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Flying a Desert Diesel

Early morning desert air. The crisp, need-a-jacket kind of air. Sky bright, but the hangar and scattered mesquite trees still cast long shadows. Preflight done. Last thank you handshakes complete. Time to work. I climbed into the Cessna C-182 cockpit. Closed the door, but opened the window. Cold air swirled around the cabin as I adjusted the seat and fastened my safety harness.

The panel of the diesel powered airplane differs from a standard Cessna C-182. Photo by Jim Manley.

My hands smelled funny as I followed checklist steps. Item number 10 said “Pre-Heat – On” I flipped the switch up. A moment later the yellow light illuminated signaling a hot glow plug. No engine priming required. No cranking through several propeller rotations. Neither ignition key, nor magnetos to check. The engine had no ignition at all. I turned the starter key and the diesel engine sprang to instant life.

The diesel airplane prior to preflight. Photo by Jim Manley.

Standard C-182s burn Avgas (aviation gasoline). But this airplane used Jet-A fuel that smells like diesel. It’s the same thing airliners use. In the developing world, we have trouble getting Avgas. And when we do find a source, they charge—a lot. Also, a standard C-182 uses 13 gallons of Avgas per hour, but the bird I flew only 8 or 9. Clearly more economical.

I stuck my hand outside into the air blast, waved to the small group, pulled the window closed and taxied along the gravel strip to the takeoff position. In a few minutes I was in the air taking a pristine gift from the NTM Aviation base at McNeal, Arizona (73 miles southeast of Tucson) to MAF’s base in Nampa, Idaho. NTM (aka Ethnos360) donated this bird to MAF-US. We’ll do some modifications then donate it to MAF-International for service in Chad, Africa.

While crossing northern Arizona, Jim chose to fly along the left or western side of these mountains to take advantage of the updrafts created by the westerly wind. Doing so allowed him to fly 15 knots faster. Photo by Jim Manley.


Crossing the Grand Canyon at 11,500 feet through a special air corridor. Photo by Jim Manley.

A couple hours after takeoff, as I climbed to 11,500 feet to cross one of the Grand Canyon’s special air corridors I wondered, “Why send this unique airplane to Chad?” The terrain below offered an answer. The north central African desert remains one of the most isolated places on our planet. But how was that different from the miles of desert below me? In Arizona, if I needed it, I could call for help. In Chad, however, MAF is the help.

Chad, Africa. 
The northern dessert of Arizona looks as barren as its counterpart in Chad, Africa. Photo by Jim Manley.


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