My Account

To Ground or Not to Ground?

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from a letter by MAF pilot John Miller to his supporters in 1991. It discusses how John came to make a tough decision to ground an aircraft while serving in Indonesia.

After a day of paperwork shuffling on Monday, I traded my pilot hat for a mechanic hat and hopped a flight on the national airline to Wamena to help with a major 300-hour engine inspection on our helicopter. Even though I haven’t been too involved in helicopter maintenance or flying for the past five years, I happened to have the 300-hour inspection authorization. The heat was on: a normal three-day inspection crammed into two because the machine was scheduled to fly Thursday. By the time I got there, the other two pilot/mechanics had the engine out of the helicopter and had opened the compressor section, the critical “heart” of the engine.

An MAF helicopter that was based at a program in Indonesia.

And there it was. A tiny little dent on one of the rotor blades made when something like a grain of sand had hit those blades spinning at 50,000 rpm. After an hour of very precise measuring and consulting the service manual, I determined the damage was right at the serviceable limit. Go or no go? I looked at the last inspection form and the previous mechanic had indeed noted damage but had “passed” it. Precedent. Flight Ops was asking if the helicopter would be ready and the missionary/customer had wandered out to the hangar and asked, “You’re not going to ground it, are you?” Cash flow had been tight, so our spare compressor had only recently been sent to the States for overhaul (big $$) and wasn’t back yet, so we had no spare. Who knows how long the helicopter would be down if I grounded it. The other mechanics had opinions but stopped short of giving me advice since they knew I would be the one signing off on it. The ball was in my court. Groan.

We continued working on the other parts of the inspection as I vacillated, feeling sick with indecision. Finally, on Thursday I just walked over to the corner of the hangar and sat down on an old engine crate and looked back at the two guys working. My thoughts ran back to Nov. 4, 1982, when a compressor failure had put my helicopter in the trees nearly making history out of me. Every morning when I look in the mirror, see the scares and the bent, broken nose, I remember … that without God’s grace, I wouldn’t even be here. Put into perspective, the decision suddenly became easier as I thought about these guys and their families.

Predictably, there was some disappointment, but not as much as I’d anticipated!

But on Friday the compressor arrived from the U.S.! We’ll now be able to put the compressor on by Monday and everyone will be as happy as a clam.

Thank you, Lord: “Be anxious for nothing … give thanks … make your requests known unto God” (Philippians 4:6). Peanuts paraphrase: “Wasted a good worry.”


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