Monday, November 11, 2013

Flight Global Interview

(the following interview will appear inside the back cover of Flight International- an aviation related periodical)

FG:  When did you decide to work in Aviation?
SS:  The aviation "bug" bit me as a teenager during a flight in a '48 Taylorcraft taildragger,
Photo: Trent Bell
piloted by my older brother.  Early, on a clear, crisp fall morning in Pennsylvania, before I had to be at school, we lifted off a grass strip and toured the skies above Happy Valley (State College).  I was hooked!  It was like the world below had come to a complete standstill to make way for this surreal experience. 

FG: Where were you trained and educated?  What degrees or ratings do you hold?
SS: I have a B.S. in Aviation Technology from LeTourneau University (Longview, TX).  There, I received my Airframe and Powerplant maintenance certificate, as well as my flight training as a Commercial, Instrument single engine and flight instructor ratings.  Later, I completed multi-engine training.

FG: What was your first aviation job? What jobs did you have after that?
SS: I was free-lancing as a

...flight instructor after college.  Then, there was a job opening with one of the companies whose airplanes I used to wash.  I could hardly believe that I was a bonafide, salaried pilot of a Cessna 172, patrolling pipelines and power lines from Texas to Ohio on a weekly route.  I enjoyed pipeline flying for many years, building over 8,000 hours, covering routes from Wichita Falls all the way to Bangor, Maine.  

FG: What is your job title now and what are you duties?
SS: For the last 5 years, I have been a bush pilot in central Africa for Air Calvary, starting an aviation service for a remote jungle hospital with a hard-working Cessna 207.  I'm the only staff, so on any given day I do anything from fly the airplane to reservations to maintenance with a whole lot in between.   Another pilot-mechanic arrived, so now I'm "program manager", concentrating on future growth.  I've also worked with the few other general aviation supporters to form "Aviation Générale du Gabon". 

FG: What is a major project or mission that you’ve been working on lately?
SS: A core objective to our work in Africa is to equip locals to fill any of the roles of the organization.  We envision a day when Africans are equipped in roles as bush pilots, mechanics, dispatchers, flight nurses- any aviation related task the program calls for.  In order to do this, we have a "brainstorming team" and have started to prepare a dossier for the government that proposes a training program.  It's hard to imagine, but, I know it will be a bigger challenge than these past 5 years. 

FG:  What’s the most difficult part of the job?
SS:  One word- "AvGas".  International airports in the central African region rarely have it and, when they do, we pay between $15 and $20 a gallon.  While we wait for the funding of our own 20 foot shipping container of drums of AvGas, we have relied upon a third party and paid dearly- most recently paying $23.50 a gallon.  However, we appealed to the government (an oil producer) and they had 30 barrels shipped in for us on their dime, with more promised for next year.  This was such a huge blessing. 

FG:  What is your favorite part?
SS: By far, the most rewarding part is when you know that you've made a difference in a life.  Last year we were called to assist with the transport of 5 young children who were injured in when there school transport van was hit by an SUV, killing some of their classmates.  They were in a town that you can only reach by boat or air.  We arrived, loaded the children, a nurse and a doctor, and got them to medical care.  Late that evening, I rolled out a barrel of AvGas in front of the wing, struggled to get it upright, attached the hand pump, climbed the ladder, and, as the sun set, I pumped the fuel and reflected on all the hard work and many, many people that have collaborated to make moments, like that med-evac, possible.  I was so thankful for the great privilege to be there in those moments when it all pays off and lives are touched. 

FG: Least favorite part?
SS:  Since we are such a small operation, there are many roles to juggle.  The one role that I struggle to maintain, but simply must, is that of promoter and fundraiser.  There is a constant need to update websites, blogs, and newsletters.  In one sense, I love to tell the stories of the way our aircraft service is making a difference.  In another sense, I'd rather be out there coming up with the new stories!

FG:  Where is your base of operations?
SS:  Air Calvary is a non-profit with an office in Crowne Point, Indiana.  
The program in Gabon is the only full-time work that Air Calvary sponsors.  The one-aircraft hangar that is our base is at the Bongolo Hospital's airstrip in the village of Lebamba, Gabon.  We've kept the 2400 foot strip certified as a public airport- one of only 12 in the country the size of Colorado.

FG:  How is your work funded?
SS:  Air Calvary is supported by generous donations of private individuals and organizations, mainly from the US.  We exist to serve critical transportation needs to underserved people as an expression of God's love.  We fly in mainly in Gabon, but have also flown in Cameroon and are investigating expansion into Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville).

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