No one would have believed since the last around the world challenge that the 2017 challenge preparations were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences far dumber than ours and yet as mortal; that as Mutley’s members busied themselves about their various concerns they were being scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Slowly and surely Putinfeld drew his plans against us.
With the baton safely in its top secret UK hiding place, the forces of evil were held in abeyance, but inevitably the hallowed object must venture forth to fulfil is annual task and circumnavigate the world again. This was its vulnerable time, its very raison d’etre was its Achilles heel, and it would be at this precious time that they would strike, that they would try to put an end to the ATWC once and for all.
Latest mug-shot of Putinfeld.
However the forces of good were labouring tirelessly to be more prepared than those outings that went before, this time there would be some covertly sanctioned but deniable support from Her Majesty's Government. This support took the form of a joint operation between MI5 and MI6. MI5 for those operations in and around Great Britain and its dependents, and, in a larger part by MI6 for international operations. A new temporary department was set up with a name that fairly represented the workload bias. MI5 ¾ was born.
Housed in some hastily converted space out of the back of the main MI5 building, MI5 ¾ was soon up and running. Initially thought to be a bit cramped even for a staff of just three, it was soon recognized as having the facilities to get things moving quickly. The three staff were my old friend Jasmine who, much to my surprise (not), was an MI6 agent, her liaison officer Rupert, and a guy from MI5, Bob Squirrel, who was just known as Squirrel.
Swanky new offices.
So far the baton remained unmolested, but it couldn’t be long before Putinfeld made his first appearance. It was anybody's guess when this would be, but now the baton was in Russia the danger was great. Putinfeld was known to have his main base is one of the exe Soviet countries, indeed there was some evidence that it was somewhere east of Moscow, but that was like saying it was somewhere on the moon for all it was worth.
It was decided by the powers at MI5 ¾ that I should apply for the Moscow Sheremetyevo to Astana (Kazakhstan) leg, just in case some new intelligence was received before I was to start my leg.
And so it came to be. Someone in Russia had done a dodgy deal and sold a tract of land near the Kazakhstan border to one of Putinfeld’s know front companies, It was worth a look and it came to be integrated into my leg. There were two problems: How to overfly the area, and how to get the hard evidence needed, preferably photographic, to convince HMG, (her Majesty's Government to those who don’t know), that there was a real issue with this man.
The answer to the second problem kinda solved the first one. I was to fly the leg in a Canberra PR9, a beautiful aircraft of late ’50 vintage built for the very task of photographing ground targets. I was to fly on the pretext that the aircraft was flying to Japan for an airshow later in the month. The flight plan for the Canberra was to be a direct line between UUEE to UCAA, and at 45,000 feet. This plan in such an old aircraft allowed for enough navigational deviation to cross the area of interest, and take some interesting pictures. The next issue would be getting the loaded cameras past the Russians.
The PR9’s F49 cameras were not small things. The lens was six inches in diameter, an on the back of the camera was a bulky film magazine. This is where Q and his department of ingenious gadgets came up trumps (nothing to do with Donald). The aircraft was to have all its cameras mounted but with no film magazine attached to them, nor were there to be any film magazines in the aircraft. Thus we could prove that we were not going to be taking any photographs with the aircraft, and in any event our 45,000 feet flight plan would be too high for these old cameras to be effective.
Now this is the clever bit. The lens area was modified to take a modern miniature ultra-high definition digital camera, invisible to all but a destructive examination of the cameras. The camera in a camera was Bluetooth linked to an android phone app for its operation. This meant that the navigation officer could take photos using the app on his phone, and the images would be of such high quality that flying at up to and over 45,000 ft. wouldn’t be a problem.
The PR9 was flown to Moscow ahead of me and was duly inspected and approved for the leg flight. They didn’t find the hidden cameras.
Once this was confirmed, I flew to Moscow and was kitted out for the leg, including the clever little app on my phone as a backup. My navigating officer was none other than Rupert, suitably kitted out and with a cover identity as ex-RAF personnel. He too had his own Android phone. The flight plan below was, filed. As you can see from the map below, our registered plan in black was for a direct route. But our intended route in red was to overfly a point on the Russian border with Kazakhstan.
Flight plan and actual plan
All we needed now was the baton.
Once we had news that the Baton was on finals, I made my way to the bar to wait for Tim. I had just settled down for a wait when I was pinged a text. He had arrived, and was in Burger King. I inwardly groaned as I hate fast food burgers and quickly necked my beer. After a fleeting feeling of guilt at the thought of flying with too much booze in me, I thought in for a penny, in for a pound and then I downed one I had bought him.
I headed over to Burger King. Tim was there eating what seemed to me a small skyscraper of meat, salad and bun. Red and white scunge was leaking out of the sides of this monstrosity and was dribbling down his chin and dripping onto his shirt. It was a sight that I wished I could forget the moment I saw it, however Pandora was out of the box.
Tim handed over the baton and offered me a bite of his burger which I gracefully declined whilst desperately trying to hide the sudden desire to chunder.
With that over, and with a baton which seemed to have a side order of tomato sauce and mayo I got into my flying gear and walked out onto the tarmac.
Our departure Airport
Rupert joined me and we hopped into an old UAZ jeep and speed off towards the apron near taxiway 20 where our aircraft was discreetly parked. We climbed into the aircraft, Rupert into the “coal-hole” and myself into the cockpit.
