Many have asked what exactly I am learning during my three and a half months here in Waxhaw, NC at JAARS. Well there is almost too much to list. But I’ll at least give a brief overview. First on the maintenance side, I am learning the detailed systems of the Cessna 206, the aircraft I will be operating in Zambia. JAARS has been operating the Cessna 206 in missions work around the world for longer then I have been alive, so they have a pretty good handle on how to maintain them and what areas to pay special attention to during inspections etc. In addition to classroom learning, I will be doing “projects” on a maintenance 206 that is no longer flying. This will give me hands on experience working with, fixing, and rigging the different systems. Further the two 206’s that we are flying for orientation are also our responsibility to maintain while we are flying them. So we perform post flight inspections, and if any discrepancies are found it is our responsibility to fix them (under the supervision of the maintenance trainers). At orientation with me is one maintenance specialist who is headed to Indonesia, one other pilot/mechanic who is headed to Kenya, and a helicopter pilot headed to Papua New Guinea.
On the flight side of things, I am learning many things as well. Basically we are learning to operate the Cessna 206 safely at the edge of its operational limitations. JAARS has a well thought out philosophy of flying, and a very good safety record, while operating in some of the most challenging flying environments in the world. They have been able to do this because they are won’t just accept any pilot, and then the ones they do accept they train well. That is the training I am receiving. Most of the flying will focus on STOL (Short Takeoff and Land) procedures, and emergency procedures. But perhaps even more than that, they are teaching me a philosophy of flying and STOL is the platform for teaching it. The JAARS philosophy of flying focus’s on 3 fundamentals: positive aircraft control, consistency by reference to standard models, and the discipline to adhere to close tolerances. A pilot is in positive aircraft control while flying a STOL approach when he understands what control movements need to be used to get the results desired, and carries them out with precision while also reacting to constantly changing environmental factors (wind) at speeds barely above stall. We have to fly the airplane and not let the airplane fly us. 🙂 They have set up a standard model of aircraft pitch, power settings, rate of decent, and altitudes at key points, that help us confirm we are on the right track for a stable and safe approach and landing with positive aircraft control. Finally they have set a strict set of tolerances for us to adhere to (4 degree approach with a landing in a 100-200ft touchdown zone). When we combine these three things and discipline ourselves to always follow them, the margin for error goes down and safety goes up! Well that got a little technical… but somebody that reads this will think it was interesting. 🙂 All that to say, I probably won’t fly many STOL approaches where I am headed in Zambia, but I can apply these fundamentals to any aspect of flying (and perhaps other areas of life) and it will help me to have many safe years of flying in a harsh and unforgiving environment.
Speaking of safety, that is the other huge focus. Safety is paramount, JAARS procedures take into consideration the risk verses the payoff, and they will not do things that do not have a acceptable amount of safety margin built into them. A safe pilot is a pilot who stays alert, he knows exactly how his aircraft should perform in any given situation, and if it isn’t performing correctly he takes appropriate action if possible before it becomes an emergency. These are the things the JAARS instructors are drilling into my head over and over, day after day. And I think it’s a good thing. 🙂 I am being stretched, and pushed to learn new skills and pick things up at a pace that is faster than I am used to, but I know in the end I will be as prepared as I can be for what I will face as I serve with Flying Mission in Zambia.
All of my instructors on both the mechanic and pilot side, have spent years overseas doing the very things they are now teaching me. It is truly a blessing to learn from them. Real world examples take on an even greater significance when the person telling the story was actually there and experienced it. If you want to pray for my remaining time here, pray that I will learn and soak in as much as I can, and not grow weary, but finish strong!