Follow my journey as I serve as a pilot with Mission Aviation Fellowship. I am currently working as a flight instructor at the Mareeba flight training centre.

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

News from Timor-Leste: Los Palos delivery

While I was in Timor-Leste about this time last year, MAF International CEO Dave Fyock invited all programmes to submit proposals to obtain a small amount of funding (around US$5,000) for a community project along the lines of Covid relief. Having had a bit of experience writing such documents in my previous life, I talked with Aldo and we set about finding a project that we could do that fit the bill.

Los Palos is the most remote airstrip that we fly to in Timor-Leste - around 12-14 hours by road if the roads are passable (which during the wet season, are not). Aldo was aware of a school that was quite close to the airstrip that was struggling for funds and resources. There were not enough desks and chairs for all the students, so in many classes the children had to sit on the floor. We quickly realised that we couldn't solve this particular problem (other than bring it to the attention of people in positions within the government whom we knew), but we could help on a smaller scale by providing sanitation and learning supplies.

The proposal was accepted in November 2020 but with the change of personnel in programme, and the sheer magnitude of acquiring bags, masks, soap, buckets, school books, pens and pencils, it has taken many more months to complete.

Yesterday the Timor-Leste team loaded up the aircraft and flew out to Los Palos to deliver the supplies to the school! You can tell from the photos below how much they appreciated it. It never ceases to amaze me how far a relatively small amount of money can go, if we only try.

Aldo and Nirmala along with 325 kg of supplies for the school

Unloading the aircraft at Los Palos

Transporting the supplies to the school

There are around 450 students at EBC Cristovão de Raça

Aldo presenting a MAF poster to one of the teachers

Pilot Nick Hitchins presents a student with her gift

Nick and Aldo present a box of supplies to one of the teachers

Sunday, 29 August 2021

A weekend in Chillagoe

Last weekend I took another mini-break and headed west to Chillagoe. It's a mining town that we visit quite often in our navigation flight training, being only 30 mins flight time from Mareeba, but it is also well-known for the numerous caves around the place.

There are three caves where guided tours are offered, so I decided to do them all over two days. I stayed at the Chillagoe eco-Lodge, which also offers an observatory tour that was booked out on the night I was there. But I had a stunning view of the night sky all the same.

First chamber in Trezkinn cave

Delicate formations

The pièce de résistance of Trezkinn cave: 'the chandelier'

Balancing Rock

The road out of town...

Group tour at Royal Arch

'Picnic cave' at Royal Arch

Sea fossils encased in limestone

Royal Arch cave

The old smelter site

Donna cave

One of the many passageways in Donna cave

Huge columns in Donna cave

Weathered limestone outcrops = caves

Wednesday, 25 August 2021

August achievements

Last week - after some delays due to aircraft paperwork and lack of instructor availability due to a short Covid lockdown in Cairns, I finally had my proficiency base check on the Caravan. This doubled as a flight review and gas turbine engine design feature endorsement on my licence.

Cessna Caravan flight training

My work permit and visa have arrived for PNG, I obtained a PNG aviation medical certificate, and also scored 93% on the PNG 'basic gas turbine' theory exam.

So the boxes are quickly getting ticked off! Now all I need is a date for going back to NZ for home assignment...

Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Gaining perspective... from movies

Lately I've been on a bit of an emotional roller-coaster waiting for news about the NZ travel bubble. Some days it's been hard to stay motivated as I once again contemplate the MIQ system.

But the other week, I was driving back from church in Atherton and marvelling at the array of colours painted across the sky from the setting sun, and thinking, this isn't such a bad place to have to stay for a while longer.

I'll normally watch a couple of DVDs on weekend nights, and over the last few weeks while enjoying some of the movies in my collection, have gained some perspective on how my current situation isn't that bad. Sure, I don't know when I'll be able to go back to NZ. But at least...

I’m not stuck on another planet with no way to get home
The Martian)

I haven’t been kidnapped by Somalian pirates
Captain Phillips)

I haven’t been forced into slavery with no hope of freedom
12 Years A Slave)

My name hasn’t been drawn from a ballot to fight other people to the death
The Hunger Games)

I’m not drifting in the middle of the ocean in a lifeboat with a tiger
Life of Pi)

I don’t have a degenerative neurological disease
The Theory of Everything)

My mission is not to evade all the villains of Middle Earth
and risk certain death from creatures ten times my size
Lord of the Rings)

Thursday, 29 July 2021

Caravan training

I'm currently in the thick of the MAF Cessna Caravan training course - 4 days of ground school and (starting on Monday) around 7 days (10-12 hrs) of flying. We were told at the start of the course that other operators tend to make their courses much shorter - maybe 1-2 days of ground school and 2-3 hours of flying. Because of the environments where MAF flies they see it as a worthwhile investment in their pilots to spend a bit more time and go a bit deeper at the initial training stage.

