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Flight from Belém to São Luis, Brazil

15 December 2007

We are airborne again, finally! We have acquired the Brazilian emotion "saudade" (sadness and longing for someone or something), and are feeling it already for our friends in Belém. At the same time, we are extremely happy to get going again.

We have spent the last two months off and on working on the airplane and visiting with friends. We made good friends with the owners of the hotel, the mechanics and painters at the hangar, other pilots and various guests passing through the hotel.


We had a few delays waiting for parts, and this allowed us to explore Belém's architecture, musical events, festivals and museums. The last task we had to complete was probably the most comic of all.

There is a "walking beam" for the elevators (the parts of the plane that go down and up when you push the yoke in and out). This walking beam is installed in the tail of the plane, and is an integral part of the assembly, connecting the rods coming from the yoke in the cockpit to the elevators at the tail. Our eagle-eyed mechanic noticed a lot of play in the walking beam, and said we should replace the bearings.

So we removed the piece, an all-day affair using various pairs of hands and tools, and ordered new needle bearings from the USA. Since we didn't have a part number for the bushings, when the bearings arrived we had Mauricio make some new bushings in his machine shop. We asked Mauricio to install the bushings and bearings into the walking beam as well. Things were moving along pretty well until he tried to clean the walking beam on a spinningwheel, and the aluminum split, forcing us to request him to build a completely new aluminum piece. Worse, the aluminum piece had small steel plates mounted on either side, and the entire assembly was held together with a specialty fastener, huckbolts. We would have to remove the huckbolts for him to build and install the new piece. We disassembled the walking beam and gave the aluminum piece to Mauricio, and set up about trying to find fasteners. Huckbolts are not available at all in Brazil, but steel rivets are, so we ordered the rivets from Sao Paulo. We were told that they would be delivered within 2 days.

Working in the hangar was good for a lot of laughs. The mechanics, painters and other workers were all really kind, good-humored, laid-back, and quick to lend a hand. Gregg's moustache was a focal point for jokes, usually about shaving it off. One morning we came in to find the airplane with a moustache drooping on either side of the spinner (the cone at the front of the airplane). Sargento, one of the mechanics, called his work of art "bigode voador" ("the flying moustache"). Sargento, in turn, was called "gay" by the other mechanics, although one of them kindly stood up for him saying that he was gay "only at night". We came in another day and found the towbar and the chocks for the front wheel had been painted for us.


Meanwhile, our current overflight permit - the paperwork that allows us to fly around in Brazil without importing the airplane - would expire in a little over two weeks. It was time for me to start the process again, writing a letter of request, making notarized copies of all of the airplane documents and so on. When you request an extension of the overflight permit in Brazil, you must specify an International airport to which to send the new permit. As we were only 3 days away from having the plane reassembled - it couldn't possibly take more than a week, could it? - I chose São Luis, our next destination, and a little over 2 hours away by plane.

After waiting for 11 days for the rivets to be delivered, we were down to 4 days on our overflight permit. When I called ANAC, the agency that issues the overflight permit, to request a change of airport, I got the cheery news that the permit was waiting for us in São Luis. Our ANAC buddies in Brasília had inexplicably written the new permit in less than 14 days, a lightning-fast turn-around for this paperwork. To avoid being grounded in Belém we would have to reassemble the walking beam and make the 2+ hour flight to São Luis.

We reassembled the walking beam with the rivets on hand, vowing to fly her gently and in only smooth skies. We finished our goodbyes with a dinner with Eloizio and Goretti and a churrasco (cookout with lots of beef) party on the second floor patio of the hangar.

Saturday's skies were clear when we finished the paperwork at the aeroclube Julio Cesar in Belém and started her up at 13:45 zulu (UTC). We had filed IFR along route G677 at 5,000 feet. Airborne 24 minutes later, we are level at 5,000 within 6 minutes after take-off.

The weather is beautiful and the flight uneventful. As we approach São Luis we are advised that the threshold is displaced 650 meters due to renovations on the strip, as per the NOTAM (NOTices to AirMen, published information relevant to flights). We timed our arrival pretty well, and the strip closed 1 hour after we landed, for continued renovations.

16:07 UTC we are on the ground, and a few minutes later we are in the office with Alves, of ANAC, who is checking the new overflight permit. Alves is a great guy and shows us pictures of Foz d'Iguaçu, where he used to work and where we are planning to stop on the way south.