Flying in the Bird’s Head Peninsula

Finally, after four and a half years working out in Indonesia, I get a chance to see our Manokwari base and do a spot of flying from it. My company has had a base here for our Caravan aircraft since before I started but it’s always been difficult to find work for our Porter aircraft from there for some reason. That all changed last week and I had to fly up there from Nabire to fly our newest routes for a day as the aircraft and pilot scheduled to do weren’t quite ready.

First time the people of Mouyeba have seen at aircraft in a long time

If there’s one thing I love, it’s going to new airstrips that I’ve not been to before. As a Porter pilot in my company, I’m trained to do what are called “self checkouts” into airstrips that I’ve not been to before. It’s not too dissimilar to a PPL pilot back in the UK going to a new place for that “£100 burger” for the first time. Once you know what you’re doing, new places are something to relish (see what I did there) and I’m a firm believer it makes you a better pilot for doing so.

Manokwari is a largish airport, suitable for a B737, and was to be my base for the day to pick-up the cargo and passengers and take them to two different airstrips located with-in Papua’s Bird’s Head Peninsula. The Bird’s Head is located in the north west of Papua and is linked to the rest of it by a thin stretch of land leading all the way down to Nabire where I’m usually based.

The terrain is very similar to the main part of Papua, only not quite as high or rugged. It reminded me of flying in northern Kalimantan with it’s lush, hot and muddy jungles covering some fairly large and steep mountains. The weather patterns seemed very familiar too with a cloudy start to the day followed by rain showers in the afternoon.

Mouyeba airstrip departure, Papua

The contract my company had taken on was to fly both people and cargo to/from Manokwari and a couple of airstrips, Mouyeba and Mesina, for a week or so. The first flight was a load of cargo to Mouyeba. I wasn’t going in totally blind, as I had an airstrip guide for almost all the ones in the Bird’s Head, so had a decent idea what to expect. Even so, I still did my usual fly overhead first to access the lie of the land and to confirm the best way to approach and land on the airstrip. At 450m it was plenty long enough for the Porter and I landed in around half that before powering to the top where the expectant people were.

Cargo offloaded, I had to hold back the crowd and assure them I was coming back again later that morning, so there was no need to panic. I guess after months of not having aircraft coming in, they were all very keen to take advantage of the new service. However, with only seven seats in the Porter, they have to wait their turn. This is a problem I face on a daily basis. Although I could squeeze nine seats in, including the front co-pilot seat, there would be no room for any baggage. And there’s always lots of baggage!

Mesina airstrip, Papua

The second airstrip, Mesina, was even more pretty and a little bit shorter at 410m. Again the slope really helped slow up nearly two and a half tonnes of Porter with minimal drama. The airstrip was a little boggy towards the top so I ensured to kept the momentum up to spin the aircraft around at the top.

Whilst overflying the airstrip, I noticed a rather awesome looking bridge over a canyon just below the airstrip. Never one to pass up the opportunity for some cool photos, I asked the locals how to get down to it. They were only too keen to show me and so I grabbed the camera and a bottle of water and headed for the trail leading down the valley side.

It was pretty steep in places and quite muddy too but I managed to scramble my way down along with some of the barefooted locals. It’s amazing how much more traction they seem to have compared to my Merrell booted feet! The bridge was even more spectacular from ground level, suspended some 50ft or so over a pretty wide and fast moving river. It looked pretty sturdy and so I ventured out into the middle. Of course all my new found friends wanted to run along the bridge with me which caused a rather sketchy swinging motion to start but the two large steel cables holding everything up looked strong enough to take it. Real Indiana Jones stuff!

Hiking down the side of the valley from Mesina airstrip
Standing with my new friends on the bridge from Mesina airstrip
Don’t look down!

Photos over, I figured I’d better get back to the aircraft and continue on with the schedule. I’d only been half an hour and the passengers were all waiting patiently for me upon return. As with Mouyeba, there were far more people than seats wanting to get back to Manokwari so they’d just have to wait their turn.

Dirty cockpit after a hard days work. Was a little muddy in places..

All in all, a fun day exploring a part of Papua I’d never been to before. I was pretty knackered though upon returning to Nabire and after that little hike, the aircraft wasn’t the only one needing a good shower from all that mud!

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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5 Responses

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Nice post Matt, thanks for sharing the bridge experience 🙂
    Those jungle views must be amazing.
    All the best,

  3. Libor Smolik says:

    This must have been awesome!

  4. Vista says:

    Hi Matt, I’m enjoying your posts. I haven’t been to Papua. Pretty sure it’s like a whole different country over there. Be safe.

  5. Craig Bailey says:

    If you ever want to switch careers, let me know. Beautiful place to work/fly.

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