Ground course

'Here's one I prepared earlier...' - looking at engine components in
the other MAF PNG Caravan currently in the hangar for an overhaul

My new trusty steed

My first experience starting the engine and taxiing

Sunday, 25 July 2021

Dealing with disappointment

The last time I saw my family and friends in person was Christmas 2019. It was a trip that I had booked with about 6 weeks’ notice. I flew across on Christmas Eve and then back to Cairns about 16 days later. While I was home, my family discussed plans for my 40th birthday celebration in June and decided to arrange flights and accommodation in Sydney for a long weekend. My best friend and I also started making bookings for a 3-week campervanning holiday in July around Darwin, Kakadu National Park, and the Kimberley.

At the time it felt like the 6 months would pass pretty quickly. However, as we all know, less than 3 months later the world was reeling from Covid, NZ was in level 4 lockdown and in far north Queensland we were working from home. At the time I wrote about how unsettled I felt, primarily because I was in the situation where I couldn’t go back to NZ if I wanted to.

June 2020 and my birthday came and went. Instead of a long weekend holiday with family, another MAF family helped me organise a dinner event within the Covid restrictions at the time (max 20 people).

July also came and went with no campervanning holiday. Optimistic, we moved all the non-refundable bookings to the same dates in 2021.

A family from church who had said they were coming to visit the Cairns area in September had to reschedule their holiday to take place in NZ instead.

There was no chance of a quick trip home for Christmas (not least of which I was just getting out of quarantine in Darwin).

MIQ became a thing, although I hoped it would be irrelevant to me by the time I was due to go back for home assignment, given the NZ government announcements about making announcements about the trans-Tasman travel bubble.

When the bubble opened in April I felt a great sense of relief, like I had been holding my breath without realising it. The underlying stress caused by this chronic uncertainty reduced almost overnight.

And now it’s back.

 I have tickets booked to fly direct from Cairns to Auckland on 10 September for my home assignment - my first trip back to revisit churches and supporters to update them on what I’ve been doing, and my last chance to see friends and family before I go to Papua New Guinea. However, last Friday the NZ government announced they were closing the bubble for 8 weeks (i.e. until 18 September at the earliest) and that Kiwis in Australia have until 30 July to get back, otherwise they will have to go through MIQ.

So all of a sudden I now have three options to choose from:

1. Pack up my life here, abandon the Cessna Caravan training course starting this week, forego having my second Covid vaccine, and try to get back into NZ before this coming Friday (along with up to 20,000 other people).

2. Reschedule my flight and book a MIQ spot so that I can get out in time to start my home assignment as planned. While this is theoretically possible, the chance of a) getting a spot and b) having it be on the desired date are slim to none. MIQ is booked out until November, and it seems that you need a bot to get in at all. Not to mention that I’m more likely to catch the actual virus in MIQ than anywhere else!

3. Wait and see what happens. (Best case scenario is that the bubble opens around 18 September; worst case is that it doesn’t open at all before I am scheduled to travel to PNG.)

Of the three, option 1 isn’t feasible; option 2 is unlikely (and undesirable); which leaves me with option 3.

It’s taken me a few days to recover from the kick in the guts of the 8 week closure announcement. (Why so long? Surely it could have been 2 weeks with ongoing review?)

Once again I have found solace in the knowledge that God is in control. This hasn’t caught Him by surprise, and His plans will prevail. If He could incite Caesar Augustus to hold a census of the entire Roman world to get Joseph and Mary to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem at the right time, then if He wants to, He can make things work out for a missionary pilot who would like to go home to see her family for the first time in nearly 2 years.

When I was driving home from church this afternoon, I was reminded that I have much to be thankful for:
- I don’t have a deadline for moving out of the place where I’m living - the timing is completely flexible (and the place is fully furnished and equipped, which means I can still ship my stuff off to PNG when it needs to go).
- We currently have no Covid restrictions here, and haven’t had any for some time.
- The climate is warm and the weather is settled - it’s the best time of year to be in far north Queensland.
- I have a Caravan course to look forward to.
- I have many people praying for me.
- I have a God who loves me enough to send His only Son to die in my place.

To be continued...

Monday, 19 July 2021

Turtle Rock (again)

At the weekend I was keen to go for a bush walk, but not a super-long one. Cue Turtle Rock - about 30 mins drive from Mareeba, 2.5 - 3 hrs walk, and passing the Emerald Creek ice cream factory on the way back.

(I last did this walk a year ago, just before leaving for Timor-Leste)

View towards the south

View to the west

Grass trees with their 'flowers'