While I’ve been recovering from my first flight, it seems the world hasn’t been kind to my fellow pilots. Russian spies, giant octopuses and a host of other issues remind me that the ATWC isn’t for the faint of heart, or indeed the sober. It’s a fact that was brought home to me late last year when I found the police raiding my home in Austria, certain I had in some why aided the boss with his “accounting practises” following on from the Paradise Papers release. To my good fortune, many of the Austrian police were woman, and an Austrian police woman can brighten any holding cell. That was months ago and both Lynda and I have gotten back to normality, or at least what passes for it here.
Right now through, I’m less than happy. At home it’s winter and a time for wrapping up. Goths love winter. It’s cold, dark and depressing. It’s just what you need after a long hot summer. The sun is never my friend. So finding myself in a South Pacific tropical paradise in the Southern Hemisphere summer is pissing me off. The island seems to be little more than an oversized sand bank with a Airport, a giant ring of sand and occasional green plant life. I expect to find David Attenborough discussing the life of some crappy turtle over every dune. Why am I even here? For this trip, I’ve brought my wife with me. This is partly to ensure I don’t slip into bad habits. No one wants a relapse into a 10000 piece jigsaw again. The main reason she’s here now though is to stop me killing my court appointed ‘helper’ (A kind description if ever there was one.) Eddie. Eddie , Like Lynda is here to keep me on the straight and narrow. However, if you look into Eddie’s eyes at any given moment, it’s clear the wheel is turning even though the hamster has passed on. He really does have the look of a cocker spaniel that’s run into a tree once to often.
Eddie’s job last time was to secure me an aircraft suitable for the job at hand. Last time he happily produced a 747 for my flight from Paro! I’m hopeful this time he’s done better.
Today’s flight is a long one, and it takes us across 5 time zones. It’s a trip of over 1700nm. We leaving at dawn to avoid as much sun as possible. The early breakfast at the hotel is unwanted, while the Black Coffee can’t come quick enough. Leaving the hotel the predawn Air is annoyingly warm, thick and sticky as thunderclouds dance menacingly around the skyline. Oh it’s going to be a fun day. I really hope Eddie has learnt from the Paro incident.
Having arrived at the airport, grabbing a quick coffee and a little food for later, just in case Eddie screws up the catering, we head of the pilots briefing room. As expected, the weather isn’t great. Thunder storms and unstable air are expected. The winds are gusty too. I actually hope Eddie has the 747 again, just for the added stability in the take off. Crossing my fingers i head out the apron as the thunder rumbles across the sky.
Through the flash of lighting, I see what Eddie has given me. The urge to kill rises and quickly. It turns out all Eddie took from the last incident was that big wasn’t good. So he went smaller. In front of me is a BAe 31 Jetstream. In a world of airliners this thing is a wannabe. There are gnats bigger than this. Hell the mosquito’s that have been chewing on me while I’ve been here bigger. With a range of only 800nm, size matters and I’ve got problems.
Sensing my annoyance, mostly because I’m threatening to make a crab’s supper out of him, Eddie hides in the terminal, calling me on my cell to avoid my direct wrath. I explain the issue, with as many swear words as possible, and I quickly work out a plan. We can take the Jetstream down to Totegegie airport, some 500nm away to the south east. That takes us to the edge of French Polynesia. While I’m in the air, Eddie will source an appraise Aircraft for the remaining 1500nm trip. I’ve emphasised the words ‘long range’ and ‘Airliner’ to him in the hope the hamster wheel may get the hint.
By the time I get done with Eddie and work out how to fly this little puddle jumper the storms have cleared, but the sun is coming up. The wind though is still on the strong side, and it means I’m heading to the other end of the runway for takeoff. That’s going out take a while. There’s precious little room on this island airport and the sea sits uncomfortably close as I taxi out. There’s not a lot to see in the distance, and with so few Islands around, I’m not expecting much of a scenic flight.
On the stroke of 5AM I advance the throttles and we’re off. The takeoff is smooth but once I’m up the aircraft feels ‘skittish’. With gusty winds and a tiny aircraft I think it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. It’ll also be a long flight. With 450+nm to cover in this insect, I need to get comfy. I also need a cup of tea.
Lynda heads off to the galley only to discover the cupboards are bare. This day keeps getting better and better.
Below the cloud shadows stretch out on the ocean as the day gets going, and I’m envious. I’d really like to be in bed now. Sleep would be great. However, the baton won’t get around the world without my help, plus it will make a handy weapon for when I smack Eddie upside the head. I’m worried about what the hell he’ll turn up with. He’s not really grasping how this all works. I think he’s just enjoying the chance travel. As chance would have it, i get a call over SELCAL. Eddie it seems needs more time. Hardly surprising, but to be firm but fair, i give him 24 hours to come up with something. I think he gets it and the radio falls silent. Lynda returns to the cockpit with a paper cup filled with iced coffee we bought at the airport, alongside a chocolate bar of dubious nature. Ah the breakfast of champions.
