One thing that marks MAF's services is going the extra mile to serve those in their ministry of reaching the unreached with the Gospel and healthcare. Motivated teams fly and maintain the MAF aircraft under challenging conditions to ensure safe and reliable air transport for missionaries, aid workers and local church workers.
During the weekend of 23, 24 & 25th March, MAF again went the extra mile, this time literally. A new aircraft has been purchased, a Cessna 182 and needs to be brought to the MAF Chad Programme. A flight of more than 2820 nautical miles to be flown in three days; talking about the extra mile!
Earlier than usually, some activity can be spotted at Mastenbroek hangar at Seppe airport Netherlands, the location of the Cessna 182 Diesel with registration G-WMLT. Pilots Herman Sterken and Jeroen Knevel, two former MAF pilots are preparing the aircraft for the ferry to Chad. Loading their bags, aircraft spares, and safety equipment like a life-raft takes approx. half an hour after which they climb on board and buckle themselves in. At 07:10 UTC they're airborne. A small group of MAF supporters and friends watch them leave, setting for cruise climb to Flight Level 110, an altitude of approx. 3 kilometers. Herman regrets drinking too much coffee and is thankful we are passing the borderline of France.
Cruising at FL 120 they slowly see the cloud layers coming. Nothing serious but it is clear that they will not remain clear of clouds. A few minutes later their world becomes small and white. The aircraft starts to bounce a bit more, turbulence increasing. All normal. With the autopilot on they monitor the instruments and chat about their earlier days with MAF, the good old days. Suddenly the windscreen starts whitening up, checking the leading edges of the wing they notice they have light ice forming. The pitot tube which measures the airspeed is blocking up with ice and the indicated airspeed on the instrument drops down to zero. Quickly they put the pitot heat on. Rhime-ice continues to form on the wings. When they're about to ask for a lower flight level suddenly the 'speed' is back on. The pitot tube is completely free of ice. Then they break out of the clouds and a blue sky with sunshine is brightening up their world. With the coast of Spain below them they start crossing a stretch of water directing straight for Palma, Mallorca and after completion of the instrument approach they land at 15:00 UTC.
At the break of dawn they're at the airport. Sun just peeks over the horizon causing a beautiful colorful scenery at the apron. G-WMLT seems to be in the mood for the longest flight it probably will have in her MAF career. A journey of 1186 nautical miles to be done in one day. Also a challenge for the pilots who will sit in the cockpit for approx. 9 hours, divided in two blocks.
After completion of all the paperwork and payments they're airborne, leaving European soil at 06:17 setting for the Algerian coast.
Finally after a good 4 hours they start their descent into Hassi Messaoud for refueling. Black smog from the fuming oil resources hangs over the area. Several smoking chimneys can be spotted. Some areas are just black from the deposits. What a landscape, what a pollution! Touchdown is at 10:15 UTC. Stepping out of their beauty, they smell the smog, this is not a place to hang around too long. After topping of with fuel they set for Tamanrasset, their night stop in southern Algeria where they land at 16:40 UTC.
The wind was blowing quite firmly, good of them to bring tie-down equipment along. They attached the C182 to the ground and secured the aircraft.
The officials there took their time. Sitting in the departure lounge Herman and Jeroen, both pretty knackered, are waiting for the replacement paper of their passports. We surely hope they will put the real passports in a safe place….
Finally they are handed the papers and a taxi shortly arrived. They were brought to their hotel a 25 min. drive away from the airport, where they had a simple meal and went to bed quite early. Tomorrow the final stretch.
Desolate Sahara landscape passes at constant speed beneath them. Sand, rocks and sand. Yellow, brown, reddish and yellow again. Dust blown up in the air to their altitude of approx. 4km high causes their visibility to be yellow as well. The pilots are thankful that the plane seems to be operating smoothly, although they are packed with survival equipment in the desert they sure hope they won’t use it!!
At 10:45 UTC they touch down on Niger soil, Agades, the last stop before final destination: N'Djamena.
The stiff breeze that blows over the airport feels like coming from a hairdryer. The temperature is about 38 degrees. "Wonderful", says Jeroen who used to work and live in Chad. "Feels like coming home!"
They ensure that the aircraft is properly parked into the wind. A blown over Antonov is a still reminder of what can happen. The Niger military guy is friendly and soon we're talking about Gullit, van Basten and Robben. JetA1, the type of fuel for the aircraft is brought by a tractor to the plane. A few minutes later the aircraft is ready for departure. The last leg of approx 4 hours brings them over southern-east Niger. Again nothing but sand and rocks.
Then about one and a half hours before landing they hear a ticking notice over their headsets. Unable to determine where it's coming from they continue flying the plane. A few minutes later the 'low voltage' and 'alternator off' light pop on. That's weird. They check the instruments and grab the manual to follow the emergency procedure. At that stage they approach Lake Chad and the surface starts to green up a bit. Using pilot judgment and the emergency-checklist they recycle the alternator and: Yes! Power was back on and the battery charging again. They make a note of the situation for reporting and continue their flight.
"N'Djamena approach, N'Djamena approach, MAF Charlie 8". Kalvin Hildebrandt, pilot with MAF Chad, is on the radio. Good to hear his voice and Herman and Jeroen chat with him on freq. 123.45.
Tower accepts taxiing straight to the MAF hangar where the staff is waiting for its arrival. The red colored Cessna Caravan, named Bathsheba, is following G-WMLT. Two beauties in front of the MAF Chad hangar, it definitely is a blessed moment.
The MAF team is awaiting us and we have a time of prayer, thanking the Lord for all those safe flights over a beautiful continent having reached the destination where this Cessna will bless many people…
Mission Aviation Fellowship
Castle Hill Avenue, FOLKESTONE, CT20 2TN UK, Tel: 0845 850 9505
Registered Charity Number 1064598 (England & Wales) and SC039107 (Scotland)