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  1. Leg 36: MMCT Chichen-Itza to MMPN Lic and Gen Ignacio Rayo (Uruapan) You may recall the events of Leg 34, me being shot at by a SAM in Columbia the gun battle (which I managed to miss) and the discovery that Putinfeld was trying to obtain the binary parts of a strain of Novichok. All signs of an escalation of the efforts of P. to gain the upper hand in his feud with yours truly. What I, or any of the security services for that matter, hadn’t understood was why this more overt and risky strategy was being implemented. Just why was P. taking such risks at this stage? I flew the Gazelle back to the HMS (Sorry I can provide the name, official secrets and all that), where Jasmin was waiting for me. We de-briefed the leg in the ships briefing room and amongst other more mundane things, we spoke about the SAM incident and the gun battle I heard going on during my stay at the Panama airport detention centre. Interestingly the attempt to acquire a useable Novichok weapon of some sort wasn’t mentioned. Clearly I didn’t need to know what was going on there. Post Leg 34 debrief. (Some sensitive things have been obscured.) The SAM attack was unexpected but not a surprise as South American countries are known to have purchased arms from the old Soviet Union, and had very poor control of such weaponry. P. could have easily purchased such a system in Columbia if the price was right. The most talked about subject was the attack in Panama City. The analysts had had a field day with this. What on earth had P. been thinking about, launching an all-out attack on a public place in broad daylight? There was only a couple of photos taken during the attack, both of which are below: CC TV footage of armed masked men herding people out of the airport. Royal Marine Commandos about to enter the airport buildings. The general contentious of opinion was that for some reason P. wanted to accelerate this plans, although why was still a mystery. Someone even suggested that there was someone else unknown to us was pulling P’s. string’s. This was largely dismissed at the meeting, but it stuck in my mind for some reason. HMS… (I am not allowed to tell you). At maximum revolutions to keep up with Tim The Frigate that was my temporary home made full speed northward towards Mexico. I can’t tell you her name as I was told in no uncertain terms that the ships whereabouts were subject to the official secrets act. So if you want to know which ship she was then just google the number on her side. It would take 36 hours to get the coast of Mexico at a speed of in excess of 30 knots, so Jasmin and I took the chance to get some sleep before we stepped into the lion’s mouth again. I slept like a baby. It was so nice to be able to be able to sleep without worrying if I was to be murder in my bed. A warship isn’t the quietest place to sleep as she is alive twenty four hours a day, with the constant thrum of machinery, the tannoy announcing “Now hear this…” or “Attention bla-bla” but if you were as tired as me you would sleep through anything. On the morning of my second day at sea I struggled out of bed and tottered over to the porthole. Half asleep I realised that something had changed. Yesterday all I could see was sea, now all could see was a wall of grey. Must be one of those sea fogs you hear about and wandered back to bed sure in my mind there would be no chance of flying off this ship today. There was a knock at the door and it swung open to reveal the Captains steward who had been detailed to look after me during my stay aboard. My humble abode on HMS… (I am not allowed to tell you). “Good morning sir, a lovely day. Here is your breakfast with coffee” he exclaimed in a bright and breezy voice” “Oh thanks, and yes what pleasant weather we are having” I replied sarcastically. “Yes sir” he agreed, “Captains complements and can you report to him on the bridge as soon as you can sir” Bugger no lie in then I thought as I wolfed down the full English and coffee. I wondered what he wanted, probably just to tell me that I will be stuck aboard another day. Having dressed and eaten most of my breakfast I headed up to the bridge. As I climbed the last few stairs I noticed how bright it was on the bridge, like it was yesterday with no sea fog. Indeed it was so, not a trace of fog anywhere. What there was steaming next to us was another ship. Much bigger than the one I was on towering above us, a real monster ship. The wall of sea fog I had seen from my portal was the side of this ship. Lucky for me I didn’t mention the fog to the steward, he would think I was mad. Talk of the devil, the steward had just entered the bridge with my bag. “I’ve taken the liberty of packing your things sir, on account of you leaving us.” “Yes” said the Captain, “that’s why I called you