First solo in the mountains

It’s 05:15am and I’m wide awake; a good half hour before my alarm is due to go off. Today’s the day I’m finally going to be let loose on my own in the mountains of Papua and the anticipation of what’s to come is almost more than I can bare. Guess I’d better get up!

My schedule for today is a return trip to Beoga first, followed by a charter to Modio before handing the aircraft over to a fellow pilot who’ll complete the afternoon schedule. I force down some cornflakes along with a mug of tea and I watch the sunrise. Looks like it’s going to be a great day for flying.

My first passengers in the mountains of Papua

Checking the aircraft over doesn’t reveal anything untoward, the weather’s still looking perfect and the passengers and cargo are loaded up, so it’s time to get this day started! Internal checks first: battery master on, fuel quantity set, oil cooler in, standby power off, idle control cut-off, power level closed and prop feathered. All clear outside so aux fuel pump on and starter switch on. Oil pressure rising, ignition on. Above 12% Ng, idle control to low idle. “One, two, three, four…” Wumph! We have light off! Prop full forward and monitor engine parameters. All good and stable, starter and ignition switches off. Finish off the internal checks and call the tower for taxi clearance:

“Kilangin Tower, PK-BVM, Good morning.”

“Morning BVM, go-ahead.”

“BVM request taxi for departure Beoga, 14,000ft radial 035, 6 POB, fuel endurance 2 hours 45 minutes.”

“BVM taxi runway 12, QNH 1010. Call again ready.”

“Taxi runway 12, QNH 1010. Call ready. BVM”

Increase power and away we go. Quick check of the brakes and instruments during the taxi, strobe lights on, landing lights down and on, before entering the runway. Lined up, tailwheel locked, controls full and free:

“Kilangin Tower, BVM ready 12”

“BVM cleared take-off”

“Cleared take-off BVM”

Increase power, idle control to high and set take-off power. Seconds later we’re airborne and it feels fantastic! I’ll never get bored with that moment the wheels leave the ground and the world lowers itself away from you. It’s a truly special feeling and today it’s just that little bit more special.

Passing Puncak Jaya en route Beoga

There’s a small layer of cloud as we climb away from Timika but we’re soon above it before levelling off, as Puncak Jaya comes into view. The route to Beoga takes us to the east of the peaks but still requires climbing to 13,000ft to clear the ridge. A quick dose of oxygen whilst cruising past the ridge and it’s time to start the descent.

The weather was being very kind today, with the entire northern side of the ridge being totally open and bathed in sunshine. Despite the sun, it’s still only 5 degrees outside, although it does begin to warm up as we descend over the plateau and into the Beoga valley. Once into the valley it was time to setup for the approach.

The route into Beoga (note all the red which is mostly terrain above at this point)

Descent profile looks good, so oil cooler closed, check brake pedals, cabin fans on, aux fuel pump on, landing lights lowered and on and tailwheel still locked. Decrease power a little more to get the speed down through 95kts and lower flaps. Heart now pumping that little bit more again as all focus is drawn onto flying the approach. No turning back now, we’re deep into the valley. Landing is the only option from here!

Speed back to 65kts as the view out front is filled with the surround terrain.The tiny airstip starts to look much bigger as the familiar ground rush effect comes into my peripheral vision. Pull back on the stick and flare, keeping the power set as the nose is raised to the correct attitude to land on a 12% up-slope. Power lever idle and touch down.

Approach into Beoga, Papua

Slow to a fast walking pace and engage the tailwheel steering whilst adding power to climb up to the top of the airstrip. Flaps up and landing lights off. Taxi up to the top and swing the tail round to point the nose toward back down towards the airstrip, ready for take-off.

Brakes set, and timer started. Complete paperwork, check one minute’s elapsed and shut her down. Heart rate now back to normal along with one very large, unremovable grin. I couldn’t be happier. I’ve just begun the next chapter in my flying career and it doesn’t get any better:

I’m now flying the Pilatus Porter in the mountains of Papua! 

People of Beoga look on as the cargo is unloaded
Matt Dearden

Matt Dearden

English born professional pilot, writer, blogger and columnist. Currently flying the Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter in Papua, Indonesia.

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6 Responses

  1. Skipskatta says:

    I’ve read a few pilot blogs, but you guys writing these bush pilot blogs have the most interesting blogs 🙂

  2. Absolutely brilliant, but them I am somewhat biased as “that’s my son”! Love it!

  3. Anonymous says:

    So envious, if I were 40 years younger I would love to be doing as you are. You should write a book, it would be fascinating.

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