Flat Feat

Kuajok, Warrap State, South Sudan:  I was carrying the new South Sudan country director for World Vision to visit their facilities and compound in Kuajok, the state capital. The flight lasted two hours as was uneventful, lacking even the usual thunderstorms that build near Rumbek.  The flight was one of the few where I was to overnight and depart the next day.  Arrangements had been made by the World Vision team for me to stay at a nearby hotel where I could also have a meal and get an early night’s sleep.

C208 with flat tire

click on photo to see flat tire

The room was very deluxe for a town in South Sudan.  It had its own shower and “squat-style” toilet.  I would gladly have traded the private washroom for air-conditioning as the temperatures were hovering around 40deg. C when we arrived.  Late that evening I tried to find some breeze as I sat on the plastic chair that was on the veranda outside my door. When dinner was served, a small table was placed next to the chair and a huge chicken dinner was served along with a Stoney.  Stoney is ginger beer and has been my favorite since arriving in Africa. Aside from about a dozen cats begging for food, the dinner was fine.

After the meal, a shower, some reading, then off to bed.  I hoped that I would fall asleep before the generator was turned off.  The small electric fan was the only thing IMG_0628making the heat bearable and it would stop as soon as the generator quit. I detest sleeping under a wet blanket to try to keep cool but this night, I was willing to give  serious consideration to anything that would help me sleep well.

The next morning I arose early to meet the driver who had been assigned to transport me to the airstrip.  I had arranged to get there a few hours before the passengers so that I could be ready for their arrival. I was also hoping for a breeze.  Even by 08:00 the temperatures were well into the thirties and the hotel generator would not be on before 10 am.

The runway at Kuajok is made of a red gravel called murram.  It makes a smooth, firm surface and is much better than the typical black cotton soil  found to the east in Jonglei state which is why I was surprised to find a flat tire when I arrived.  Even before I was close, the aircraft was sitting with its tail too high in the air not to be noticed.  I walked past the armed security guards that had been posted by the county commissioner’s office “to watch over the VIP aircraft” and greeted them in the customary manner with many handshakes and smiles.  They were unaware of the flat tire and were a bit embarrassed that they had not noticed even though they has slept within a few feet of the aircraft,

I contacted our office in Juba and a replacement wheel and tire along with our Chief Engineer, Henry were soon on their way to Kuajok, all the way from Nairobi, in the very fast Pilatus PC12.  MAF1 (5Y-MAF) was already scheduled to fly a direct routing from Nairobi to nearby Rumbek so it was not a long diversion to get them to Kuajok.  We were thankful that there was just enough advance notice to get Henry onto the aircraft before it had left Wilson Airport.  When they arrived at Kuajok,  I was able to capture a nice video of the Pilatus aircraft flown by Captain Rose landing without a bounce!

IMG_0624

A similar sized aircraft to the C208, the PC12 flies 1oo kts faster but cannot handle the roughest airstrips due to the retractable landing gear and long nose.

Without any aircraft maintenance facilities in South Sudan, aircraft operators must shoulder the costs and bear the risks of flying into so many remote airstrips.  Even the simple task of changing a flat tire, is a monumental feat requiring many people to get replacement parts, organize, transport and do the the repairs. Fortunately, we keep an aircraft lifting jack at our Juba facilities for this type of emergency.  With so many abandoned aircraft littering the runways and airstrips in South Sudan, it is apparent that the cost to repair or recover a broken or damaged aircraft, in some situations is simply too high for many operators.  The lack of heavy machinery to lift a large aircraft or engine magnifies the difficulties of operating in remote places, especially with heavier aircraft than the C208.  Thankfully, the Cessna Caravans we fly are very reliable aircraft with only the occasional minor problem like a flat tire or bird strike straining precious resources.

PC12startkuajok

Click to view video of PC12 at Kuajok

Despite the morning delay, we were still able to get the World Vision team back to Juba in time to catch a commercial flight that afternoon thanks to the dedicated group of workers in our MAF Kenya/South Sudan team.  Thank God that I happened to arrive at the airstrip so early that day.  Too bad, I forgot to bring some sunscreen. I was very red when I arrived back in Juba.

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