up here. You will be joining that ship just as soon as you can”. I thanked the Captain for his hospitality over the last couple of days or so and asked for guidance down to the helicopter deck as I was unsure of the way there. “You won’t be going by helicopter, they are doing an engine change on deck and there is no room for another aircraft to land”** he replied, “There is your transport” He seemed to be pointing to a piece of string rigged up between the two ships. I was just about to accuse him of joking when I saw a net of bags traversing the string like some sort of crazy zip wire. Across it went in jerks as it was pulled by a second piece of string fastened to it. It eventually disappeared into a hole in the side of the monster ship. Surely not! I was only wrong by one word and that word was “not”. **Engine changes are often done in the open on ships as the hangar space usually has limited headroom. The steward took me down to the main deck and over to the starboard side where this string contraption was rigged up. The “string” was actually a two inch diameter steel hawser so at least it would take my weight, however I was under no illusion about the safety of the hawser, if these two ships opened up the gap between them, this cable would snap like a twig. I looked down into the void between the ships. It was a boiling maelstrom of white water rushing down between the two ships. If you fell in there then that would be it! Some stores crossing. Soon to be me. Then I noticed Jasmin. She was grinning at me and the look of horror that was no doubt on my face. She was wearing some sort of webbing which looked like a parachute harness but with some sort of hook apparatus where the ‘chute should be. She was in the process of having herself attached to the “zip wire”. Once attached, she gave me a wave and was launched over the void. Strong arms hauled her across and she had soon disappeared into the belly of the monster ship. It seemed I was next. I was duly attached and jettisoned from the side of the ship and hauled across to the other ship. I did not look down. My ordeal was soon over and I was being unhooked by a friendly American sailor when I saw another friendly face. It was my old friend Clive. Like Jasmine, Clive worked for the Foreign Office and, whilst being to handle himself well in a fight, played a more thinking role, whereas Jasmine was more physical and perhaps ballistic role at times. Seeing them both together meant trouble. Clive saw the look on my face and grinned. Don’t worry its good news! I worried some more. You have a wedding to go to. It turns out that my mate Bill’s little brother is getting married in Guildford Cathedral (my home town) and wants me to be there. Some of you may remember Bill from ATWC 5 leg 15. Right, I thought, that’s not going to happen, they were getting married the day after tomorrow and I was half a planet away. “Your taxi awaits up on deck. You had better have a comfort brake first as you won’t be able to go for a while.” I did as was bid and went up to the flight deck. The massive ship I was on was a US carrier. I can’t tell you her name as they won’t let me. I expect some Mutley fan will work it out though, probably drives a Ford and is called Gerald. Oh what a giveaway! Sitting on deck ready to go was an F-15 loaded up with ferry tanks and space in the rear seat for me. Clive handed me a bone dome and said “get in”. Needless to say, after a long flight I arrived at Farnborough in plenty of time to change into some posh threads and a taxi to Guildford. I made the wedding but may have slept through some of it. Bills brother and wife in the grounds of Guildford Castle The morning after the wedding I was back in a taxi to Farnborough, back into the same F15 and back over the wet stuff to the big ship. The ship was now off the coast of Mexico and had another vessel in its fleet. It looked like a small aircraft carrier from the air. My F15 hit the deck, one doesn’t land on an aircraft carrier, it’s not that elegant, you slam into the deck and hope that a bit of wire stops you going into the sea. Before I knew it I was in a chopper and over to the little aircraft carrier where Clive and Jasmine were waiting for me. Had I dreamed the whole wedding thing? We were guided to a lecture theatre, this ship was an amphibious assault ship that looked like an aircraft carrier, which she was amongst other things. She also had a massive dock built into her stern. “Welcome to the USS ….” (They won’t let me tell you), said Clive. “This ship will take us to within striking distance of Chichen-Itza, and then under cover of the night, US Navy Seals will land Jasmine and yourself at the end of the long pier, the Terminal Remota that juts out 6.5 KM into the Gulf of Mexico at Progreso. USS …. (They won’t let me tell you) You will masquerade as