Saturday, October 4, 2008

Gabonese Validation

So, in December 2005 I met Egmont during the time that Alace and I visited Gabon. He is a believer and a friend of Bongolo Hospital who lives in Libreville, the capital city of Gabon. From the beginning, he has been there to lend a hand with the project to start the air medical program.

Fast forward to 2008. Egmont is still living in Libreville and working as the only pilot of an agricultural company. With no back up pilot, it is almost impossible for him to get time off for vacation.

So… along comes Steve and the answer to his prayers! …And I'm thinking the same thing! The Lord has provided this opportunity to fly with Egmont as a way for me to learn so much about flying in Africa. Essentially, Egmont will be my pilot mentor- what a blessing! The added blessing is that Egmont will finally get to go on vacation and enjoy his new grandson back in Berlin.

Egmont's company's aircraft is registered in Gabon and to be a pilot of a Gabonese registered aircraft, you must have your Gabonese pilot permit. As a US pilot with my FAA license, this means that I will have to take a check ride with an approved pilot evaluator. It just so happened that one such evaluator was in town about a month after our family hit the ground here in Libreville- nice timing, eh? Thanks Lord!

I told Egmont that I did not want to make a fool of myself during the evaluation, so I should have 2 or 3 flights with him to get to know the airplane- a 1979 Beechcraft Baron 58 twin-engine aircraft that seats 6. However, after the first flight of about an hour, Egmont said he was convinced that I'd do fine and not to worry. He said that he knew the pilot evaluator and he was a nice guy from South Africa. I took this to mean that the evaluation would include one or two elements, a landing or two and then we're done. How mistaken I was! Read on…

So, the day came- Friday, October 3rd. I was face-to-face with my evaluator, both of us in our pilot "get-up", sitting down across a conference table. His name is Tony Smit- A 70 something year-old South African man who has flown pretty much every type of aircraft you can think of. He's been in the Rhodesian and South African Air Forces as well as for the CIA during the Angolan crisis. I had forgotten that Zimbabwe had once been named Rhodesia… it was Zimbabwe, right!?!

Tony asked me about my flight experience and then launched into an overview of what we were about to do… it went something like this… "when we get on the runway, we'll go to full power, but then I'm going to fail one of your engines. You'll find that the Baron will really want to take off to the side of the runway like this, so I want you to see that." GULP!

…he continues, " I'll recover your failed engine and then we'll continue the takeoff. After we have a little altitude in the takeoff, I'm going to bring one of your engines back to zero thrust condition to simulate an engine failure. Let's see what the Baron will do on takeoff with one engine."

Ok… at this point I'm starting to breathe a little heavier and perspiration is rolling down my back. I'm thinking "Engine failure!?! Egmont and I only practiced this once!"

…he continues, "Then lets climb up to 10,000 feet for some steep turns and stalls…" ok- I know all about that stuff but, 10,000 feet!?! We hadn't been up over 2500 feet in the Baron so far!

…he continues, "then I want to show the Vmc (Velocity of minimum controllability) maneuver. The Baron is a cheeky little airplane that will really want to snap inverted on you in this configuration… we'll take a look at that and I think you'll be surprised to see how much altitude we'll lose in such a short time." DID HE SAY "INVERTED!!!" I am now earnestly praying for Jesus' return- NOW!

…he continues, "so then you can show me the Vmc maneuver yourself, and then we'll come back to the airport for some touch and goes…" cool- touch and goes I can do! "…and then some instrument approaches with one engine failed before we call it a day." Call it a day!?! How 'bout we call it a day right now!

Seriously… I was sitting there trying to figure out the best way to apologize to this man for wasting his time and call off this flight that I felt I had no reason to fly.

Now, let me interject an important point, here. I have indeed done everything that he was requesting of me, but not since my multi-engine check ride over a year and a half ago and never in succession like this. On top of that, I had only been flying twice since coming to Libreville- once for a ½ hour joy ride and the other one doing some simple maneuvers with Egmont for about an hour. Prior to that, I haven't been flying since July of '07 when I left the US for France and language school! Do you see where my anxiety was coming from?


He then asked if I had any questions and, in my stupor, said "Nope! Sounds good!" Did I say that out loud!?! Of course none of that sounded good!

So, as we stood up and started toward the tarmac for the flight, I quickly hatched an agreement with the Lord. I excused myself to visit the bathroom prior to the flight. My agreement with the Lord went like this: Lord, I'm going to the bathroom right now. If I'm meant to gracefully bow out of this evaluation and save myself embarrassment, then I'm going to need You to make me violently ill in the next minute or two. This seemed like a very reasonable agreement, so I headed into the bathroom. After two minutes and no violence or illness, I headed out to the airplane, into the airplane, and the evaluation commenced.

I'll quickly sum it up by saying this… I PASSED! We did everything that he explained on the ground and our gracious Lord kept my brain synapses firing so that I had good recall of the hours and hours of training over the years. Praise the Lord!

Following the evaluation, Egmont, Tony, and I headed in town for a delicious meal (crocodile kebab!) and story swapping. However, once Tony started telling stories, Egmont and I quickly figured out that our stories were not nearly as interesting, so we spent most of the time pulling more out of Tony. There is something to be said about pilot camaraderie. It was a privilege spending time in the cockpit with such an accomplished pilot and I hope he returns next year for the checkout.

So, I now have my Gabonese pilot validation and am able to fly aircraft registered in Gabon. There is an idea brewing in me that the Lord will use this to further our efforts with the hospital in some way. Please pray with me that our flights begin soon.

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