Every station on the main radio network reported low ceilings and rain. But our home base, Shell, Ecuador, looked fine sitting high above the jungle. I switched to the older, short-wave network to reach stations sequestered in hidden mountain valleys. My destination, Yaapi, reported rain most of the night, but a clear morning with bright sunshine.
Decision time. Good conditions at both ends of the flight. Closed, but stable weather in-between. If cloud tops were low enough, I could fly above them, then descend in clear sky. Worth a try.
Thirty minutes later we cruised at 7,500 feet—cobalt sky above, brilliant white blanket below, only occasional peaks poking through. Precise. Clean. Clear. That ethereal dream world of beauty and order, granted access only with special skill and equipment. Follow an unseen magnetic course for invisible minutes, then turn to a new heading for more minutes.
After another half-hour the clouds withdrew, allowing visual descent towards the world of rock, tree, river and mud. Sloppy. Dirty. Cluttered. Raw, convoluted chaos operable only with developed ability and robust equipment.
Yaapi was long for a jungle airstrip—1,600 feet—but only four feet wider than my Cessna’s 35-foot wingspan. The strip sported short, thick grass slick as winter ice. And, its off-center crown would pull a slowing airplane towards the side drainage ditch.
I touched down, pulsed brakes, steered with rudder. We drifted towards the ditch. I added power and brakes at the same time. The airplane slowed more, but air blasting over the rudder let me steer again. We slid slightly sideways as I pointed the nose at the centerline. Finally, we climbed back up the hump, straightened and stopped.
After unloading passengers and cargo, it was time to go. But the grass/mud mix wouldn’t let me turn the airplane around for takeoff. I got out and pushed by hand. Afterwards, as I sat sideways in the pilot’s seat, scrapping mud off my boots, it occurred to me that all of us, not just MAF pilots, maneuver in two worlds—heavenly and earthly. We are of one, but also walk in the other. Each requires its own special skill to navigate successfully. Fortunately the Father sent us the right teacher.
Push ladie, push!
What the picture doesn’t show is what happens feet slip—either land face first in the mud, or else smack chin or forehead on the strut, and then land face first in the mud. I often thought it ironic that we could fly hundreds of miles per hour over mountain and jungle, but still had to push them around by hand on the ground.