a tourist in order to get to the airfield. At the Terminal Remota you will contact one of our agents, a bus driver for the cruise liners that dock here. The bus will take you and other tourists to see the Maya ruins at Chichen-Itza. When you are there spend some time looking at the sight, the columns of the Temple of a thousand warriors, the Osario and the magnificent Castillo like any other tourist. As soon as you have the baton dial this number (Clive passes me a slip of paper) and inform the person at the other end that you have a wrong number. All you have to do then is to make sure you are at the airport at dawn the day after. I left the briefing and made my way to the wardroom for some food, I was starving and for some reason I really craved chicken pizza. It wasn’t on the menu. The magnificent Castillo at Chichen-Itza Twenty four hours later, things having gone to plan I had collected the Baton from Tim and returned to my hotel room. Once there I ordered chicken pizza and a beer via room service and picked up the phone. The phone rang once and a voice at the other end just said “Si”. I said I had dialled a wrong number and put the phone down. I then settled down for an early night as I would have to be up at the crack of dawn. I awoke to a loud banging at my door. I had slept through the alarm and Jasmin was acting as a backstop. I opened the door and Jasmine walked in tossing me an egg and bacon sandwich. “Breakfast” she said. “Get in the shower, you are already checked out”. Fifteen minutes later I was washed packed and ready to go, I ate my sandwich in the lift. We picked up a taxi and were at the airport in a few minutes more. It was still dark but the sky in the east was lightening as we strode into a hanger on the airfield. And there she was. A GR3. Just as good as new and waiting for me to fire her up and take her northward to Lic and Gen Ignacio Rayo airport. A Harrier GR3 is not night capable, you need a GR7 or 9 for that, hence the early start. After, Jasmin was to fly the aircraft on to HMS (different I can’t tell you) but she is also an amphibious assault ship. The ferry range of the GR3 is 3,425 km, and my destination was about 1800 km so it would be a one hop leg for me. In its ferry configuration the aircraft’s weight would dictate a conventional take off, all be it a short one. Although cold and dark, it was fuelled up and ready to go. Harrier GR3 start. So far everything was going suspiciously well. My last leg (34) had gone well without any real interference from Putinfeld and his henchmen, and so far things were surprisingly quiet, something was brewing for sure. I mentioned this to Jasmine and Clive as I climbed into the cockpit, of the two of them Clive was the Intel guy and sure enough it was him that spoke first. “Putinfeld is on the back foot, we would have hoped by now that he would have thrown in the towel, but we now think that there is someone else involved, someone who is giving Putinfeld his orders. We think he has been ordered to back off for a while, something from the radio chatter we think he is reluctant to do. I will explain more over the R/T once you are in the air.” I read the aircraft maintained record and found that the HUD was out of service and the radar had been removed**. Wonderful I thought, I didn’t mind the radar being out but the HUD was going to make the flight harder work than it should be. ** Not available for P3D v4. Take off, Wheels going up I obtained ATC permission to taxi to the active runway and when I reached the end of the runway I set the nozzles for a short take-off. Take-off clearance was given and I was soon rolling down the runway and very then experiencing that weird feeling of half taking off and half being thrust into the air. Once airborne I climbed steadily to 26,000 ft. No nice pics of the Castillo as my flight path was directly away from it. Climb to 26.000ft Having reached 26,000 ft. I soon settled into the cruise. Given the bits missing from this aircraft, and the fact I was navigating by a bolted on Sat Nav, my path was a boring straight line. There were a few threatening clouds around and the possibility of a thunderstorm. My ride was getting very bumpy and so I contacted ATC and asked for permission to get above the weather. They instructed me to climb to 36,000 ft., above the rough stuff. I settled into the cruise and not long after I had got comfortable for the long haul the radio burst into life. It was Clive continuing my Putinfeld briefing. That’s me flying this fine old lady. Clive’s voice crackled over the radio, and after some pleasantries went on to say, “Yes, so it would seem that Putinfeld has been strangely subdued. This is what makes us think that he isn’t the independent master criminal we thought he is. Someone is exercising some control over him, We don’t know who but