MAF engineer’s tools were ‘too hot to handle’ as temperatures soared to 43 degrees

MAF engineer’s tools were ‘too hot to handle’ as temperatures soared to 43 degrees

Dave Waterman knows all about working in extreme conditions in South Sudan. He changed an engine in scorching heat and drank nearly eight litres of water a day to survive. MAF’s Jo Lamb, gets the lowdown…

16 August 2020

Engineer, Dave Waterman, has been servicing light-aircraft for MAF since 2017.

A big job came up for Dave in November 2019 - one of MAF’s four-seater Cessna 182 SMA aircraft required emergency shutdown procedures after landing in Torit, South Sudan. The aircraft had just flown from Juba, having transported supplies for NGO, ‘Africa Inland Mission’.

The defective engine is removed from the C182 aircraft

A more complex job than usual

Usually based in Uganda, Dave faced the complex challenge of transporting the team, a new engine and the right tools for the job out to Torit. It wasn’t until March 2020 that all the elements came together, just before Uganda entered lockdown. Dave explains:

We had to wait for a replacement engine to arrive from another C182 aircraft in Madagascar, which had to be transported to Uganda via France. Myself and my colleague, Geoff Linkletter, then needed to arrange visas and all the logistics for a five-day trip.

We had to precisely calculate how much weight we could carry in MAF’s larger aircraft. Not knowing the conditions in Torit, nor having access to our normal toolboxes, we needed to take every conceivable item. This planning process took more than six weeks – it required more preparation than any engine change I’ve ever done before.

Dave has changed aircraft engines in previous roles in the UK, but nothing like this:

I performed an engine change on a private plane in a field in Gloucestershire, and partway through, the heavens opened with a full-on lightning storm! In the UK, you’re never too far from the main road or a large town so if you forget something it’s not a hassle, but in remote South Sudan, you can’t afford to forget anything.

'Everything is slower in the heat'
MAF Engineer, Dave Waterman

With MAF’s larger Cessna Caravan aircraft finally loaded with the team, tools and new engine bound for South Sudan, Dave and Geoff took off from Kajjansi, Uganda, on 2 March 2020.

With clearance to land and begin the essential work, the pair set up a pop-up tent to provide shade and began the five-day engineering marathon:

In our MAF Uganda hangar, this job would take two days with plenty of space and all our tools, but because of South Sudan’s environment, it took longer as everything is slower in the heat.’

MAF Uganda’s ‘pop up’ aircraft workshop in Torit, South Sudan

‘Too hot to concentrate’

During the dry season, temperatures in South Sudan can exceed 40 degrees. The pair started work at dawn to avoid the hottest temperatures, yet on day three, their tent registered 43 degrees.:

The weather was so dry. We drank between five and eight litres of water every day. The space was very small, and the conditions became challenging as the day progressed. By 3pm, it was too hot to concentrate – I had a dry mouth, and I could barely function. If we left our tools in the sun, they became too hot to handle!

Dr Melissa Russell has volunteered in Burkina Faso and knows only too well, the challenges of working in the African sun:

‘For anyone not accustomed to extreme temperatures, putting the body through five days of work in such harsh conditions could have been very dangerous. Without shade, these men could have suffered from heat exhaustion, which if not treated, can lead to irreversible heatstroke and ultimately death.’

High standards in extreme conditions

MAF is a global leader in humanitarian aviation, and its experienced personnel are well accustomed to the harsh and unforgiving conditions in which they find themselves in.

Aircraft can be damaged in extreme environments, but MAF takes extra safety precautions. Dave explains:

MAF invests in high-quality paint designed to keep our planes protected in nasty conditions, so they hold up in heat, salt water and dust. Our aircraft work very hard. A Cessna 182 might fly 50 hours a year in the UK, but MAF’s C182s easily do that in three weeks. There’s high standards in aviation, but at MAF, we go even further because we don’t take any risks.’

When the engine change was complete, Dave felt a sense of achievement and relief:

It was great - I was a happy man. Despite the challenging conditions, it’s just another day at the office! I love my job and I still get a silly grin on my face when I realise I get to work on incredible aircraft which achieve incredible things. That day, I had one of those silly grins.

Job done! New engine installed in the old 5X-MON aircraft

 In the nick of time

 Dave was grateful to return to Uganda with their equipment just days before the Ugandan government closed its borders to prevent the spread of coronavirus.