formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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February 24, 2009 Mission flying, part 1

The Liberty Gazette
February 24, 2009

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

So there’s another Christian missionary from Liberty in Southern Sudan. We haven’t met, so I thought, what are the odds? I guess it was when I heard his last name was Ford, the same last name I was born with, I figured I’d better place a call, just to say hello. It was Bob Ford who answered the phone. I’d heard his name and was certain I’d seen him around town. But the fact that his son, Greg, is a missionary in Southern Sudan was news to me. Going to Central Africa first as a student pilot and again as a private pilot, I was fascinated with how much more there was to learn, and especially the idea of mission flying.

Greg and his family have been in some of the same cities I have visited in Sudan, although I have also been to Rwanda, Congo, Uganda. We enter through Nairobi, Kenya, and then charter a small plane to go deeper into Africa. The first time I went we flew a Cessna 208 Caravan to Entebbe, Uganda, site of the 1976 Raid on Entebbe. The Airbus A300 still sits there, an eerie sight that gave me reason to read up on the incident that happened when I was a child. The Israeli Defense Forces raided the Entebbe Airport in a counter-terrorism hostage rescue mission. 238 passengers had been aboard when Palestinian and German extremists hijacked the Air France plane. Held up in the airport terminal, Captain Michel Bacos and his crew refused to leave their passengers when the terrorists gave them a chance. The rescue was incredible and that airplane, still there 30+ years later, serves as a reminder of it all.

The Israelis are not to be messed with. The shots that woke us at 2 a.m. in Nairobi didn’t bother us much because our hotel was across the street from the Israeli Embassy. I figured they got their man.

I got to co-pilot on the Caravan. It’s a single-engine turboprop and while it seats 10, a little bigger than the four-seat Cessna 172, it basically flies the same. Navigation over there is a bit different. It’s mostly pilotage and dead-reckoning because they don’t have the navigation aids we have here. They do, however, have GPS, and that certainly helps. But that GPS was an older model and had to have all 78 waypoints individually programmed by lat-long. The captain let me do that job before taking the yoke. I must have done okay at the controls because he signed a page for my logbook that says, “Better than autopilot!”

The Cessna Caravan is a popular airplane for mission flying and for flying cargo and small charter trips to remote areas; a workhorse type of airplane with a noticeable square-shaped belly for lots of baggage space to meet its 1500-lb payload. The Caravan only needs 1,160 feet to take-off fully loaded (your take-off distance may vary with temperature and altitude), another feather in its cap for mission and bush flying.

When I contacted Greg about this week’s piece he wrote, “I've flown some similar flights into Sudan. There are now scheduled flights on Eagle Air from Entebbe three times per week. It only takes about two hours. Even when we would fly into Arua in northern Uganda, the drive from there to Yei, Sudan used to take a bone-jarring 14 hours. As long as you get there alive, the worst flight beats ground travel!” Ah yes, I do remember.

Mike and Linda can be reached at

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