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Found 2 results

  1. Ah, Cambodia! I hated it when I first flew here back in the late 1960’s and I still hate it now. Back then, though, I wasn’t spending much time on the ground in the country. However, since then, Cambodia has been good to me and it has made me a wealthy man, flying any cargo for profit - and I do mean “any”'. It all started when I was flying for Air America and when those operations ceased in the mid 1970’s I took leave of my service to the government. I slipped into Phnom Penh and set myself up as a mercenary pilot for hire and I would take on any job, just as long as the price was right. After a few years my small outfit was doing very nicely and I was able to be more selective with the jobs I accepted. Ultimately, I moved my operational base north, to Siem Reap, bought a villa in an exclusive part of the city, my castle, and settled into retirement. Things had been quiet for a while, hell, I had retired early in life and was now just enjoying life and fine Aussie red wines and single malt Scotch. I would still take the occasional job, not because of the money, but purely for the love of flying. This mainly involved tourist flights and it was a good way of keeping in touch with the rest of the world. Anyway, after a day of such flights, I returned home to be given a message by my house maid. Someone by the name of “hlminx” had called looking for me and simply left a message to meet her at the Khmer Kitchen Restaurant tonight at 8.30, nothing else, no contact number, nothing. Shit, I hadn’t heard that name in over 15 years, surely it was some kind of joke. After a refreshing shower, I settled into my chesterfield in the library, with a generous Laphroaig and a fine Cuban cigar. I must have stared at the message on that piece of paper for what seemed like an hour as memories of my past filled my mind. Steph, “hlminx”, was an old friend, but the winding river of life had taken us in different directions. We had lost contact with each other and Siem Reap was the last place I expected to see her, and certainly not at a place like the Khmer Kitchen. The Khmer Kitchen is over in the less salubrious and sordid part of Siem Reap, Pub Street, popular with the tourists, but somewhere where you want to constantly watch your back, your wallet, and your family jewels. During my life I have often been accused of “having a certain reputation with the ladies”, as they say, and I was only reminded of this again recently - oh how the naturally friendly and outgoing Aussie disposition can be so misconstrued. Anyway, I knew better than to betray my friendship and mess with Steph in such a manner. On the way to the restaurant, my mind wandered back to the days of the small flight training school I owned. Steph was one of my first trainee pilots and also one of the most naturally gifted pilots I have ever known. Once qualified, she then worked for me as she continued to add to her flight hours and type ratings before setting out to conquer the aviation world. But what was she doing in Cambodia? And why the cryptic message to meet her in a restaurant on the darker side of town? Arriving at the Khmer Kitchen, it was a typically narrow, little eatery, poorly lit, and with dining booths down each side. I was shown to a booth at the rear and in the dim red glow I could see Steph, and even in the poor light, after all these years, it was if she hadn’t changed. We settled into the usual small talk as we ordered drinks and dinner, catching up on the passage of time since we last saw each other. As we mulled over dessert, I finally broached the subject of why all the subterfuge, dark back streets, and a dingy little eatery. Leaning forward and lowering the tone of her voice, Steph revealed she was in a spot of trouble, or more to the point, a girlfriend of hers was in trouble. The two of them had been on a global tourist trek taking in the various “wonders of the world” and UNESCO world heritage sites. As it happens, Steph’s companion had succumbed to the recent fad of baring all at such historic places. I was familiar with these antics as the local authorities had really cracked down on it at Angkor Wat. Well, Steph’s companion had been caught doing exactly that and having had her passport confiscated, she was now destined to await her trial and likely prison sentence – the Cambodian authorities don’t take these antics lightly, no sense of humour either. So, this is obviously where I come in, I thought to myself. Steph needed to arrange safe passage for her girlfriend and needed someone she could trust to spirit the both of them out of Cambodia. Steph knew the authorities were keeping tabs on her movements and she had to be careful. It was only by chance that she saw my business name in a tourist brochure that she realised it could only be me and that I was now living here in Siem Reap. If there was anyone capable of whisking them out of Cambodia and to safety, Steph knew it was me. This was going to be a little tricky but nothing I couldn’t manage. Finishing up with dessert, timing was now of the essence and we needed to move quickly before the authorities realised that anything was afoot. I needed a day to make some “arrangements”, but trying to get the girls out via Siem Reap Airport wasn’t an option. The flight planning was going to be critical, but I had options there, I just needed the girls to make their way to Krong Battambang tomorrow as if they where continuing with their normal tourist plans. They were to then meet me at Battambang Airport at 8.30am the day after. Heading home, my mind vacillated between the thrill and excitement of the adventure and “I’m too old for this shit”, but what could I do, it was Steph and if I had been 15 years younger……….no, wait, stop, this is Steph remember! Either