A VERY LARGE & SPOTLESSLY CLEAN AIRCRAFT HANGER
The day time temps in this area are generally in the low to mid 70's each day & it's perfect weather for hiking. Not to hot & not to cold but we won't miss the below freezing temps every morning once we resume our trek west in another month. Looking forward to warmer mornings once we descend out of the high desert here.
Wednesday afternoon we drove a few short miles over to the New Tribes Aviation location just east of McNeal to have a look at the facilities. Jeff Schaa met us outside & I was immediately aware we were in the presense of an enthusiastic professional who truly loved his job. Jeff is NTM's Aviation business director/treasurer & instrument flying instructor here in McNeal, Arizona.
JEFF SHOWING US SOME OF HIS AFRICA ARTIFACTS
We had been aware of an airfield in this area for quite awhile. While here last February & March we would often hear & sometimes see aircraft taking off from an airfield about half a mile east of McNeal. A week or so ago we decided to take a drive over that way & have a look at the airfield. We were surprised by the brick front gates & what seemed to be a whole community of houses & mobiles living quarters. Saw a few small airplanes parked in a roofed open area & some large buildings which we figured must be hangers. We have seen 'air parks' like these before (Columbus NM) where aircraft people get to-gether & buy their own aircraft facilities & live right there with their airplanes. We were to find out later this was not one of those air parks.......this was much, much more than that.
CLICK FOLLOWING PHOTOS TO ENLARGE & HOVER YOUR MOUSE OVER PHOTS FOR CAPTIONS
From the time we entered the main building at New Tribes Aviation we were in awe of what we saw because it was nothing like what we had expected. Jeff was the first clue himself, the well manicured landscaping outside was the second, & when we stepped through the double glass doors into the main lobby we knew there was more going on here than just a few old dusty airplanes with a bumpy dirt airstrip somewhere out in the desert.
IMMACULATE WORKING CONDITIONS
I am going to keep this blog focused on the facility itself & I will put in some links to the New Tribe Mission & what they are all about at the end. To try & explain their focus & purpose is too much for me because they are a far reaching global venture & their works are best described by themselves & those they work with. Better to have someone qualified in the ways of religion than me to describe the New Tribes Mission!! Let it be said though that this is a very close knit & dedicated group of people who have banded to-gether to help the less fortunate peoples of remote & far flung communities & lands & for those reasons alone they are to be commended in their efforts. I will however include this one quote from an NTM brochure: "Missionaries serving with new tribes Mission are planting churches among tribal people who have never before had the opportunity to hear the Gospel. NTM Aviation is their lifeline. They rely on the pilots and aircraft for supplies and equipmemt....news and encouragement."
Jeff first showed us his office & mementos of things brought back from Africa years ago where he & his family spent a number of years. Noticed how his office & other rooms close by were all well organized & spotless but it didn't prepare us for the main airplane hanger itself when we stepped through a couple of swinging doors. It was the hugeness of the hanger itself that first set us back & then we noticed the floor. The whole hanger floor was spotless despite the 6 aircraft & 1 helicopter sitting there. The high sodium ceiling lights reflected off a surface you could have eaten off or almost combed your hair in. No oil spills or dirty rags lying around. Large tool caddies sat interspersed among the airplanes with all the tools in their rightful place. No wrenches, sockets, pliers, nuts or bolts laying around anywhere. Directly in front of us to the right was a private owners blue Piper Cherokee with 3 men in various stages of work. Metal shavings had been found in the engine oil so a major engine overhaul had been done, the engine re-installed. The workers were in final stages of readying the plane for some final engine tests before flight.
Off to our left was the white & red body of a Cessna 185 that had been involved in a crash over in the Mule Mountains. It's wings were missing as were some interior parts. An instructor & student had run into a landing problem at the mountain airstrip there & the plane had flipped over onto it's back. No injuries except for a black eye. The plane was later de-winged & hauled down a mountain road back to New Tribes for repair. We next saw a new Cessna 182 which was in a final check-out phase before being partially dis-assembled, crated, & shipped to Indonesia for missionary work there. Jeff then showed us one of two Robinson R44 helicopters they have there. A blue Cessna 206 stood near the hanger door & was loaded with cargo & cargo netting behind the seats & at this point I should explain why.