we are working on it, we believe that we may have stumbled on something bigger than Putinfeld, and considerably more sinister. There is someone in the higher echelons of the world’s governments who has gone rogue. Someone who isn’t quite what everyone thinks he is, someone who affords the protection of his high status, who has a malevolent agenda all of his own, and tentacles that spread all over the world. Over the clouds at 36,000 ft. I had plenty of time to ponder on the subject of Putinfeld. If there was someone pulling his strings, it might explain how his funds seemed to be limitless. I had noticed some inconsistencies in his behaviour too. Why send a hit man against me and then, when that fails, do nothing. It made no sense, unless there was a conflict of interest somewhere along the line. I levelled off at 36,000 Ft., above the clouds and the weather, now having a smooth ride towards my destination. Over the Gulf of Mexico and the cloud starts to thin. My flight took me over the Gulf of Mexico, cutting a corner from the land route to the town of Uruapan. While I was over the gulf the weather started to improve. Holes began to appear in the cloud base and eventually the sky cleared. Nice Aircraft I enjoy flying the Harrier, This machine was destined for a museum back in the UK having been parked up in a hanger on the Falklands for quite a while, hence the missing radar and U/S HUD. In the fine weather, I approached the coast of Mexico. My corner was cut and I had made a landfall exactly where I had planned. All was going well. Mexico back in sight By now there was a distinct heat haze, blurring the Mexico coast as I passed over it. As the weather was fine I got ATC clearance to drop back down to 26,000 ft. and found myself rapidly approaching Mexico City at that height. Further ATC clearance was needed and obtained to transit the city. Flying over Mexico City I passed over the sprawling mass of buildings that was the country’s capital city, there were one or two other aircraft in visual range now, but ATC guided me through with little deviation to me straight line course. Bright blue sky with a little heat haze. By now the weather was getting looking warm. I was insulated from it this, snug in my cockpit and at altitude, but I could clearly see the heat haze and guessed it was fairly hot down there. Decent After out transit of Mexico City ATC ordered me to decent to 15,000 ft.. Now I would get to see Mexico in a bit more detail. I passed Lake Patzcuaro, An interesting lake, as it doesn’t drain into the sea. It is of volcanic origin and has large surrounding wetlands which are an important wild life preserve, but has its problem with human encroachment, the taking of water for agriculture and the pollution by sewage and dumped chemicals. Lago de Patzcuaro Having neem bought down to 5,000 feet by ATC, I passed over the town of Uruapan……….. Over Uruapan …….and over MMPN Lic and Gen Ignacio Rayo airport itself. Lic and Gen Ignacio Rayo from the air. Permission to land we given to land, and I lined up on the runway for a short landing. The aircraft was still too heavy to land vertically. On finals I set the nozzles to 60 degrees, wheels down and I was set up for the landing. I would need a maximum of 1,500 meters of the 2,400 available. Short Landing On the deck with the engine set to idle and the nozzles set to aft, I completed a nice short landing that showed off this aircrafts abilities despite its age. On the ground Turning off the runway at the first exit, ground control directed me to a parking slot about as far away from the air-conditioned terminal buildings as possible. Taxi to stand. I shut down the aircraft and once safe, plodded back to the terminal. I was right about the heat, I was roasting in my flying kit. Parked up and shut down. The bar beckoned and cold beer. I have no idea who the baton goes to next so I changed out of my flying gear in the toilets and then had that all important beer. Then it was off to the Holiday Inn and a nice air conditioned room while I waited for Jasmine to catch me up and to find out to whom the baton goes to next. No Putin interference …… again. The Holiday Inn, Uruapan. Time to raid the mini bar…Thanks Joe J