way, I was glad to be getting out of Pub Street with the family jewels safe and sound. The next morning I pulled out one of the regular flight plans I use for an extended tourist flight. Departing Siem Reap Airport, it overflies Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom before heading southwest to Battambang and then over the Cardamom Mountains to Krong Kremarak Phoumin on the coast. Following the coast down to Krong Preah Sihanouk I would normally then turn northeast to Phnom Penh and then back to Siem Reap. Well, at least that’s the flight plan I will file. In this instance, though, once we reach Krong Preah Sihanouk, I will initially make the turn for Phnom Penh, but then descend to tree top level in the mountain range that is Preah Monivong Bokor National Park. I can then work my way south through the forest valleys and over the coast, dropping down to 100 feet ASL and make for Tho Chu Island, a Vietnamese island in the Gulf of Thailand. This will enable me to disappear off radar and clear Cambodian airspace as quickly as possible - I remember a Malaysian guy doing something similar a few years ago, but in a much larger aircraft, and very successfully, he, the aircraft, and everything on it were never seen again. From Tho Chu Island we will make for the Matak NDB on Matak Island, before turning southwest for Singapore and the safety of Changi Airport. Next question, which aircraft? Endurance is going to be a factor, but it has to be one which doesn’t attract unnecessary attention. If there is going to be anything I take with me, it’s my old favourite, and one which I flew regularly for Air America, the Cessna 337, an O-2 in its original livery that I picked up at a government sale, but also one which the local authorities see me flying regularly, so it won’t attract too much attention until we are at least outside Cambodian airspace. Now, weight and endurance, because this flight plan is beyond the limits for reserves. Sihanoukville Airport is too large, so Koh Kong Airport (VDKK) or Matak Airport (WIOM) are the more viable options for a “splash and dash” refuel, with Koh Kong presenting less of a problem rather than having to deal with the Indonesian authorities on Matak Island. A few local calls to make some necessary arrangements and finally, a quick call to an old mate in Singapore. Arriving at my hangar at Siem Reap Airport, it all just appeared to be another normal day. I pull down the METAR. VDSR 050000Z 09004KT 9000 SCT015 SCT040 26/26 Q1009. The weather looks reasonable with it improving en route and at Singapore. The ground crew had pre-loaded the girl’s luggage last night under the cover of darkness. With the pre flight done and two of the crew on board as “tourists”, we get clearance to taxi to Runway 05. Take-off clearance followed without any delay and I was soon seeking clearance through the “Charlie” airspace, followed by the hand-off to Phnom Penh Centre. Everything was going to plan with my actual take-off time of 7.50am being five minutes ahead of schedule. Contacting Battambang Tower, I was vectored for a left downwind for Runway 07 and we landed at 8.10am precisely. The precious cargo was waiting and after a quick switch around, the girls were now boarded and we were ahead of schedule. Turning onto our course for the Cardamom Mountains - you can see why the Khmer Rouge were so at home in this jungle terrain. Approaching the coast, I was still undecided about the “splash and dash” for fuel at Koh Kong Airport. Leaving it a little late, I decided to go with my original plan, and not without comment from Steph that I was getting indecisive and slow in my old age. After a quick refuel we were soon airborne again and tracking down along the beautiful Cambodian coast towards Krong Preah Sihanouk. Passing overhead Krong Preah Sihanouk we initially turn northeast in the direction of our filed flight plan and Phnom Penh. Heading for the Preah Monivong Bokor National Park, we drop down to tree top level. Now, Steph is a good pilot, but she has never done this kind of flying and the look on her face showed it. Passing over the ridgeline, we drop into the valley below, I switch off the transponder, and grab the ELT I have stashed under the seat. Switching it on, I drop the ELT out the window and start to weave our way through the valleys and back to the coast. After a short dash across open country, we cross the coast at 200 feet, before dropping down to 100 feet ASL. Using the island of Phu Quoc to conceal us, we pick up our course for Tho Chu Island and begin the long uneventful stage of our escape. By the time the authorities even have the first SAR aircraft searching for a non existent crash site, we are long gone. Not before long, Tho Chu Island appears on the distant horizon. Beyond it though, a vast open expanse of ocean – rather a good place to hide a large airliner I would think. The next few hours pass aimlessly by. It was just like a minute passed, followed by another minute. Quickly another minute passed. It really is times like these that I am grateful for Monty Python humour. Finally, Matak Island comes into view. Time to climb and pop up on the radar. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the radio call came through, “Unidentified aircraft, identify yourself.”. This is where I hope that final call to Singapore was not in vain. After passing the code, there was a brief silence that seemed like an eternity, finally the radio crackled back into life, confirming, “Continue own navigation and take care of that precious cargo.”