The airport here in the desert near McNeal is mainly a training facility where the flying instructors train many of NTM's new pilots. Each pilot attending must already have his or her's commercial pilot license before coming to NTM's aviation training facility. The training here is much different than most places. These pilots are specifically trained in extreme short take off & landings because much of their work takes them to jungle & mountainous countries & locations. Jeff explained some of the new pilot's training. A white square is marked out on the runway & the new pilots are trained to land their aircraft in that box. As the training course progresses those white landing boxes become smaller. The airfield in McNeal is not the only landing strip New Tribes have in the area. Other strips are located in the surrounding mountains & the new pilots are trained to fly the mountain canyons putting their aircraft down on those small white landing boxes in ever increasing difficult situations. Hence the Mule mountain incident. The new pilot's must also learn how to pick up & properly load people & cargo in the small planes & they have to also learn how to drop smaller cargo packages from open windows or doors. Sacks filled with flour are used by trainees to hit small target areas on the ground. And, the training doesn't stop there!!
JEFF POINTS OUT A MAP OF THE WORLD WITH MISSIONARY FAMILY PHOTOS & WHERE THEY ARE ALL LOCATED
Jeff showed us a complete landing nose gear assembly in one of the workrooms. Each pilot must be proficient in repairing & maintaining his or her own aircraft no matter where it is. Jungle terrain, hill country, deserts, or wherever. Student pilots are also required to handle crash situations. In Sierra Vista there is a wave pool facility in which new trainees are required to work with life vests & various life saving techniques in heavy simulated wave conditions. No, this isn't just a dusty old run of the mill airstrip going on here. This is a State of the Art training facility.
Back on the floor standing beside the Cessna 206 Jeff explained how important it was to have cargo properly secured to prevent it from tumbling forward in case of a hard landing or hard stops. He also pointed out an extra storage pod on the bottom of the aircraft which looked like part of the aircraft itself. He said the cost for buying one of the those pods was about $12,000 so they made their own right on premises for less than a thousand dollars. As it turns out, they make a lot of their own parts here. A partially dis-assembled Piper Cub stood with it's engine exposed. Another major re-fit. It's one of the older aircraft, not too comfortable for lengthy flights, but still very useful for pilot training. He said a few years ago they used that aircraft for monitoring Parrots in the Chiricahuas. Apparently Parrots had been re-introduced there with implanted micro-chips or something & a survey was required to track them. He said only one was located & they actually flew right past it in flight.
Also in the main hanger building is a complete workshop for repairing damaged aircraft parts or completely manufacturing new tools & parts. There is no shortage of professional talent here & many of the staff are multi-functional. Engineering pilots, aircraft mechanics/painters/airframe specialists/etc. New pilot trainees are hands on people taking part in all aspects of anything having to do with their aircraft. All exceptionally talented people.
They have a complete parts department on the base as well, not only for their own use but as an outsource to their far reaching personnel & equipment far afield. If a request comes in from their sources in the Philippines, Indonesia, etc for an aircraft part, this is where it is shipped out from. Whether it be a broken strut or hydraulic part in a nose wheel they can ship it from their facility right here in McNeal, Arizona.
Outside the hanger is another building & that is where they can paint their own aircraft or match colors with rebuilt parts. Also in the same building on the mezzanine deck are other countless aircraft pieces & parts of all descriptions. All catalogued & accounted for. All ready to be utilized or shipped out at a moment's notice. Jeff also mentioned that New Tribes also has an airfield near Durham, Ontario & that is not far from where we live in Bayfield.
Some private planes are parked & stored nearby under an open sided roofed structure & there are several other large buildings housing equipment related to maintaining the airfield. One large structure is actually the first hanger building ever constructed in Arizona many years ago. No, this is no dusty little side of the road airport that's for sure.
Jeff spent a couple of hours Wednesday happily showing us the whole complex & we are very grateful he took the time out of his obviously busy day to do that. It's not everyday the Bayfield Bunch gets to see something as highly professional as this pilot training aircraft complex. All & all it was a great learning experience for us:))
Here are a few links regarding New Tribes Mission:
To-day, Thursday afternoon I spent an enjoyable 5 hours with Belle Starr working away on re-constructing her Blogsite. Belle had a full blown website up until a few months ago when it was dropped by her domain name hosting service. Took me awhile to familiarize myself with Belle's computer but we did manage to make some progress. Belle reminisced about her days in Nashville back in the 60's & 70's. She spoke of meeting Willy Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, & a young 20 year old Elvis Presley who she said was one of the nicest people she ever met. She was part of the music scene back in her heyday & has 2 published songs to her credit. Belle's 82 now & quite a gal. We have a lot of work to do on Belle's blogsite but were at least able to make a start to-day. I will post the link to Belle's blogsite as soon as we get a few more bugs out of the way:))
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GROANER'S CORNER:(( Needing someone is like needing a parachute. If a person isn't there the first time you really need them, chances are you won't be needing them again.
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The only thing better than right now will someday be the memories of right now....AL.