All ready and waiting.
Pre-start checklists done, we started the engines. Left engine first, the cartridge fired and black smoke belched out of the engine accompanied by a sound like a dentist’s drill which was soon replaced by the sound of the engine turning normally. The process was repeated for the second engine, and with all instruments looking god we were ready to taxi.
Permission given we taxied the short distance to runway 25R and were told to line up and wait. Takeoff clearance was given quickly and with brakes on we spooled up the engines.
Brakes on and spool ‘em up
Brakes off and we accelerated down the runway and were soon climbing over the Moscow suburbs.
Wheels up and climbing over Mother Russia
Soon the buildings below receded, getting smaller and smaller as we began our climb to our cruising height of 45,000 feet.
Through the thin cloud layer, leaving this to retreat far behind is as had the city of Moscow. We eventually reached 45,000 ft, the best operating height for the Canberra, although she could go higher but with diminished performance.
45,000 feet. See how dark the sky above is.
The weather was supposed to be good for our mission, with little cloud over our point of interest. For once the weather boys were spot on and we found ourselves cruising over minimal clouds.
Cruising at altitude.
As soon as we were out of Moscow controlled airspace we slowly we allowed our course to drift southward as we headed towards the target area that was of interest to MI5 ¾. There isn't much traffic above 40,000 feet in darkest Russia and so we received no interest from ATC as we continued to drift southward.
Banking over the area of interest to line up the cameras.
We settled into a rather dull cruise, mindful of Russian radar and ATC nonetheless. We were less than 50 miles from our target when we were lit up by a military radar, alarms flashed and hooted in the cockpit which instantly sharpened the mind, and browned the trousers. After 30 seconds the alarms stopped as suddenly as they started, the radar had been switched off. what a relief! The radio chirped up with ATC telling us that we were straying off our course and must turn to correct the drift at once. We had been spotted by someone who had alerted ATC, but didn't want to stay switched on long enough to be pinpointed themselves.
By this time we were over the target area, had commenced our bank to line up the cameras for taking photographs. Whoever it was lighting us up was too late.
Smile please. Click-click, click-click, click-click
Our High-Tec cameras went into action and after a minute of activity we had done the job. We then complied with the ATC instruction and headed back towards our intended destination.
It wasn't to long until we started our descent as we approached Astana. Permission to land was given without us having to hold and we were soon on finals for runway 04.
On short finals
Slightly rattled by the earlier military radar, I made a dog’s breakfast of the landing, putting the aircraft down an embarrassing distance from the centre line.
Not quite on the centre line.
I dug out the chart for Astana to work out where to go after we had received taxi instructions from the tower.
Our destination airport
We slowed to taxi speed beyond taxiway B and so had to run the length of the runway to taxiway A and then took P and B to reach the terminal buildings.
Astana terminal buildings
As I glanced at the terminal buildings I noticed that they looked very new and I commented on this to Rupert. He told me that the city of Astana had only been the capital of Kazakhstan since December 1997, six years after the country gained independence, and that as a result there had been loads of development in recent years. Before 1997 the capitol was Almaty, right down in the southeast of the country.
Taxi up to the stand
History lesson over, we were directed to a stand near the refueling point and once the aircraft was parked we went through the last of the checklists and shut the engines down.
Shut down and handed back to the RAF
There was an RAF crew waiting with some Kazakh minders and they took over from us. We had left the cameras in place and they were now the responsibility of the collecting crew.
I said goodbye to Rupert who stayed with the aircraft and I walked into the terminal buildings. I headed to the bar to find Brian. Our diversion meant I was late. Brian would have been in the bar a while. I hopped he wasn't to pissed, either in the ..off or ..as a newt meaning of the word.
It wasn’t until a few days later when I had flown back to the UK that I found out what we had photographed. The cameras left Russia in the diplomatic bag and were analyzed in London. This is what was found:
Above is the first shot we took of the plot of land bought by Putinfeld. It looks innocent enough, perhaps a farm? It is just inside the Russian border with Kazakhstan, let’s look closer…
Perhaps not a farm then!
Do you still think this is a farm? Notice what appears to be a double set of lines that surround the site, and the strange corners these lines have, and that there seems to be only one entrance at the bottom of the picture. This is a double razor wire fence with corners designed to be strong on defence and visability. The larger buildings are too big to be barns and seem to be some manufacturing or processing plant. There is a perimeter path, studded with white roofed watch towers.
The four square areas of land where the grass is browner than the rest hint at large underground buildings, the soil depth here is thinner than that around it because of the concrete structures below and so holds less moisture which in turn causes the grass to brown more quickly. Now look at the smallest black roofed buildings.
The one nearest the entrance is in its own square of uneven ground. This is the entrance to an underground store for something sensitive or volatile, hence its own wire fence around it. Its uneven surface and the two smaller areas of brown grass indicate something below.
The second small building is by a white circle, and is the most worrying. This is a blockhouse and offers access to an underground facility. It is the entrance to what lies below the white circle, or to be more accurate, the very large circular hatch, that is of the utmost concern.
This is an ex-Soviet Nuclear Missile silo.
Why has Putinfeld acquired a Nuclear ICBM base?