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Found 3 results

  1. 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.
  2. The sound of my alarm clock in the early hours was most unwelcome, but necessary, as I would need to get moving before it got too hot. At 1am the temperature was in the high 20s but usually dipped by a few degrees between 2 and 4am, so that would be the best time to depart. Dale drove me to the Airfield and helped me check over the Ag Waggon by parking in front of the aircraft so I could do my walkaround in the headlights. The fuel had been loaded as I had requested. I would be within weight limits but I was grateful for over 5200 feet of runway, as I would probably need most of it. I waved to Dale and started the engine. With the minimal equipment on the C188, I had to use the sound of the engine to set the mixture to get the best possible performance out of the engine. The sun was due up any minute so I taxied to the end of runway 15 and taking a deep breath, pushed the throttle up. As I reached my minimum take off speed, I was almost half way down the runway, but forced myself to resist the impulse to pull hard on the stick till the tires eventually left the ground. I took advantage of the ground effect to build up more speed before allowing the aircraft to climb slowly. It seemed to take an age to get to altitude and even then it was still above zero degrees. The temperature is definitely the enemy to pilots out here in the Outback. Staying on my 150 degree heading watching the sunrise, I was expecting a North Easterly wind according to the forecast, but with my ‘basic’ navigational equipment and the lack of beacons in this neck of the woods, I’d anticipated being blown a little off course. The extra fuel in the Hopper had been worth the extra weight and longer take off roll. As with my leg from Broome Hill to Balgo, there really wasn’t a lot to see apart from the endless undulating sea of scorched red desert, punctuated by small communities, and lakes, the biggest being Lake MacKay, which meant I was about half way through my journey. As I got closer to my destination, I picked up the ‘highway’ 4 which would take me all the way in, and meant I didn’t need to follow the whiskey compass so rigidly. Fuel was getting low but I couldn’t resist taking a slight detour to the ‘Olgas’ which is a group of 36 domed rocks just North West of Uluru. Flying past the Kata Tjuta ‘Olgas’ mountains The huge monolith which was ‘Ayers Rock’ was visible as I turned South East. The last time I had seen this sacred Aboriginal site was back in my late teens, when I had no inkling that I would ever get to experience it from the air. Flying past Ayres Rock I dialled into the YAYE ATIS on 126.55 to check which runway was in use and the barometric pressure. Runway 13 was indicated and the QNH was 1013. The temperature was getting hotter as I descended, and flew the downwind. I hoped that my parking spot would be close to a nice air-conditioned pilots lounge! Flying downwind for a landing on runway 13 On Final for Runway 13 Taxi to parking Once parked up, I shut down the aircraft as quickly as possible before the heat finally finished me off. I had landed with almost dry tanks which wasn’t a surprise given the headwinds I had encountered en-route. I wouldn’t need to load much fuel for my last leg up to Alice Springs, but I would handle that tomorrow; I had to get the baton safely to Beejay and then I could relax for the evening. The Sheraton Yulara was now the ‘Sails in the Desert’, and although the 5* rating and rather over the top price tag was still evident, the hotel had been given a bit of a face-lift since I was last there but at least they hadn’t skimped on the massive outside swimming pool, which I couldn’t wait to dive into. I put my phone on charge and picked up the hotel wifi signal. An email from Beejay, saying he would meet me at the ‘Field of Light’ later that night. According to Google® the exhibition of Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku which translates as ‘looking at lots of beautiful lights’ was so popular, it had been extended for another year until early 2018. Good ol’ Beejay.. making sure to experience the culture and atmosphere before his flight for the Hangar. Slipping into my slinky cocktail dress, I took the baton from my room safe and put it in my handbag. Beejay had booked a table for us at a restaurant where we could see the exhibition, and on arrival, I was directed to his table. After the usual greetings and update on how my trip had been, darkness began to fall and Ayres Rock was thrown into silhouette. The Field of Light, illuminated by over 50,000 frosted glass spheres atop slender stems swayed gently in the hot evening air. The Field of Light exhibition It was a breath-taking sight, and one that I could have enjoyed for hours, but having polished off our lobster dinner, I was shattered, and Beejay needed to be up early for his leg. As we walked back into the cool hotel lobby, I handed over the baton, gave him a hug and then walked to the lift. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a figure sat in the bar who looked completely out of place, but strangely familiar. He glanced at me, and then, appearing to not recognise me, returned to his newspaper. I was immediately alert. Where had I seen him before? Was I being followed? Had I not ditched the horrible brunette wig, would he have been on my heels? I pulled out my mobile and quickly sent an email to Beejay. I only hoped that my suspicions were unfounded, but when you’ve been in my line of work for so long, you tend to rely on your instincts… Created with FSX, Triple Head 2 Go for the widescreen shots Alabeo C188 AgTruck/AgWagon FSDG - Ayres Rock scenery Apologies for the tardiness in posting. The USB that had all my work on went south and i have just had to re-type from scratch. Not sure it was as good as the first time i wrote it
  3. 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. F49 camera. 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. 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. Moscow below 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. Over Astana 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: Putinfeld’s Farm 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?
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