Saturday, April 30, 2011

New Pics- N207FD

More pictures from Ohio as MMS Aviation continues their work on N207FD. Keep in touch with their progress here, or visit their blog as well.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Shakin' the Mango Tree

"Shaking the Mango Tree" is a term we have, here on the equator in Africa, to describe any action where one person is trying to have another person give them something. How do you get Mango's? You gotta shake the tree. You never know which tree may give up their fruit, so you are obliged to shake a few at a time.

This is precisely what my good friend and business agent, Pastor Sangoye, were doing most of the day, yesterday. Pictured here, are some of the buildings that we spent time in- climbing stairs, riding elevators, sitting in waiting rooms, meeting many very nice people.

Our objective: Receive exoneration(s) from any and every fee that might be imposed on us at the port when our shipments of aviation fuel arrives. Avid readers of this blog may recall a posting from a month or so ago ("Fueling Progress") where I outlined how importing fuel from a supplier in the US would save us over 60% in fuel costs.

Pastor Sangoye and I spent a lot of time waiting for people to arrive at their offices or, if they were there, we spent a lo
t of time waiting in line behind other visitors. In Gabon, it is very difficult to get a meeting with a minister; of which there are about twenty.

The process is that you normally arrive at an office and meet someone at the reception who decides if you should be there. Next, you explain your case to the receptionists' assistant who decides if you have business that is worthy of an appointment with the minister of that department. If you are fortunate, you fill out a request for a meeting and leave any o
f your documents attached to that request. If your visit ends like that, you have a 50-50 chance of ever getting an appointment. You typically have to revisit the receptionist's assistant once or twice to press your request through. If your request gets through, you will most likely get an appointment to talk with the administrative assistant of the assistant minister, where you must make a new appeal for a meeting with the assistant minister to appeal to have a meeting with the actual minister. Typically, an actual meeting with the minister does not happen- the assistant minister will take action... hopefully in your favor!

The best way to get "mangoes to fall" is to have contacts behind the scenes in each ministers office. These are the folks that make the wheels of progress really move. We are blessed that Pasteur Sangoye has many of those contacts. He is a true professional!

We were able to ask for appointments with the following ministers:
- Minster of Health, Social Work, Solidari
ty, and the Family (2 offices)
- Minister of Mines, Oil, and Hydrocarbons
- Minister of Energy and Oil Resources

Pray with us that we receive the exonerations and are able to, one day, have the provisions to import fuel.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Here are a couple of shots that help to see visible progress to the work on our Cessna 207. Enjoy!The paint in the engine bay looks great!

Without skipping a beat, the MMS shop has the engine going in as soon as the paint dries. On a skype call today, they confirm they are getting the engine firmly in place and connecting all the accessories and control cables.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Fine Wine and Airplanes

I haven't the slightest clue about fine wine, but I have heard that it gets better with age. So, as I read an email this week telling me that the repairs of our aircraft would take three months longer than originally planned, I looked for the positives. I know that N207FD is in good hands and, when the team at MMS tells us that it will take a little longer to prep it, I just look at is as fine wine that needs to mature for maximum enjoyment. Here's a photo of how things are currently looking:

From lead mechanic, Dale C. (on Thursday, 23 April):
"Painting today, then the main gear structure goes in, then main gear in and on the wheels. Next, the nose gear goes in and then the engine will be installed.
Most of the parts are here, right and left main gear, right strut, door sil, gear bulkheads and most of the pieces for the tailcone. Waiting for rear spar carry through. UPS damaged the first one, so I have to try and find another one. Cessna is a 90 day wait time.
I am working on 3 field approvals. 1. HF radio. 2. Main wheels (they are not approved for this aircraft. the 206, yes, 207, no.) 3. Horizontal stab (there has been a skin change where there used to be 2 wrap around skins, now there are 3 skins, one top and one bottom, inboard to outboard, and a leading edge skin.)"

