Denny tilted sideways in the aircraft seat just enough that I could catch his voice above the engine hum. His message brought sweat to my palms.
The missionary pilot had directed the aircraft westward, above East Africa’s plains. The Cessna was a baby fly at the foreground of the continent’s most stunning monument, Mt. Kilimanjaro. Massive. Majestic.
We had lifted off from Moshi’s small airport and were bound for remote preaching outposts. Five of them. Each outpost was marked by a small gathering of Maasai huddled under one or two trees or beneath a shiny tin roof indicating a village schoolroom.
Denny’s passengers also numbered five, meaning the Cessna 206 was at her half-dozen capacity.
“Every three weeks or so I fly young evangelists to these outposts, leaving them one by one at each preaching point”, Denny had said when inviting me along. “They share with any locals gathered who want to learn about God. I myself offer a short teaching at the final spot on the circuit. Afterwards I retur home, retracing the earlier route, collecting the young men once again on the way.”
Denny said travelling by air cut the travel time for such a venture by days.
By now, we had touched down and taken off a couple times.
We departed the most recent dirt strip where we had left the third preacher-trainee. It was near this time my French pilot friend began cluing me in on particulars of our next landing site.
“So, now we will be coming, in about fifteen minutes to an unusual landing place. It is among that range of peaks there.” The landscape ahead was varied, featuring moderate elevations merging with steep green slopes revealing spherical volcanic outlines. Nothing of the terrain hinted at flatness.
As we flew, several distinct bumps alerted us to updrafts. We were passing within near range of one of Africa’s towering escarpment cliffs.
The missionary’s accented monologue resumed. “We approach soon the most difficult landing strip I visit in all the region.”
It was here that my palms began moistening. This, despite Denny’s steady, undramatic, near-casual manner. What does ‘most difficult landing strip’ actually mean? For Denny. For me. Today?
He seemed in a mood to describe something of our coming destination. In more detail than I would prefer.
“First, the terrain near this village has few suitable places for landing a plane, so the length of the strip is quite short.
“Then the landing/take-off space lies slanted a bit – uneven, not quite flat – resting at the edge of a greater slope. . .”
The aircraft brought us nearer the village and, in the distance the ribbon of runway came into view. . .
My instinct here was to wave a friendly hand – further moistened by now – to signal satisfaction with the amount of info he had supplied. I did not.
“And, finally”, Denny went on, “there is the wind. Up here it is seldom moving the direction best suited for landing and takeoff.”
Our descent was well underway. Apart from the queasy feeling brought on by the data just delivered me, I relished taking in the wonder of the volcanic mountain landscape rising to meet us.
With a talent common to seasoned bush pilots alone, the Frenchman brought the airplane safely in. A smooth, entirely glitch-free landing.
Denny’s performance, in my estimation, confirmed the viewpoint of a person whose opinion should count for something. . .
It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill. – Wilbur Wright
© 2017 Jerry Lout