On the corner near the MAF headquarters, there’s a firehouse with a reader board out front that says, Plan your Fire Escape. It’s a good reminder to be ready for the unexpected. As MAF flight trainers, we train our pilots for the “expected” but to also plan for the “unexpected.” We train and practice and practice some more until it becomes second nature to react safely in any given situation.
There is a saying that can be good or bad, depending on the outcome: “Expect the best, plan for the worst and prepare to be surprised.” As trainers, our goal is to provide options that help a pilot think through all phases of flight, from the takeoff to the landing. To have good, en-route decision-making tools for weather flying, and to know what is acceptable and what’s a no-go when it comes to the difficult airstrips we use is a must! In order to do this, we need airstrips that help us simulate different scenarios.
Did you know that 70% of all Idaho land is either state or federally owned? That means there are many restrictions for us when it comes to using any airstrip on this type of land. We’re always on the look-out for airstrips that are privately owned that will allow us unlimited access for our MAF training needs. We’re so thankful for the many Idaho ranchers who freely offer us the use of their private airstrips for our training sessions. All our flights are monitored by the MAF flight-follower here at headquarters, which is another layer of safety for the places we fly to. It’s a backup system to track the flight until we are safely back home, on the ground.
Today, we’re flying to an airstrip named Hesitation. I can hear the radio call from the pilot now, “Landing at Hesitation—No, wait! Maybe I need to think about this one some more.” The flight-follower is probably thinking, “What is taking them so long?” Ah yes, behind every airstrip naming there has to be a story. But I hesitate to say what this one might be!
Then there’s Badly Airstrip. Can you hear the pilot as he reports to the flight-follower on the radio, “MAF Flight 012 landing Badly?” (And hoping to live to tell about it!) And of course the flight-follower’s response, “And will you be taking off Badly as well?” The thing is, everything you do there is done Badly so how can you ever hope to improve? The upside of this airstrip is the local audience lining up for a cheap thrill. Even the horses seem to know that with an airstrip name like Badly there is great potential for some excitement in the day.
Badly Airstrip is always a challenge for our new pilots. It has quite an illusion, where you think you are higher than you really are. If you’re not monitoring your altitude carefully, you will be too low on the approach and have to add a lot of power to touch down on the airstrip. We land on a 12% slope which increases to a 20% rise at the top of the airstrip. The horses seem to know this and are taking bets on the sidelines. (Heads or tails if the plane makes it to the top?) You can imagine the feel-good moments after a day at Hesitation and Badly. What’s in a name? Sometimes a lot. Best to train and see beyond the name, and be ready for the next step.