  2. Leg 34 Part 2: MPMG Marcos A Gelabert Intl (Panama City, Panama.) to MPFS Sherman (Fort Sherman, Panama) I didn’t like this. We were waiting too long for a ride out of here, and for a short hop as well. Putinfeld has a great opportunity to get men here and also to our destination. If we didn’t get on our way soon we ran the risk of being royally fecked over. It had been a week now and it looked like becoming two. It had seemed like Jasmine had been on the phone 24/7 since we arrived in Panama City demanding a replacement aircraft and to know what had been going on with the whole missile attack on the previous part of this leg. No details were forthcoming. I couldn’t help feeling we were becoming more vulnerable by the minute. If I was Tim I would be getting more and more concerned by this delay. The longer the delay the more time P. had to find us and the Baton. The only news that had come through was an update on the discovery of the Putinfeld base found on leg 5, and the news that came through on leg 22 that it had been destroyed. It seems that a nuclear bomb wasn’t the only intention P had for the base. There was documentary evidence that P. had up to a kilo of one of the most dangerous forms of Novichok. Its whereabouts was unknown. This was frightening. A kilo of this agent, that’s enough to kill half the world’s population. Fortunately, the evidence pointed to the fact that it was still in its binary constitute parts and that he hadn’t managed to unite the locations of these binary elements and therefore it was relatively safe. Ongoing investigations were looking at where he got it from, and where the two parts were now. Meanwhile we were whiling away the hours in the airport detention centre, the most secure part of the airport. My accommodation was a luxury apartment, with a whopping 9 square meters floor space, a designer bed, made by Dr. Mengele and Sons of Auschwitz, and an en-suit bucket in the corner. At least they didn’t lock the door, which incidentally, was also a designer Item. Designed and built from re-cycled Panzers by the Krupp group, steel manufactures to the Third Reich. Bijou accommodation. The en-suit bucket is just out of shot to allow you to keep your breakfast. On the third day I woke to the sound of gunfire. I lay back and wondered if Columbia would ever be free of violence. Then I remembered I was in Panama. I leapt out of bed and grabbed my gun. It’s funny how personal opinions on things can go on the backburner in extremes don’t you find? Gingerly I opened my cell door. Jasmine emerged from hers next door, and we peered down the corridor. The firing was coming from somewhere beyond the exit to the detention centre offices. Jasmine was on her phone dialing a number as fast as she could, and after brief “what the fek was going on?” call pushed me back into my cell and shut the door. Then I heard her locking it. “Wait there and I will be back for you” she shouted through the door. Like I had a choice. The sound of firing soon tailed off but it was an hour before Jasmine returned. “Come on you need to get out of here” she said. “What is going on?” I asked, but it fell on deaf ears. We hustled outside and on to the airport apron. There was a Royal Marines Gazelle helicopter waiting on the tarmac, engine running and ready to go. I was waved towards the pilots seat which was vacated by a burly Royal Marine before I climbed in. Jasmine shouted over the noise of the rotors that I should head to the mouth of the Panama Canal and the turn inland and follow it to my destination. Clearly she wasn't commimg with me. Waiting Gazelle helicopter. The radio chirped, it was Jasmine. It seemed that I could relax for this flight. This aircraft was a Royal Marines bird. That meant a couple of things. Firstly there was a Royal Navy ship nearby and secondly she had a full complement of Royal Marines aboard. Hard men and some of the best soldiers in the world, way superior to anything Putinfeld could send against them. Remember, it was 45 Commando of the Royal Marines that, when their Chinook Helicopters were destroyed on the Atlantic Conveyer in the Falklands conflict, marched (“Yomp” in RM slang) all the way across East Falkland and some of the most rugged and inhospitable terrain there is, in the start of the southern hemisphere's winter and then destroyed a much larger Argentinian force at the end of the march. “Yomping” across the Falklands I pointed the aircraft north west towards the sea and then I started to set up the GPS. I had left the airport as fast as a scalded cat and had had little time to go theroug the usual procdures. Then I thought about where I was going. “To hell with the GPS, I am just going to fly along the Canal, it’s not like I can miss it!” Panama Canal map So I would be flying from the Pacific to the Atlantic, or more accurately from the North Pacific (only just as Panama City is in the northern hemisphere) to the Caribbean Sea. The flight would short, but will be interesting as it would be a chance to see the whole Panama Canal with its massive locks, built by the USA just over one hundred years ago. Hover Taxi The Gazelle has excellent all-round visibility and so seeing the sites of the canal would be just about as good as they could be from any aircraft. We would start at the Pacific locks and fort , fly along the Gaillard Cut, across the Gatun lake to the Atlantic locks and to the town of Colon. (There has to be some toilet humor there