. Oh, too right I will me mate. We were now cleared for the final 180 odd nautical miles to Singapore, Changi Airport, and a safe haven. The radio chatter had disturbed the girls from a restful slumber but the looks on their faces was precious as they realised it was all clear skies from here. The remainder of the flight was uneventful and as the clouds parted, there was Singapore coming into view. Singapore Approach cleared us straight in for Runway 20 centre, and as I was intercepting the ILS, Steph was still pestering me to know more about that call to Singapore and how I had pulled this little escapade off. Other than teasing her with snippets of this being child’s play compared to when I flew for Air America, I told the girls to meet me in the bar at Raffles Hotel for dinner and all will be revealed…..no, no, no, not that kind of reveal, just meet me in the bar. The landing was perfect, even if I do say so myself, and even Steph was impressed, but we had a long taxi to a far away distant corner of the airport and a long way from the main terminal - all the better really. Two cars where waiting for us, one to take the girls to their hotel, and the other to take me to a debriefing - yeah, a debriefing. It would seem I may have told a little white lie about being fully retired and having taken leave of my service to the government. At least now I just freelance and the money is better than it ever was. What’s more, there has been no shortage of fair maidens and damsels in distress that needed rescuing either. Later that evening the girls met up with me as arranged. With suitable refreshments in hand, I lead the girls over to a table in a quiet corner with a gentleman, I use the term loosely, sitting with his back to us. Ladies, I would like to introduce you to Brian, my closest friend and confidant. Now Brian works for the government, but that’s all I can say about it, and it his gifted ground work that got us to safety. Now Steph, like you, he was also one of my potential flying prodigies. However, where you are the most naturally gifted pilot I have ever trained, Brian here, is the most naturally clumsy and incompetent pilot I have ever had the misfortune to befriend. Though, when you need someone to pull strings, tend a poly tunnel, or pinch a nerve in your neck doing something stupid up a ladder, my little buddy here is the main man – and doesn’t he just make such a pretty picture.
  2. Leg 10 Part 2 - Wusu (ZBYN) - Lukou (ZSNJ)

    Part 2 All the airlines [China Eastern, Shandong and Shenzhen] were booked up for a direct flight, and any option via Beijing was both unappealing and hideously expensive. GA isn’t really my cup of tea, but the military was out (even for the baton), so it was looking increasingly likely that I would have to hire a GA aircraft and face the 500nm leg in something a lot smaller than what I am used to. After about the third day of scratching around looking for a suitable aircraft (and someone who didn’t mind travelling to Nanjing for the day, I was approached by an older gentleman with a gleam in his eye. “You look for plane?” With most of my options exhausted, I felt I had no choice but to talk to this stranger and see what he had to offer. First I had to buy him a drink, of course, to sweeten the deal. “I offer you plane. Big plane. Old plane.” Intrigued, I asked him what the aircraft was. I hadn’t noticed anything unusual in Wusu whilst I was finding out a lot of useless information that had no relevance to the challenge, or life in general. I had noticed a few more people arrive in the bar, and they all acknowledge the man with a smile and a curious twitch. “Turn up tomorrow at 0300 and find out”. What is it about the Chinese and stupidly early starts?! Anyway, that left about 5 hours for sleep. Hopefully no inspectors turn up and find out! It was, naturally, dark by the time I arrived at the airport, having had great difficulty in finding anything in the town. What I found when I arrived at the gate, I wasn’t expecting at all……. A fully functioning (I think) KC-97L. A C-97 freighter with refuelling equipment and added jet engines. Why not?! I was assured everything worked. So when I sat down into the captain’s seat and switched on the cockpit light, I was expecting, erm, light. Luckily the crew that had been assembled knew where everything was. This is starting to seem a little bit suspect…. The runway lights did little to illuminate the interior of the cabin as we accelerated down the runway Climbing out One nice thing about flying at night is seeing the stars The first signs of dawn appear on the eastern sky Flying over a large town Dawn over China Ploughing through the sky at 25,000ft. Hardly elegant but it’s doing the job Making the turn towards Nanjing My guide then motioned that I should join him in the rear of the aircraft. To watch the refuelling boom be extended and the light show that goes with it All tidied back up again, we carry on to Nanjing, with the descent starting Flying past Dajiaochang (Z08T). Nice railway station there My rusty flying skills showed up, with the airport exactly 90 degrees away and about 10nm to run Turning onto finals and a bit high Touchdown was a little bit left of centre, but still on the tarmac! A Beech departed after we vacated the taxiway. Slight difference in ‘personal' aircraft size! And parked up. At this point, my guide thrust a piece of paper in my hand, and ran. Immediately. Sensing that Putinfeld could be behind this bizarre leg, I checked my flight bag. It had been gone through, but nothing stolen, and the baton was still where it should be. The GISA card had moved slightly, but I presumed this was due to landing. I opened up the piece of paper Not knowing much Chinese, I didn’t have a clue what it meant. However, I didn’t like the look of it. I passed on to an airport security guard to explain it to me. Then checked the bank balance Oh dear. I think my pay rise has evaporated. You always wanted a KC-97 didn’t you Joe? Aircraft bought: Manfred Jahn / Team Stratofreighter C-97 Collection (FSX) The text of the above "item"