So, like fine wine, we wait until it is time! (I guess that the analogy isn't completely applicable. I mean- drink wine before it's time and I think you'll survive, however, flying an airplane before it's completely ready, well... I think you get the picture.)

Keep up the great work MMS!

My Other Neighbor's Airplane(s)!

"AOPA Online" has done a great report of the MAF program in Kinshasa. You may remember that I had visited the program back in 2009, so I know most all the folks that this article mentions. They are doing such important work there. Enjoy the article:

Measles, diamonds, Antonovs: Tales of GA in the Congo

When it comes to battling a measles epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Garth Pederson plays a key role: pilot. He and two other pilots, Rod Hochstetler and David Francis, with Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) have been flying staff and medical supplies for Doctors Without Borders since January to combat measles. Now, they average one flight per week to transport staff.

MAF helped to deliver about 1,300 pounds of supplies last month, primarily using its Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, turning a one-way 350-nautical-mile leg that would take a week by automobile into a 2-hour, 20-minute flight. The three pilots, all AOPA members, share the crushed-rock Tshikapa runway in the Kasai province with Russian Antonov AN-26 freighters that have left their share of ruts. The Antonovs support the diamond mining industry in that province.

Doctors Without Borders uses the pilots’ “expertise and experience to operate safely in the aviation part,” Pederson, who is based in Kinshasa, told AOPA in an email interview. MAF’s service “enables them to use their expertise in the medical intervention helping to reduce suffering and save lives.”

MAF has worked with Doctors Without Borders at different times throughout the years, but the working relationship has taken off in the last five years.

“MAF is honored to assist by flying immunizations and key Doctors Without Borders personnel in this lifesaving vaccination campaign against this killer disease,” said MAF President and CEO John Boyd in a news release. MAF cited reports that the measles virus had spread from rural villages into cities and could eventually affect the entire country.

Doctors Without Borders reported that at the end of March “more than 1.5 million children have been vaccinated and 21,000 measles cases detected over the past six months,” adding that the epidemic shows “no signs of slowing.” Measles can lead to pneumonia, dehydration, ear and eye infections, and malnutrition, according to the organization.

Pederson has worked with Doctors Without Borders before, flying staff and equipment for the organization in 2007 during an Ebola virus outbreak in the same area.

Pederson explained that “we had to fly in a lot of protective gear for them as the virus was very contagious and deadly in its early stages. They offer their services and medicines to the affected population free of charge.”

The operating conditions aren’t easy.

First comes the matter of finding a place to land.

Before transporting supplies and personnel to the affected area, Pederson worked with a Doctors Without Borders flight coordinator to measure the Kamonia airstrip, photograph its location and details, and get the specifics needed to create an “airstrip chart.”

“We encountered some rain about 10 miles before arrival, and I was about to head towards my alternate when we saw a break and were able to find the strip, do a couple of passes to evaluate it, and then land,” Pederson said. “It had a slope, had been eroded from rain, and in some places looked like a sandy river bed.”

It proved no problem for the diesel-engine Cessna 182 fitted with large wheels and tires.

“We did our measurements and then were getting ready to go when we were buzzed by an Antonov 2 who wanted to land,” he said. “Since there wasn’t room for two airplanes we jumped in and were able to get going fairly quickly in order to make room.” The Russian biplane brings diamond miners into short, rough airstrips.

Then there’s picking the right aircraft for the job.

Pederson created an airstrip chart for Kamonia and then calculated the weight and balance and aircraft performance for the Caravan to operate at the strip.

“From experience with other similar strips and using the Caravan POH, we planned on an 880-pound reduction in takeoff weight with the Caravan, and that worked out very well when we actually did it.”

Pederson said they switched from Kamonia to the Tshikapa airstrip because its longer runway allowed MAF pilots to carry a full load on the Caravan, which the Doctors Without Borders staff prefer to the Cessna 206 and diesel Cessna 182. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MAF operates three Caravans, three Cessna 206s, a Cessna 207, and a Cessna 182 SMA diesel Skylane.

Then there’s the weather.

