Saturday, November 01, 2008

Rejoice with flutes

And you will sing 

       as on the night you celebrate a holy festival; 

       your hearts will rejoice 

       as when people go up with flutes 

       to the mountain of the LORD, 

       to the Rock of Israel.

Isaiah 30:29

I'm back! From where?

Let me explain ... no there is too much ... let me sum up.

The past five weeks we have been in Waxhaw, North Carolina so I can go through pre-field training with Jungle Aviation and Radio Service (JAARS). The training has been crammed into my cranium for eight hours a day, but it all began to make sense last Thursday.

The last week is called "mountain week" and it is a chance to put everything into practice from the previous lessons. The fact that we are flying over fiery red trees in the highest part of the Appalachians is just a bonus!

The heart of my training is what is called "STOL" which is an acronym (like everything in aviation) for short takeoff or landing. The Cessna we practice in has been modified to land extra slow, and the technique I have been learning puts the airplane in a stable but somewhat vulnerable area of flight. The final 45 seconds before landing are a mix of my eyes looking outside, the seat of my pants detecting roller coaster like drops and rises, and ears listening to the sound of ... flutes.

Yup, that's right. However, not the woodwind instrument we all think of. It is actually the vent

 system for the little Cessna. A hole in the front of the wing blasts cooling air into the cabin and over the front seats. However, as we slow down for a short landing, the airflow reverses and pulls air out of the cabin. This creates a faintly audible whistle which tells us we are at the right configuration for landing.

I put this to the test for the first time in the mountains. JAARS has been using a hayfield in the mountains for over ten years to make a good short training runway. It is less than 1000 feet long and runs across a narrow valley. Because of the obstacles around and the hills on both ends, I have to commit to land about a quarter mile away.

The desire to land in the "zone" was never stronger!

Yesterday was interesting. My instructor was a missionary pilot in Papua New Guinea and was a friend of my sister and brother-in-law, Gweni and John. He coached me through the unusual pattern around the valley through saddles and scraping over the trees. It was a wild ride. The 206 acted like a glider -with almost no power applied- wanted to float in the rising air currents. Then the floor dropped out and down we came. The next updraft slammed into us and the power had to come off again.

Inside I listened for my flutes. I heard them faintly blowing, so I locked the airplane into that attitude. Then the runway fell away as our descent slows. The wind shift caused the stall warning to sound. It is unsettling. Stall, unlike a STOL, is not an acronym, but it is short for the point where the airplane stops flying and begins falling ... uncontrolled.

So to sum up, flutes good, stall warning bad. But this is the area of control I must land the plane. If I land too fast, I run out of runway and would go barreling through the highway off the end of the field.

After a go around and two landings, I elected to stop. The wind was picking up and shifting direction. But the lessons up to this point all began to make sense. You can land a plane in a field in the mountains by applying all the skills I have practiced ... and listening to the sound of flutes.

Another highlight was a spaghetti dinner on Thursday night. Around 400 people came to hear more about mission aviation. They love the fact we use their home turf to train in. Everyone was very generous and friendly. 

A lady introduced herself to me. "I am the owner of Valhalla." Valhalla is another field turned runway. It is even shorter and is on the side of a mountain.

"I hear you are going there next week? Well ... good luck!" she said with a concerned smile

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