A Day in the Life of a YAJASI Pilot
YAJASI pilot Luke Sjoblom invites us to join him for a day on the job in Indonesia. Come along as he shares photos and writes about his experiences.
0600: I wake up to a rainy morning in Sentani. I check the infrared satellite image of the weather around Papua, along with a couple other forecast tools that we have. It looks like widespread rain with high overcast clouds in the Mamberamo region, where I am headed today.
0645: I receive a message from the missionaries in Tango.* “Low clouds, rain.” Low clouds are normal in the morning in that area, and normally lift and break up by ten. But with the high overcast keeping the sun off the low clouds, it will probably be later today.
0700: I arrive at the airport and begin preflight inspections on the Pilatus PC-6 airplane. I have full fuel in the tanks, plus 30 liters in jerry cans, and I will still need to use about 50 liters from the fuel drum we have in Tango. I confirm with the missionaries that we still have about 100 liters available on the ground there.
0740: Everything is ready and the rain has slowed down in Sentani. I don’t have a weather report from Dou, my first stop, but I expect the weather there is similar to the weather in Tango, which is still marginal with light rain. Feeling the weather is not quite good enough, I push back my departure slot to 0855.
0900: Hoping things have had some time to dry out and open up in Dou, I depart.
Climbing out from Sentani
1020: I arrive overhead Dou. Thankfully, there is enough room between clouds to maneuver and land. The grass runway is damp with a thin layer of mud above firm ground. Thanks to the muddy, draggy grass, I slow down to walking speed by half the length of the 564-meter runway without using brakes or reverse thrust.
1030: A school teacher gets off here and I unload supplies and secure the remaining load under the cargo net. Earlier in the air, I had seen that the clouds toward Tango were still fairly low, so I wait for another report over the HF radio about how the weather is progressing there.
1100: With a positive weather report, I line up for takeoff. Acceleration on the draggy grass is slow until I am able to lift off. YAJASI compensates for this by reducing our maximum takeoff weight at Dou by 300 kilos.
1120: I arrive overhead Tango with decent weather, no rain. The runway looks soggy—it will be very slippery. On landing, the wheels sling mud all over the airplane. At some points, the mud wants to pull the airplane left or right, but I can keep it in the middle by aggressive use of rudder and power.
1130: With the cargo unloaded, I perform an annual runway inspection. I walk the length of the runway, looking for hazards, and note the angles to the tops of the trees on either end of the runway to make sure our climb path is still clear with margin. I can tell the missionaries and local community have put a lot of effort into battling back the swamp, improving drainage, and building up the center of the runway with gravel to form a firmer surface.
1205: I empty the 30 liters of fuel I brought with me into the wing tanks and pump 40 liters from the drum. This should give me enough fuel to make it home and arrive with standard reserve.
1215: I install the seats and load the passengers’ bags in the wing pods and behind the cargo net.
1230: I depart Tango for Foao, which is about halfway back to Sentani. As we are cruising at 11,000 feet, I ask my front-seat passenger if there have been any spiritual “lightbulb” moments during his time in the village. He tells me this story (paraphrased):
As I sat with one of the main pastors in the village, he said, “We know that if we smoke, drink, steal, or do other bad things, we will go to hell. But if we are good and don’t sin, God will let us into heaven.” So I invited the pastor to look with me at what the Bible says. In the Tango language, I explained what Isaiah 64 says: “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” All the good we can manage to do is not even a blip on the scale. Then I showed him the story of the thief on the cross. I explained how he had been a thief, a criminal. He was being put to death for the evil things he had done. But as he was on the cross next to Jesus, he recognized his own sinfulness and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus answered him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” We can never be good enough to earn our way to heaven, and all our sin is wiped away when we trust Christ for our salvation and receive his forgiveness.
1320: I arrive in Foao with a pretty routine landing. There, two new passengers, another school teacher and a nurse, come aboard, and I load a bit of cargo. I ask the pastor there if he could make sure the grass on the runway, which is almost up to my knees, gets cut before the next time a plane comes. And I ask if he could continue widening a slightly narrow portion of the runway. Thanking him for his help to keep the runway safe, I climb in and start the engine.
1345: I depart Foao, flying northeast back to Sentani. After navigating between a small line of thunderstorms, I arrive in Sentani, with its long paved runway capable of handling Boeing 737s.
1440: YAJASI staff unload the bags and guide the passengers toward where they need to go. Like all arrivals these days, they will need a COVID swab test before being allowed to go home. I check over the aircraft and then fill out a flight record on the iPad, entering all the loads, times, and other data for the flight.
1530: With everything finished, I drive my motorcycle home to catch up with Rachelle, who no doubt has had a full day with the kids!