“The weather flying conditions are ‘What you see is what you get,’” Pederson explained. “We can get an idea by using a satellite picture what the general weather is like, but it isn’t uncommon to run into weather, and have to go around thunderstorms. We can call someone on the ground to get an idea of the weather but there isn’t a central weather reporting service.”

And then there’s the fuel supply.

While the Caravan and Cessna 182 don’t rely on avgas, the Cessna 206 and 207 do. And MAF is running low on avgas.

“The avgas shortage means that we’ve scaled back our C206/C207 flights here in Kinshasa in order to make it last longer,” Pederson said. “We have enough to last us until mid-May.”

A shipment arrived in the port within the last week, he said, but that doesn’t mean they’ll get the avgas in time. It can take one to three months for the avgas to clear customs, he added.

Despite these hurdles, MAF continues providing regular transportation for Doctors Without Borders.

“They seem to be positive and very appreciative of our flights. They are a pretty dedicated and courageous lot. They don’t seem afraid of hard work or the threat of disease,” Pederson said. “… We work very well together.”

April 21, 2011

Saturday, April 16, 2011

My Neighbor's Airplane

subtitle- "SIL Cameroon gets a cool ride!"

I have recently told you that my team in Gabon is great. Well, I have to take a some time to tell you how we have a great aviation community in this region of the world. To the south, the closest mission aviation program is MAF-Kinshasa (whom I visited in October 2009), and our neighbor to the north is SIL- Yaounde (Cameroon)- whom I've been able to visit multiple times. They've been very supportive; giving a lot of encouragement and answering many of my questions.

I have been cheering on SIL's advances toward an addition to their fleet- a Cessna 207 with the turbo-prop SOLOY conversion- an airplane type that we are considering in the future. Here is the exciting announcement about this as reported by "Aero-News.Net":

Soloy Aviation Solutions Delivers 85th Cessna 206/207 Turbine Conversion

Tue, 12 Apr '11

Refurbished 1980 Cessna 207 Serving In Cameroon

Soloy Aviation Solutions has delivered its 85th Cessna 206/207 Mark I turbine conversion to JAARS, the non-profit organization that provides technical support services such as aviation, information technology, and local language media to advance Bible translation and language community development worldwide. The newly converted Cessna 207 will be deployed in Cameroon, a coastal country in central west Africa.

The aircraft was originally a 1980 Cessna 207 that JAARS purchased. Once purchased, JAARS (originally called Jungle Aviation and Radio Service but now known simply as JAARS) completely refurbished the aircraft, outfitting it specifically for its demanding missions throughout remote Cameroon.

The Soloy Mark I certified engine conversion replaced the original Continental TSIO-520 piston engine with a Rolls Royce 250-C20S turbine engine mated to Soloy's Turbine Pac prop reduction gearbox. Although the new turbine powered Soloy 207 will have significant increases in flight performance such as take-off distances, climb rates, and better cruise speeds…the primary reason for the Soloy conversion was operational cost efficiency and the ability to burn more available Jet A fuel.

Chuck Daly, VP Global Transportation Services for JAARS realized the cost advantage of the Soloy conversion. "We operate several PT-6 powered aircraft throughout the world. These are typically larger aircraft that can seat up to 10 people. The majority of our missions are

better suited for up to six passengers. Most of our missions simply don't need the extra size (and the associated cost) of these larger airframes and their greater fuel burn. Plus, these heavier PT6 powered aircraft are increasingly subject to very expensive landing fees. The Cessna 207 is the ideal sized airframe for our needs." he said. "In addition to the size advantage of the Soloy Mark I, the availability of Avgas is becoming increasingly expensive and difficult to get in many parts of the world. The very efficient Rolls Royce 250 lets us take advantage of the greater supply of Jet A fuel. For these reasons, the Soloy conversion was the clear decision."

Daly says JAARS has been researching and studying the Soloy conversion for close to 10 years. Initial impressions of the Soloy product and its flight characteristics are quite favorable…so favorable, JAARS is considering two additional Soloy 206 or 207 turbine conversion

packages. "Soloy's engineering and product support have been excellent and we've found the people at Soloy to be very easy to work with."

For Soloy, the JAARS aircraft marks the 85th Mark I conversion put into service since 1985. Of the 85 delivered Mark I aircraft 64 have been converted on the Cessna 206 airframe and 21 for the 207. Dave Stauffer, Soloy's CEO is pleased JAARS took the time they did to study the Mark I conversion. "JAARS performs wonderful humanitarian and missionary work around the world. Everyone at Soloy is proud to deliver this important aircraft. The Rolls Royce powered Mark I conversion is the ideal platform for reliably operating in remote and demanding areas. Dollar for dollar it gets the job done better and more efficiently than any other piston or turbo prop option on today's market new or used," he said.

Soloy has developed a second generation turbine conversion for the Cessna 206H airframe utilizing the Rolls Royce 250 B17F engine. It is designated the Soloy Mark II. Currently there have been seven Mark II's produced.

JAARS will be hosting an open house May 7 at JAARS Townsend Airport (N52) in Waxhaw, North Carolina. The Soloy Mark I 207 will be on display.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Mapping the Work

Recently, during a game of RISK, my good buddy Dan would occasionally turn to another player and warmly say, "Steve... this is how I see the world..." Then, he would appeal for that person to join him in viewing the world (and the battles to come) in the same way he does, resulting in shared conquests and/or defensive/offensive postures against another player. He was very good at this. He did it in such a way to make one feel as though we were not opponents and as if one would not need to fear him, but accept him as a an ally.

Well, here is a map of Gabon. So, you can hear me say, "Hey everyone, here is how I see the country..." (I hope you can make out the details)

You can see the three red lines and circles indicating the three villages that have airstrips that need a little TLC to get them back up and running. There we want to encourage local communities to take up the work to keep their airstrips in good shape- ready to facilitate arrivals and departures. Airstrips mean better access to education, health, employment, etc. For our program, Aviation Medicale de Bongolo, it means linking these villages to air evacuations, mobile medical clinics, health education events and more. Bottom line- it's a link to hope.

So, my view of the country is this (to borrow Dan's line)... Great opportunities exist for the Glory of God to be displayed to the nations here. Strategically, we set our aim to express God's love to each and every person through the tool of aviation. We take a progressive stance to partner with local faith
communities and people of compassion who will lead these efforts. Will you move to partner in these efforts? Will you move your resources into place alongside ours? As local, Gabonese partners rise up to respond, I hope to tell them of international responses that stand ready to assist and facilitate their efforts. Please email me of your ideas/comments/questions/etc. at

In our match of RISK, I h
ave to report that, even though Dan was, at one point, the weakest adversary on the gameboard, he used his power of persuasion to last longer than me- I was the first to be ousted. In the end, Sam and Joe, my sons, battled it out for world domination (Joe won). On a positive note, I was later acquitted of all war crimes!

Flying Again!

I really wish this were a story telling about how our very own Cessna 207 was miraculously repaired and back in the air, however, sadly, it is not. Never fear, though, it's still a pretty good story. Egmont, a fellow pilot and friend, invited me for a ride in his company's new Piper Cheyenne (twin engine, turbo-prop). It's a sweet ride.

Here's the view at 22,000 feet on our way from Libreville to a cattle ranch in the very south-west part of the country.

A view of me in the cockpit.

Coming back into Libreville, we flew over the new soccer stadium to the north of the city. It's one of 3 large stadiums being built for the 2012 African Cup of Nations soccer tournament.

After picking up a passenger from the ranch and grabbing a bite to eat, we were back at the airstrip and ready for another hour long flight back to Libreville. In the Beechcraft Baron, this trip would take about an hour and fifteen minutes. In the Cessna 207, it'd be more like 2 hours and 10 minutes. This is Egmont cranking the engines back to life.

Here we are at the airstrip at the ranch. The runway is about one kilometer in length and the Cheyenne has no problem getting in and out with plenty of room to spare.

