After getting my sea plane rating in Florida, I was riding on an emotional high. Everything was clicking along beautifully, and I was ready to fly commercially up to Chattanooga Tennessee, spend a short week at Gospel Ministries International, wrapping everything up loose ends with Todd’s Plane, and then fly it down to Guyana.
That was the plan… But what was was only supposed to take a week stretched out into nearly six weeks.
Now I’ve been in mission aviation long enough to know that even the most conservative estimates can be way off base, but never in my wildest imagination did I envision what would happen.
I knew with Todd gone, that his mantle had fallen on me, and it would take a Herculean push, to get the plane out the door. I didn’t realize how big of a push that would require.
Early on in the conversations with the mechanics, they projected that they could, get it finished up by September 1. I was pleased with this plan, because it fit neatly into my schedule. I could fly the airplane down to Guyana around the first of September and be ready to open up Paruima Mission Academy (PMA) right on time. But as September began to loom on the horizon, it quickly became apparent that that deadline was unrealistic.
After I arrived in Collegedale, one of my first stops was to go out to the airport to see what was going on with the airplane.
What I found was a hanger full of airplanes, and the lead mechanic trying to work on all of them, all at once. They did have a couple of retired volunteer mechanics working on Todd’s Plane, but they were only able to put in a couple of hours each day, because the main mechanic couldn’t get around the airplane until later in the morning and then would quit at 3:30pm each afternoon.
Most alarming was the rate at which we were being charged. While we theoretically had two part-time volunteers working on this project, the main mechanic (who is also a certified aircraft inspector), was charging us full price for his services. While he did excellent work on the plane, any extra funds in our maintenance account had all but evaporated away, and now we were looking at a deficit.
I also had a personal family challenge staring me in the face. Months before, Joy and I had talked at length about how best to coordinate our separate journeys so as to reconnect in Guyana. We both agreed that it would be better to put off her and our girl’s airline tickets, so as to insure that I would arrive first. But as Todd’s plane experienced more delays and set backs, it was obvious that they would arrive in Georgetown before I would.
Two days before Joy was to fly commercially to Georgetown, our really good friends, who were supposed to pick her up from the airport, were robbed at gunpoint. Now my family was going into this less-than-safe environment, and I was stuck in Collegedale with no apparent end in sight!
The final straw came when the main mechanic announced to us that he was going on a family vacation for two weeks and couldn’t do anything more on the airplane until he came back. I was stunned. I calculated that at the rate we were going it would take nearly five to six more weeks before we could depart. And who knows how much more money we would have to pay to get the plane airworthy. I simply couldn’t wait any longer
But how could I break it to the mechanic in a nice way without hurting his feelings?
The day before he left on vacation, as we were moving our airplane down to the GMI hanger. It tried to ease into the topic, but after a few failed attempts I finally blurted out. “I’m sorry, but we simply can’t wait until you get back before we finish this airplane. I have projects and people who are relying on me and the use of this airplane, and we can’t wait any longer. I’m going to have to get my own mechanic”
I could see that he wasn’t too happy that we were taking things into our own hands, but he provided us all the log books and extra parts for the plane.
Desperate for another solution I called a very good friend and fellow missionary pilot, and poured out the whole story to him. Steve Wilson currently works as a missionary, pilot, mechanic, and aircraft inspector in Bolivia and he’s helped us out on several occasions. At the time I called, Steve just “happened” to be an hour and a half drive from Collegedale.
He was originally planning to drive up to Canada with his family to renew his wife’s Canadian passport, but when he got wind of what was going on, their family dropped everything and within 24 hours Steve was at the GMI hangar starting over on the annual inspection.
That week Edwin Davidson (our newest missionary pilot for Guyana), Steve Wilson, and I each logged over 60 hours of labor on the plane. We would start in the morning and work till about 8:30 or 9pm in the evening. As Steve did the inspection and Edwin and I sorted through the jigsaw puzzle of assorted interior panels, and eventually got the interior put back together.
The big moment came over a week later when it was time to run the engine. With a prayer, a few shots of primer, and the turn of the key, the engine fired right up. Steve and I tensely watched the oil pressure gage as the engine started warming up. Ten seconds slowly clicked by and there was nothing. Alarmed at the lack of oil pressure, I was just about to pull the red mixture control nob, when all of a sudden the oil pressure came up… and up… and up…