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Final approach to Kosarek International Airstrip in Papua’s Eastern Highlands. (Clive Gray)

Short Strips and Flying Pigs

When flying in Papua, be prepared for surprises.

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The fine folks at Moody Aviation did a standout job of teaching us aspiring missionary pilots how to keep an airplane right side up. But they didn’t teach us everything we needed to know to navigate the jungles—and cultures—in the Indonesian province of Papua. To better prepare young pilots, Moody might do well to consider situations such as:

From This Story

If someone has ridden in a seat with a bare bottom, do you have to clean the cushion or can you just flip it over?

If a tribal war breaks out around the airplane, do you intervene or join the side that appears to be winning?

Does the seat belt go outside the penis-protector gourd or inside?

Adult pigs, even when secured under a cargo net, are capable of shaking the airplane in flight. What degree of pig-induced vibration is the airplane structurally rated for?

On landing, when one or both brakes fail, what is the proper prayer to recite?

Moody used Cessna 185 Skywagon taildraggers to prepare me to fly Helio Couriers into short mountain airstrips. But flying in remote parts of the developing world is an experience unto itself, and Moody neglected to teach me how to fly while:

Laughing
Crying
Gagging
Panicking
Passengers are screaming
Pigs are screaming
Passengers are screaming because the screaming pigs got loose.

I had to learn all of the above, well, on the fly. My more experienced colleagues in Papua, who showed me the ropes when I first arrived, also withheld vital information, such as:

When a mother hands you her diaperless baby to hold while she climbs in the airplane, if it’s a girl, hold her out at arm’s length; if it’s a boy, hold him out at arm’s length and turn him 180 degrees.

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