2015 bush flying summary
As the year closes to an end, I thought it would be interesting to see how much flying I got up to in a typical year as a bush pilot. Along with a flying summary and some statistics, I’ll also share my twelve favourite photos/moments from what has been a pretty great year of flying for me from moving up to Wamena with the Pilatus Porter to learning to fly the PBY Catalina.
Flying Statistics for 2015:
Total hours flown: 453 hours
Number of flights: 935 flights
Total distance flown: 41,137nm
Total take-offs/landings: 938
Total water alightings: 16
Number of unique airstrips visited: 93
Number of new airstrips to me: 50
As you can see from the above Google Earth image of all my flights for 2015, the two places I flew from the most were Timika and Wamena. Sadly we didn’t operate a Porter from my old base of Nabire at all this year however the challenges of flying from Wamena made up for the loss of Nabire. As for what next year will bring, who knows!
Top photos/moments of 2015
The year started with me moving from my old base of Nabire up to the highlands of Wamena at 5000ft where I spent a few weeks flying into so many new airstrips I can barely remember them all! A definite highlight was the nearly 30% up-slope of Bangga airstrip.
The flying from Wamena continued into February where I started to consolidate my training and fly into the more challenging airstrips. Salema was a regular flight which was great being only 20 minutes from Wamena and offering a short, steep and challenging airstrip to perfect landing on.
Some charters out of Nabire took me back there briefly but it wasn’t the flying that was the highlight. That crown was taken by two trips to see the giant whale sharks native to the waters off the coast of Nabire. An experience I’ll never forget!
With a brief return to Timika to cover the pilot shortage there, I was back in Wamena and continuing the flying into the more challenging airstrips there. However, it was this month that I bit the bullet and made my biggest purchase to date, a share in a Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina based in the UK.
Having made the purchase of the Catalina share and spent the previous month studying all the ground school requirements, it was time to learn to fly Miss Pick Up from the historic Duxford airfield in Cambridge, UK. What an amazing aircraft and no regrets at all with buying a share in her and all the wonderful people involved with keeping her flying.
This was to be my first ever airshow and by a large coincidence it was also near my home town in Somerset. The Weston-Super-Mare airshow was amazing fun and it was great to be able to fly my father from Duxford to my old training airfield, Bristol International Airport. As far as I know, I’m still the first ever pilot to land a Catalina there (let me know if you know otherwise?)
I have always known that aircraft are a lifeline for the people of Papua but it wasn’t until we started to suffer the affects of the prolonged El Niño phenomenon and the lack of rain it was causing that I realised just how vital aircraft are. The people of the highland villages of Agadugume and Kwijawagi were suffering the most because all their crops had failed causing a severe food shortage leading to diseases and deaths. I was incredibly humbled by the welcome I received by being the first pilot to start flying the aid into their villages. This job is about so much more than simply flying aircraft.
This was probably the lowest point of the year for me as things were not going that well aviation wise in Indonesia. The local currency had devalued massively (and continues to do so), especially against the US dollar which was having an affect on all aviation activities that are naturally tied to the US dollar. It forced me to seriously think about my career and what is best for it. And for now, I’m pleased to say it’s bush flying!
One of the many reasons for getting involved with the Catalina was because, aside from being a warbird, she’s also a flying boat and operating an aircraft on water was an itch I have been wanting to scratch for a long time. So off I went to Biscarrosse lake in Bordeaux, France to learn all about operating a WWII flying boat on the water and to gain my commercial seaplane rating for her. It was one of the most fun week’s of flying I’ve had. The trouble now is I want to do more seaplane flying but I’ve not figured out how to convince my boss the Porter needs floats yet..
Having purchased a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced drone, I started to put it to good use by capturing some amazing photos of the airstrips in Papua from angles never before seen. I’m sure there’ll be plenty more to come over the next year so watch this space!
After a bit of a hiatus from the blog over the previous few months, I began to reflect on things in Papua and whether I really wanted to continue out here. 6 years is a long time to be anywhere but I’ve still not found anything better to do, so figured whilst I’m still enjoying the flying I’ll keep at it for now. And with airstrips like Wipon (pictured below), it’s hard to stop this kind of flying!
By far the biggest highlight was being the first ever aircraft to land on the brand new airstrip at Liligan. Whilst I have been to many airstrips new to myself, this was the first time I had been the very first aircraft into somewhere and I was taken back by the celebrations of the local people who were singing and chanting whilst dancing in circles around the aircraft. Such an amazing privilege!
Looking back it has been a pretty amazing year really and despite the lows, there have been some amazing highs and I can’t think of anything else I would rather be doing right now. So with that, may I wish all my readers a very Happy New Year and I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings!