It’s dry season in the Northwest Province of Zambia, and with it come different flying conditions…and sometimes, different landing conditions. So say Phil and Vella Smith, Flying Mission Zambia personnel.
"Mike 5-4, we are overhead Chavuma for landing, but having to circle because the airstrip is on fire!"
That was the message transmitted on the HF radio recently as Phil flew to Chavuma to pick up a passenger. Whenever he arrives overhead an airfield, he reports that he is overhead and landing. That day, as he arrived overhead Chavuma to pick up Bob Young for a meeting he was to attend at Sakeji, he found Bob’s vehicle parked in the middle of the runway and Bob and his wife, Beth, trying to put a fire out so he could land.
Because Jeff Speichinger does a good job of keeping the grass cut, the actual flames on the runway were small, but he was not too enthused about landing, even in small flames! To the downwind side of the airstrip the flames were reaching 10 feet high because of the longer grass, but the wind was blowing the smoke away from the runway.
When Bob got some of the fire on the strip out, Phil was able to land to the right and then as he got to an area where there was no fire, he was able to turn onto the burnt area and finish his rollout further down the runway. He and his passenger, Gordon Hanna, then got out and stamped out the fire on the runway itself, after which they climbed on board once again, now with Bob, and took off before the flames started up again.
All in a day’s work for a Flying Mission pilot…