somewhere, I just can’t think of it right now). On the other side of the canal from Colon was Fort Sherman, now called Admiral Christobal Naval base, a former US base guarding the Atlantic entrance of the canal. This base was handed over to Panama in 1999. As I found the opening to the canal, I asked the question about the shooting again, this time over the radio to Jasmine. The reply came, “Putinfeld sent his men to attack us in the airport security center, He didn’t reckon on half a dozen Royal Marine Commandos dug in around the immediate area. They saw them off with no Marine casualties. I don’t know about the enemy casualties but I believe there were some. Rumor has it that Putinfeld himself was directing the attack, but we have no evidence to support that.” Putinfeld was licking he wounds now and I shouldn’t be bothered for the rest of this leg. The plan was to follow the canal to the other end, drop the Baton with Tim and then fly on to the helicopter to its Royal Navy Ship and safety for a while. When the time came I would be flown out from the ship to the start point of my next leg. The ship was currently off the coast of Costa Rica and steaming north. Panama Canal Pacific Entrance. At the entrance on the canal and its massive docks, I took the aircraft to 130 knots, I Flew over a cruise ship and a container vessel using the Miraflores Lock and another cruise ship entering the distant Pedro Miguel lock. A busy place this canal. The water between them was the first lake of the eastward crossing, Lake Miraflores, a relatively small lake. Good-bye Panama City Shortly after clearing the Pedro Miguel locks the Centennial Bridge passed beneath me and I was over the Cucaracha Reach with the Culebra Reach ahead and the Empire reach in the distance. These, with the further Cascadas Reach and the Bas Obispo Reach, make up the Gaillard Cut. The Centennial Bridge and the Gaillard Cut Twenty minutes into the flight and I could already see the Alantic Ocean in the distance. The canal was only 77 kilometres long, thats 48 miles to those who prefer their distance measured by the Romans. The Mamei turn and Lake Gatun beyond. I over flew over the Gamboa reach adjacent to the town of Gamboa where the canal “S” bends through to the Gatun lake, a large body of water stretching almost half of the distance between the two great oceans. Starting my decent. Having crossed the majority of lake Gatun I start my decent as I near my destination. The Agua Clara Lock As I approach the Agua Clara Lock I see a large American aircraft carrier starting her journey through the canal. She had probably come from the just completed Anglo-American fleet exercises in the Atlantic, to which I owed the presence of the helicopter I was flying. More ships entering and leaving the canal. Lower now, I passed over the Agua Clara locks and into the Atlantic entrance to the canal. The City of Colon To my right now was the city of Colon. Presumably named before the canal and at a time when this area was the arse end of nowhere. I wouldnt be visiting it so I guess I would never be able to see if there was anything in its name. My destination, Fort Sherman Airfield. To my left and rapidly swinging into my forward view was my destination I can now see Fort Sherman. Formally a US base guarding the Atlantic entrance to the Canal, it is now under Panamanian control, the large dock there has been converted into a marina and many of the defences are now overgrown. Landing I had soon landed, and when instructed to do so, I hover taxied to a parking place near the tower. Hover taxi to parking I shut down the aircraft and opened all the doors to get a breeze through the cockpit. The Gazelle has great views from its bubble cockpit, but it can soon turn into a greenhouse with no ventilation running. The whole flight lasted just forty five minutes, one of the shortest I have ever done on any ATWC. Parked, awaiting my return I set off to find Tim and hand over the Baton. I wasnt sure where to meet Tim so I headded over to the marina bar. Once this was done I was to fly the Gazzelle back to its ship somewhere in the Caribbean Sea to the north of here. The fun was over and I had to go back to the world of Putinfeld and now it seemed WMD in the form of Novochok. But that’s a story yet to be told and not part of this leg.