It was a fun flight to share with Egmont. He is thrilled with this new aircraft as it will assist his company's desire to fly more to west Africa and to Europe more frequently. I'm blessed to have the opportunity to join Egmont and have come cockpit time to keep sharp.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Repair Pictures from Ohio

Here are some photos of the repair work in progress at MMS Aviation in Ohio from last week:

From the Heart... for a heart

Dr. Deb Walker gives this great update:

This month, God has opened the door for a five year old girl named Mamboundou Grace to go to Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for heart surgery for a congenital heart defect. Because of generous donations to the Bongolo Heart Send Project ap-proved special, there are enough funds available to pay for her and her mother’s plane ticket and other expenses. Please pray that they can get their pass-ports, US visas and plane tickets by June and that the surgery is a success and that God would be glorified through this whole proc-ess.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dr. David Thompson- Guest Post

I'm so grateful to have a supportive team, here in Gabon. Even though our aviation program (Air Calvary- known in Gabon as "Aviation Medicale de Bongolo) technically has just one "employee" (me), there are many more on our team. Doctor David Thompson, founder of Bongolo Hospital and resident of Gabon since 1977, took some time recently to spell out the value and importance of our aviation efforts:

"This afternoon as I was getting something out of my refrigerator I saw a magnetic sign that I had placed there sometime ago. It had AMB's logo and the words, "The AMB Support Team." AMB, of course, stands for "Aviation Medical de Bongolo," and the thought that suddenly came to my mind left me humbled: the AMB Support Team is here to serve me.

I realize that AMB is here for more than just me, but the reality is that Steve and Alace Straw and the thousand or more people who stand behind them are here to help us accomplish the mission God has given to our [Bongolo Hospital] medical team, which is to care for the sick and the broken with the love of Jesus, and do everything in our power to introduce them to Jesus. God has expanded that vision exponentially through our educational and discipleship programs and all of the hospital's services.

I was further humbled by the thought that this support team has remained steadfastly in place and has continued to serve our team in every way possible, despite losing its principal ministry tool nearly 11 months ago to a freak accident. Most of you know that their Cessna 207, which cost $325,000 and which Steve and Alace labored for two years to purchase, is still undergoing repairs at an aviation shop in Ohio. What most of you may not know is that during the recent repairs a major flaw was discovered in one of the craft's aging fuel tanks that if undiscovered, would likely have caused another failure.

Other than because of our love and appreciation for Steve and Alace, why should we care about the AMB program and its future success? Here is a short list:

- It has the potential to extend the reach of the Church and it's growing holistic ministries to every corner of the country, through mobile medical teams, evangelistic teams, educational teams, and almost any other kind of team you can think of;

- It can expedite the speedy transport (in less than 2 hours) between Libreville and Lebamba of medicines, fragile medical equipment, volunteer medical specialists and work teams that don't have a lot of time to serve, missionaries, and our national colleagues;

- It can save up to 2 days of travel time on most round trips out of Gabon;

- It can allow passengers to make a round trip in a single day for a particular mission;

- It can flex it's arrival and departure times to meet the needs of the hospital;

- In times of crisis it can evacuate people to the capital, for whatever reason;

- It is a powerful expression to the nation and to the government of what is possible with God;

- It can provide mobile medical education to health workers in remote areas of the country, such as the national parks;

- It provides a model to young people in Gabon who are interested in aviation to see it as more than a commercial tool;

- It can enlist Christian aviation enthusiasts from around the world;

- Through "Operation Runway Rehab" it can support remote local churches and bless the communities they serve;

- It will save wear and tear on our increasingly expensive vehicles and bodies;

- It will be the only aviation program in the country that meets and exceeds the standards of the FAA;

- Because of it's speed and convenience, it can save a life, eliminate police controls, protect sensitive equipment, deliver groceries, deliver vehicle and equipment parts within hours, and save money.

- It glorifies God.

