You know that saying, “The world is your toilet”?
Well, in Bangladesh, the country is your airstrip…if you’re a floatplane.
There’s no better bush plane you could have. With over 800 rivers and tributaries forming 24,140 km of waterways, and at least 18% of the country flooded every monsoon season, Bangladesh is like one massive landing strip for a floatplane. MAF currently accesses over 300 hard to reach water landing sites in the country.
In June I stepped onto a MAF floatplane for the first time in Bangladesh and I have to say, floatplanes are very cool on so many levels.
Just the idea of a plane landing on water is amazing. What lunatic thought of that? (If you want to know, and see some funky early designs, click HERE.) These guys had just barely figured out how to keep planes in the air when someone thought, “Hey! Let’s land it on the water!” Surprisingly, the actual landing is like setting down on a massive down comforter. It’s so smooth, if you weren’t looking out the window you might not realize you landed.
A Boat and a Plane
MAF has been flying in Bangladesh for 17 years, inspired to come following a devastating cyclone in the 1970s. Pilot Chad Tilley has flown this plane for eight years, and watching him makes you realize that he’s both a pilot and boat captain. He has to know his landing strips (water) as well as a bush pilot knows his dirt airstrips. But these landing strips move, and Chad vies for space with multiple other real boats. It can be a bit tricky. Just like a boat, it uses an anchor to stabilize in the water.
Hired boats sporting large red flags keep the competition out of the way for takeoffs and landings. In between, there is no keeping the crowds away. Nearby boats will fill with people to get closer to the plane. Children swim out and hover around the plane for as long as they can until they are ordered away for takeoff. They try to hang onto the floats and even when the plane starts up and begins to move, the teenagers will often attempt to swim after it.
When the plane is anchored on land, the crowds pour out of the trees and villages. One lucky boy or man is usually the designated anchor-boy. When MAF’s flight crewman, Raju, was growing up in a remote village, he acted as the anchor-boy. Now he works for MAF, throwing that anchor to the next generation of boys.
Flying for Life
The best part, of course, is what this remarkable little plane does, how MAF supports the work of many organizations that are trying to improve the lives of Bangladeshis with physical healing, clean water sources, real livelihoods, and holding back the water. Next blog post I’ll tell about a few of these, and you will agree this is a very cool plane.