Thunder Running in the Amazon 2:22:23
Thunder Running in the Amazon, February 22, 2023
It was another nice sunny and hot, very hot, early afternoon in Belem, Brazil in the Amazon River Delta 101 miles south of the Equator.
I was there for six months in the summer of 1990 working as the aircraft mechanic on the movie “At Play in the Fields of the Lord.” My job was to maintain the Dehavilland Beaver used in the film.
That day in August I’d just finished putting floats on the Beaver at the open-air Cruzeiro Hangar at the Belem Int’l Airport. The plan was for the plane to be used to ferry the actors and big shots to the Mission Location on the Rio Acara west of Belem. A float plane would be faster than a boat ride by an hour or so.
The film crew was put on the Ship from Hell moored at the Mission Location on the Rio Acara, but that’s another story.
After my work was done at noon, I called the production office and had a car and driver pick me up and take me back to the Belem Hilton where the actors and film crew were staying.
I then went down to the Tiki Hut Bar by the pool and started drinking Cerpinha beers.
I don’t like mixing work and drinking, but I figured my work day was done. NOTHING happens quickly in Belem. I’d told my boss, David Jones the famous stunt pilot and aerial coordinator that the plane was ready for transport to the Amazon River the next day. That was my mistake.
In an hour somehow Jones had arranged for a truck with a lift to take the plane across the runway to the old military base seaplane ramp on the river. Chris the pilot was already there. A car would pick me up and take me to the ramp for the test flight.
Shit! I’d already had about six beers or more. So I take the car and driver to the old amphibian ramp on the River. I tell Manuele, our Brazilian aerial unit liaison guy, that the tide is going out. (Tides in Belem go between 12 and 18 feet. This flushes the literal shit out of the city twice a day like a toilet, which it is.)
“You put the floatplane on the ramp when the tide is coming in so it floats,” I said.
Manuele was adamant that the plane would go on the ramp now and fly now.
So the truck sets the plane on the cement ramp and the water goes down. I’m in the water rocking this fecking airplane back and forth to get it down the ramp into the muddy opaque water. Great!
The plane floats. Chris the pilot climbs into the cockpit. I take the co-pilot’s seat. Manuele and Andrez, the other Brazilian from Rio on the Aerial Unit crew, sit in the back. Chris and I wear headsets so we can talk to each other. The R-985 radial engine is very noisy. Imagine the noise from 20 Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
The engine starts up and we head out into the Amazon for takeoff. As Chris gets the flaps down and the RPMs up I remind him to raise the water rudders on the floats.
After takeoff, I remind Chris to cut back on the throttle as the manifold pressure is above redline.
Chris says, “Let’s go buzz the crew at the Hilton.”
So off we go over a city of a million people in an old Dehavilland Beaver with a mermaid painted on the side.
Chris gets down to a few hundred feet, just over the hotel, and hits the throttle letting out a huge roar from the engine. I’m sure that grabbed some attention at the pool.
But it’s Belem, Brazil and there are no rules.
We then head east up to where the Rio Acara flows into the mainstream. Heading south up the Rio Acara, Chris decides to go thunder running with the floats just a few feet above the water and our wings well below the tree line on the shore.
The plane bends left and right following the river upstream. At one point a mostly naked man and child come running down a rickety dock to wave at us like madmen. Whether they were the madmen or us is debatable.
We reach the Mission Location and Chris runs the plane up onto a mudbank. He’s landed a bit rough and in the wrong place. I have to go out and push us off of the mudbank.
When I jump off of the float, I land in thick mud and sink up to my knees. A native onshore yells, “Bebido!” This means “drunk”. Maybe I was.
Maybe I had to be drunk to go on this mad mission.
I then had to crawl on the float to fix the water rudder steering cables as Chris had landed with the water rudders down. I guess he thought they were landing gear.
Then I pushed us off of the mudbank. Climbed back inside with my muddy legs, and we flew back to Belem where I was in for another surprise.
There was no dock at the Belem Yacht Club. There was a buoy. I was to go out onto the float and tie up the plane to the buoy.
That sounds great, but the propeller is turning two feet in front of my face.
I managed to tie us off and then a small motorboat came out to pick us up and take us to shore.
Just another fun day in Belem.
PS: The photo of the Beaver on the old amphibian ramp is from after the plane crash when we took it out of the river. But that’s another story.
2 thoughts on “Thunder Running in the Amazon, 2/22/23”
What a hoot
“When you feel yourself breaking down, may you break open instead. May every experience in life be a door that opens your heart, expands your understanding, and leads you to freedom.” Elizabeth Lesser 🙂
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