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Mountain Upgrade

07/12/2010

Turn-around at Ilu

Well after much promising I guess it’s time to post on my mountain upgrade training.

The way we generally operate now is to start flying in what is termed the lowland areas of Papua. There are still numerous risks involved, even over and above flying in the rest of Indonesia but it is not technical flying like the highlands. After flying in the lowlands for a period an offer is generally made to progress to the mountains and begin mountain upgrade training. Our company classifies the airports/strips we fly to according to required skill level, degree of difficulty and strip condition among many other factors. The pay scales are tied not only to seniority but to the level to which you have been checked out also.

I transitioned to the highlands back in July. Due to operational requirements it can often take some time for that initial mountain training to be completed. My initial mountain training was completed not long after I got back from my holiday in New Zealand in November.

The training itself was quite enjoyable, returning to places that I’d not been to since my many hours as a First Officer in Papua. It is as I said before technical flying and you are dealing with a lot of factors in order to make a safe approach and landing. Perversely it seems that the more challenging it is – rain, strong winds, heavy aircraft seem to disengage you a little bit and stop you from over-thinking. Muscle memory and natural ability seem to kick in and you pull it all off with aplomb! Well most of the time…

Completely un-industrialised yet smog worse than Jakarta. Supposedly this is for cloud-seeding!

Overall our training captains, 2 of whom are NZ-trained are pretty thorough and prepare you well to command an aircraft in what is one of the most dangerous flying environments in the world. As with any training that first time you go off without the training captain (although an experienced First Officer is generally at your disposal) can feel a little daunting but now I am enjoying it immensely.

A Caravan approaching Ilaga, elevation 7500 feet. Runway 608m with a 7% slope and a mid-morning curfew

Once that initial mountain upgrade is complete it’s easier to upgrade to strips in the higher levels and I’ve since moved upto another level and been going into some really fun strips. Some of the strips have curfews which is nice because they are closed early and don’t even allow you the possibility of going in later when the wind, rain and cloud may have set in too much.

Jayawijaya Glacier at around 4 degrees south of the Equator, Stunning.

Still, I sometimes wonder how I ended up here; delighting in flying up valleys, landing on short runways at high altitudes with 10% slopes and having to be absolutely committed at a defined point. It is fantastic flying and I am very privileged in that respect but as I will post soon I’m beginning to feel like that is not enough.

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