the 'low route' out into the main valley, and even there I have to be wary to keep clear of cloud, both vertically and horizontally. I look towards the more direct track - it is totally obscured by rain and cloud; I am glad I've taken the extra fuel.

I'm now in controlled airspace and have an aircraft taking-off towards me. Eyes peeled to make sure I don't get an unpleasant surprise from a medium-size jet appearing out of one of the clouds around me!

I am getting pushed lower and lower. I cross overhead the airport to the south-side of the valley so I can follow a river. Having taken off at 5100', I am now down at 300' peering through the rain to avoid the birds and find the coast. My passengers had expressed an intent to sleep on this flight. It would seem they have changed their minds!

The corner looms up and I turn south. One of the webcams had shown that things should improve down the coast, but no sign of that yet.

A few minutes later the coast is still shrouded in rain and cloud, but up to my right the mountain tops are clear with blue sky visible beyond. I contact the Kodiak, which is now ahead of me, to check the weather there. I decide to cut inland to investigate. I am fortunate - after a bit of climbing and weaving to find the best route through, the cloud allows me pass over the ridge and down into the valley beyond.
Our first stop
0907: Gratefully, we arrive at stop number 1. The Kodiak is still on the ground, but thankfully has offloaded its cargo which enthusiastic locals are carrying up into the village. I land in the village to collect it and have a chat with the guys who have been storing cargo which was dropped-off for us yesterday. They agree to have it, and a fuel drum, out and ready for my return as I need to fly this leg twice to be able to carry everything.

Leg 2

0920: Depart my first stop and head out towards the coast. Thankfully the weather isn't as bad as it was further north, but I still have my fair share of cloud to work around and under.

Shortly after taking off I get a message that the delays with our initial departure mean the plan needs to change, or the second aircraft I am to meet won't finish before dark. They want to drop my second trip to the village I am going to until the next day. I have a quick think about the fuel implications and check with my passengers (whose stuff it is) and say that it is fine by us.

Our second stop
0947: Drop off my passengers and cargo. Part of their cargo is Scripture portions (a few books of the Bible) that they have just finished translating and had printed. There is a small celebration to welcome them.

Boxes with Scripture portions in

Leg 3

1016: Depart stop 2. Thankfully the weather is now much better and I can pretty much track direct.

1044: Land at stop 3. The Kodiak that dropped cargo at my last stop also brought some passengers and cargo for me to this airstrip. Unfortunately I can't carry it all on my next leg as it is too heavy (which was planned), so I leave some for the following aircraft to collect and bring to us later. I speak to them on the radio to ensure they know to bring the bags we left. They were a bit late leaving due to a maintenance problem, so I am able to take my time getting ready - nice in the heat and humidity of the lowlands.

After re-fuelling, we load up and go.

Leg 4

1142: Depart for our next village. Weather again is good, so apart from following the coast to avoid going too far out over the sea, we can go direct.

1212: Land to another small ceremony. The village translators have arranged for one of the doctors from our centre to visit for a week, so the villagers are honouring their guest's arrival. The doctor plans to have immunisation clinics, before doing as much General Practice as time and supplies permit.

Load my one remaining passenger for departure. As the Kodiak meeting me at my next stop is carrying Jet fuel, they are not allowed to take passengers as well, so I have to fly the passenger between our two meeting places.

Leg 5

1231: Take off to meet up with the Kodiak once more. I've not been to my destination before, so am interested to see it.

1244: Land and find some shade. It is going to be a while before the Kodiak arrives, so I relax and chat to my passenger.


Having sat around, it is now time to move. We roll the fuel drums from the Kodiak up to the helicopter, set up our pump and start cranking the handle to put the fuel in the chopper. Whilst one person pumps, we roll up a second drum as one will not be sufficient for my next leg and return. Then we get the liferaft and life jackets ready as I am going to be crossing over to one of the islands.

Leg 6

1412: Depart on leg 6. As I have no passengers, I take the opportunity to try to do some fuel planning for the cargo run which was cancelled earlier and put into tomorrow. Where am I best to take fuel from and how much? How much fuel do we have where and how old is it?

The landing site cut out of the jungle
1509: Land to collect the translator. This is my first time into their helipad.

1520: Depart back to where I've come from. Chat a little to my passenger; the translator is leaving the village so that they can help another language group by checking some of the work they've done so far.

I call ahead to the shop near the airstrip - they are to bring out supplies for me to carry into my final destination for the day. I also text the waiting Kodiak to let them know when I will arrive. They too have goods to unload for me to take on.

1626: Land back with the Kodiak. I finish off the second drum of fuel and we load the empties into the plane. They take my passenger, I take their cargo and they head off. The van from the shop arrives and I load the goods onto the helicopter.

1709: Depart back to the village I left the doctor in. The doctor may only be staying a week, but the translators will be there a while longer, so I am taking them food and supplies.

1722: Land for the night. We unpack the cargo and I 'put the aircraft to bed' just in time to remain under my 12 hour duty limit.

Then it is our turn to eat and get ready for bed.

I slept under the translators' house

The full day

The following day I re-trace my steps, doing the cargo run I missed out and collect another translator from their language group along the way.
The following day's route

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