We all know how expensive it is for AMB to operate. We also know that reestablishing the service after the Cessna 207 is repaired and flown to Gabon will be long and logistically challenging. Most importantly, we know that God has called Steve and Alace and their entire support team to provide us with this service. Is it too big a stretch for us to believe that God can solve the problems facing AMB to make it fly affordably in support of our team and the Church for the glory of God, both literally and figuratively?

Thirty-five years ago some of arrived in Bongolo with a vision and a mission to establish Christ-centered health care for the NgoouniƩ et the Nyanga provinces of Gabon. During the first decade we were here, a significant number of our missionary colleagues told us that the obstacles were so great and we were so feeble our mission could not possibly succeed. We should bail out as soon as we could gracefully do so. Yet because God was with us, the project that God called us to succeeded beyond any of our expectations. Had we taken the heavy and repeated setbacks and reverses we encountered as proof that God had not called us to this mission, the Bongolo Hospital and all of its many services today would be little more than an embarrassing footnote in the history of the [Christian & Missionary] Alliance. Praise God that there were those who encouraged us to continue!

The AMB Support Team is a gift to us from our Father. Please take every opportunity to pray for and to work for it's success, and please continue to encourage Steve and Alace as they persevere in the mission that God has called them to do.

Gratefully, Dave"

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Blessed to be a Blessing

Subtitle: Covenant People; Peculiar People

In 2000, a popular movie promoted the idea of "paying forward" good deeds. If one was done to you, do a good deed for three others. The young, main character in the movie thinks up this idea that, the best "payback" to a person who blessed you is for you to show similar kindness to others.

Divine Paying Forward

Recently I was reading in Genesis 12 about a similar thing, but on a universal, redemptive way. It's when the one, true, Creator God speaks with a regular guy, Abram, and tells him...

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
(Genesis 12)

I can only imagine that Abe was pretty blown away the he was receiving divine communication and it may have taken him sometime to replay the whole thing in his head to get the message that, in essence, he and the nation that will emerge from him are going to be divinely blessed and, it wouldn't end there- there was a purpose. He was only to be a channel of that blessing to ALL PEOPLE ON EARTH.

So, this is amazing. God has made a promise that this WILL happen. Sometimes we wonder how will the children of Abraham (believers in the bloodline of Jesus) make it to each people group to express the love of God? As we make plans and brainstorm about ways we can do this, we can be sure of this- if the God of the universe has said it will happen, then it will. That's amazing. And how do we know it will happen? Here's a little "flash-forward" to the scene around the throne some time in the not-to-distant future (today maybe?)...

"After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude,
that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language,
standing before the throne and before the Lamb."

(Revelation 7)

So, all this divine "paying forward" in the name of Jesus is our mandate. We are blessed to be a blessing to the glory of our God.

I'm a Covenant People-Person

A new friend of mine, Richard, and I were dialoguing about this recently. He said, "I have always seen the Genesis 12 Covenant as more of a personal covenant between Abraham, the nation of Israel, and God. Now, reading Galations 3:29, I see that we (as believers) are heirs of Abraham and this blessing (and responsibility) is something that I carry."

The Daily "B's-ness"

I'm not sure when it was on my pilgrimage that I first caught on to "we're blessed to bless others" thing but, as my children became older and needed a little daily, parental guidance, we started teaching the "B's" of the morning routine. So, they'd wake up and we'd tell them to Brush their hair and teeth. Then it was make your Bed and then eat a good Breakfast, etc. The last on the list, and by far the hardest for them was "Bless" someone else. When we instituted this, we spoke to them about the covenant that we have joined with Abraham's line- we're blessed to bless others. We spoke about how Jesus embodied this in his earthly life as our example and hope.

Of course, all the while that I said this to my kids, the challenge was being laid out to me as well- be a blessing. Easier said than done! It's a blessing to be blessed... but as they say, "it's better to give than receive". I pray that you, in your pilgrimage, learn the way of blessing in Jesus' name, all the while looking forward to that day around the throne as we join the nations in worship.