Friday, February 4, 2011

What They Didn't Teach Me In Flight School

I love Papuan babies.
And they love getting me wet.
There are only a handful of schools on the planet specifically focused on training people to serve as missionary pilots.  I was fortunate enough to attend what many consider to be the best in the business.  The fine folks at Moody Aviation did a standout job of teaching us aspiring bush pilots how to keep the aluminum out of the ditches, and I can say with much certainty that part of the reason I'm alive today is because of the principles instilled in me in Moody's hallowed halls.

But...they didn't teach me everything I needed to know to fly successfully in the wilds of Papua.  Not by a long shot.  And so, in the interest of improving the quality of product that Moody produces, I find it my duty to produce the following list for Moody’s consideration in their ongoing efforts to provide the best education for young missionary aviators.  May future graduates be better prepared than I was to answer the following critical questions:

·        Does the seat belt go on the outside of the gourd, or the inside?  (Mystified?  See the photo at the top right of this blog.)
·        If you're at an airstrip and a tribal war breaks out around the airplane, do you try to intervene...or pick what appears to be the winning side and join them?
·        If someone has ridden in a seat with a bare bottom, do you clean the cushion...or just flip it over?
·        On landing, when one or both brakes fail, what is the proper prayer to recite?  I'd rather have a good piece of liturgy ready than try to wing it at such a critical moment.
·        On landing, when one or both brakes fail, if you can't remember the prayer, is it OK to close your eyes anyway?

My instructors at Moody taught me how to fly an airplane into short, unimproved mountain airstrips without excessively scaring myself. But flying in remote parts of the developing world is an experience all unto itself, and thus I consider it no small oversight that they completely neglected to teach me how to fly an airplane while...

·        gagging
·        crying
·        laughing
·        peeing
·        scared
·        peeing while scared
·        fighting back diarrhea (a fellow pilot once lost this particular fight...that's a story that will remain untold)
·        panicking (if you're fighting back diarrhea, it's pretty much a given that you're panicking)
·        passengers are screaming (they’ll do this if they sense the pilot is fighting back diarrhea)
·        pigs are screaming
·        passengers are screaming because the pigs that were screaming got loose

I had to learn all of the above, well, on the fly.

I suppose I shouldn't lay all of the blame at my alma mater's feet.  My more experienced colleagues in Papua who showed me the ropes when I first got here are equally guilty.   Here are a few things that I wish someone had told me during my initial checkout flying Helio Couriers in Papua:

      ·        When a mom hands you her diaperless baby to hold while she climbs in the airplane:
·        if it's a girl, hold her out at arms length
·        if it is a boy, hold him out at arms length and turn him around.  
I think Papuan babies are genetically predisposed to pee on pilots.  Or maybe I just scare them.

·        If you're carrying drums of fuel in the airplane, when climbing through approximately 5,000 feet, the pressure differential between the small volume of air in the drum and the ambient air at altitude will cause the ends of the drum to bulge out with a pop. But they actually don't go "pop", they go "WHAM!"  If you don't know it's coming, and you have a full bladder, you are in trouble.  If you're living right, this happens on a day when you've already dealt with babies so you're already wet.

·        Large pigs, even when hogtied and secured under a cargo net, are capable of shaking the entire airplane in flight.  If you don't know this, you figure the reason the airplane is vibrating violently is because it wants to shake itself into itty-bitty pieces...and you begin using what precious mental capacity not currently devoted to panicking to review things like life insurance policies, wills, living trusts and the like.

·        Men of the Ketengban tribe, when frightened, will grab their neighbor's upper thigh and squeeze like an anaconda.  This is simply a curious bit of Papuan trivia...unless a member of the Ketengban tribe happens to be sitting next to you in the co-pilot's seat and the thunderstorm out the window scares him--this then becomes a thing of intense personal concern.  Believe me.

·        When using a 'sic-sac' to pee in, always, always, always DOUBLE BAG it.  I once filled a bag almost completely full and was just exhaling a wonderful aaaahhhh, taking a moment to revel in my newfound relief before tossing the bag out the window.  It dawned on me that I was beginning to feel unnaturally warm.  I lifted the bag from my lap up to eye level and to my horror it was leaking out both bottom corners like an Italian fountain.  By the time I got the bag out the window, it had spewed most of its contents all over the cockpit.  The worst of it was explaining the mess to our maintenance team back at home base.  This experience raised another question I was ill-prepared to answer: should you trust the airplane to a mechanic who is rolling on the grass, clutching his sides, laughing like a madman?

Truth be told, the best thing my mentors at Moody gave me was a ready-for-anything attitude—this has carried the day many a time.  Trying to prepare oneself for every eventuality in flying is simply exhausting.  Prepare for the basics and be ready for anything that the day may throw at you.  And double bag the sic-sacs.

I'm astonished at how often I'm ill-prepared to handle the emotional and interpersonal challenges a day can bring.  I so frequently launch into my day without being ready-for-anything in my spirit, and as such I respond to life's challenges in my flesh...and pretty much make a mess of things.  On the days I succeed in preparing myself with the mind of Jesus, and I stay connected to Him through the day...well, the results are remarkably different.  Ready for anything...despite what they forgot to teach me in flight school.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, Thanks to Brian Behal for sharing this in his facebook. I was laughing so hard but I also love the end of the post.God bless.

Anonymous said...

This was shared with me by a former classmate of yours. Great stuff.

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