For next hour, the blank nothingness of the Southern Pacific fills the windscreen. There’s a moment of brief excitement when we spot a ship in the water below and occasionally there’s the odd sandbank island to spark interest, but little else. A game of eye spy would be pointless.
Just over an hour in and we cross our first timezone. It’s another moment of excitement in what is a fairly dull flight. Speaking of flight, the Jetstream is certainly an interesting aircraft to fly. She’s twitchy and even with the Autopilot on, we’re being gently rocked around. Add to that the temperamental engines. Like the Twin otter, you need to watch you’re RPM and EGT numbers or you’ll have a fire on your hands. I’m really hoping I can keep it all under control for the approach. Engines that have a habit of grenading themselves aren’t my favourites. That said, a little excitement might be nice. In hope of finding something fun, and just for something to do, I call ahead for the weather. The report is pretty meh. Overcast at 14000, light rain and and a wind of 15kts out of the east. Things may have gotten interesting. It’s not long until I meet the overcast layer and things start to get bumpy.
I begin the descent around 60nm out. The cloud is thick in places, but breaks do happen and soon enough I’m through. He island is still playing hide and seek though and I once again curse Eddie as we head into our unexpected landing site.
The weather isn’t that bad by the time we get closer the rain has stopped. The cloud however is much lower than forecast. We finally breakthrough at 2500ft and I spot the landing strip off in the distance. It’s hazy but the runway is just visible. It seems that the runway is the only man made structure on this particular piece of land. The main settlements seem to be in the centre of the lagoon. That’s a problem for future us though. For now I just need to get us down. The crosswind isn’t making things easy though. Never the less, we land and I engage full reverse. Damn the Jetstream screams as the full beta range kicks in. We slow quickly and I kick the throttles back to ground idle to taxi. We’re here, for now. Not that here is a place we want to be. Still there’s little to be done about it. Until Eddie sorts out a large enough aircraft for the next leg to Easter island.
We taxi up to the end of the runway, park up and shut down the Jetstream. It’s due to fly back to Hao later. We board a boat to the main island, leaving the airport and the plucky little Jetstream alone. We need to find a place to stay until Eddie returns. And return he does.
We're enjoying a nice lunch around 1PM when the peaceful tranquillity is shattered by the sound of jet engines. The noise bounces off the restaurant wall and the mountainside behind us. I don't know just landed, but from the look of surprise on the locals faces, it wasn't expected. Five minutes later my cell gets a text telling me to come to the airport. It looks like our stay in paradise is shorter than expected. We pay the bill and head for the dock.
The sight that greets us is definitely unexpected. Eddie's found a jet alright, and a passenger one at that. As we get off the boat, a mighty Vickers VC-10 stands towering above the buildings. Eddie greets me and explains where the hell he's found this. It turns out this particular VC-10 was stuck on the Falklands after the RAF removed them from service. She needed repairs and since parts weren't forthcoming, the local crew did the best they could. Finally A museum in Europe offered to take the old girl, paying to get her flight ready and to restore her to her original BOAC colours. Sexy doesn't cover it, and I'm wearing a smile as broad as a sunset. The crew were heading out from Port Stanley this morning when Eddie got in contact. They happily rerouted for the promise of drinks on Easter Island curtesy of the GIZA card. I don't care either way. Its time to get going.
It takes an hour to get the VC-10 refuelled and ready. Shockingly the tide has come in since we landed this morning, leaving the airfield surrounded by water. Taxiing is a damn sight more difficult it seems. I get the engines running while the crew who flew her in get comfortable in the cabin with the bar. The Engines whine into life and the noise is deafeningly good. At just past 3 I taxi out carefully and then open the throttles. She Accelerates quickly and before to long we're airborne. I wave good bye to our unexpected stop over and make for FL300.
Once in the cruise, the VC-10 proves to be slick, happily cruising at Mach 0.8. If I'm not careful she'll go even faster, topping out close to the speed of sound. This makes the next 1600nm pass quickly. Well that and the ensuring party in the cabin. Apparently Eddie has gotten into the good scotch. Unlike the last flight, the cabin is fully stocked with tea, meals and even a few packs of Austia's favorite biscuit, Manner wafers. As darkness falls there's precious little to see out of the Window. There are more people on board the aircraft than in a 200 mile radius for most of the flight.
The time eventually comes to descend and I pull the throttles back and pitch down. So far I'm liking the VC-10 at speed. As we start our approach though, the speed comes off and the flaps come down. The difference in handling is incredibly pronounced. Gone is the fighter jet nimbleness, replaced with a concrete block swimming in glue. With the gear down and flaps set to full, the aircraft is massively heavy and lethargic. I need a lot of power just to maintain my rate of descent. I manage to glide her onto the runway and engage the reverse thrust. We slow and the aircraft becomes dead weight again.
Exhausted I taxi back to the gate and park up. Lynda and I need a drink and a good meal. The relief crew are just getting nicely stewed and Eddie is passed out along a row of seats at the back. It's been a long day, but finally leg 2 of the ATWC comes to end. The Baton arrives on Easter Island safely, and the GIZA card is about to get a hammering.