  3. Leg 34 Part one: SKBO Eldorado Intl (Bogota, Colombia) to MPMG Marcos A Gelabert Intl (Panama City, Panama.) At the end of Leg 22 I found myself on the Pacific Island of Niue, I was bundled into a van and taken to a place called Turtle Lodge to wait for Joe to catch us up for leg 23. I was under secure guard as a hitman called Boris Storarovson was looking for me with a view to doing his job. The baton was duly handed over to Joe. There was suspicion in his eyes as he weighed up the Baton in his hands but he said nothing. He had the real Baton but had correctly realized that it was somehow different to the baton he had on his last leg. Music to play when reading this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mQFdjqvtxM Leg 34. The Hit. We needed to leave Niue as soon as we could as we didn’t want to give anybody with evil on their minds a chance to find me. Niue International airport is only an international airport because you can get a plane to Auckland, New Zealand. This was a problem. MI6’s watchers had been watching the airport and had not seen anyone who looked remotely like Storarovson arriving. But that didn’t mean he hadn’t arrived already. It was the New Zealand flight that he would come to the island on. Any other unusual way would attract attention. The issue was that the service was a once a day round trip. If I went to the airport I would be there when the flight came in from New Zealand and if Storarovson was on the flight in our paths would cross. Not good. The other end would be less risky as the aircraft wouldn’t be going back to Niue until the next day. The bullet had to be bitten so to speak and so we set off to the airport to catch the flight. At the airport I was hidden away until the arriving passengers had cleared the terminal and then I was rushed onto the plane. I had a window seat and had a body guard in all the seats around me, next to me and in front and to the rear of me. The Sebel Auckland Viaduct Harbour Hotel It was deemed easier to protect me in Auckland than anywhere else on my route to my next Leg and so we checked in to the The Sebel Auckland Viaduct Harbour hotel and waited to hear where to go for my next leg. The hotel was like any other tower block hotel, rooms off a corridor, reception and dining areas on the ground floor, lifts and stairs to all floors. The spooks had the stairs and lifts covered and a man in the lobby to observe people going in and out of the hotel. So I was safe enough for the time being. I had left Jasmine on the aircraft carrier and was missing the comfort of her presence. But the body guards were doing their job and I was well looked after. My stay in New Zealand passed off without incident, it wasn’t long before news of my next leg came through from Joe. I was to fly a leg from Eldorado Intl, Bogota (SKBO) in Colombia to Fort Sherman in Panama, and I was to do this via Panama City. Apparently Joe needed something dropping off in Panama City, so it was necessary to break our journey there. Columbia was a bit of a worry. Or at least my minders seemed to think so. Two reason, first Columbia was a fairly lawless place and known to be a haven for the criminal fraternity including drug dealers and assassins, and the second was that my minders had other commitments and I would be down to just two for my time there. This was effectively one as the second would be “off shift” at any one time. It was decided that we would stay in New Zealand for as long as possible. The time came to leave, our flight left Auckland for Santiago Chili at 18:20 on a Latam airlines Boeing 787. After a two hour break between flights in Santiago, we were in Bogota by 19:00 the next day, again courtesy of a Latam Boeing, but a 767 this time. I was knackered so we went straight to our hotel for an early night. The hotel in Bogota was different. Whilst clean, comfortable and with great food, there was a certain weirdness about it, as if the interior decorators were on drugs, perhaps not so improbable in Columbia I suppose. The lounge bar down on the first floor was decorated with a sort of controlled graffiti, as the photo below illustrates. Just slightly disturbing I think. The Wall I had just gone to bed and settled down to read on my tablet. I switched off the light and read in the dark, the only light in the room was from the tablet and from outside’s glowing signs. All was silent, all was still. Then there was a thud, and then another one. From just outside my rooms door. And then another sound, a dragging sound. I glanced at the door, in the dim light I could just make out the door handle turning. Something was wrong, very wrong. Silently I rolled out of bed and on to the ground, stifling a yelp as my knee landed on the gun that I had placed there before retiring. The bed was between me and the door. I heard the door open and there was a flash of light from the corridor as someone stealthily entered. The door clicked shut. This was not good. There were two loud thuds and the bed erupted in a fountain of feathers, lucky for me I wasn’t still asleep! I grappled for my gun, found it, pointed it over the bed and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. Fek fek, the safety catch. I moved the catch across and fired again. The silenced gun nearly deafened me. (I found out later that a silenced 9mm fire arm report is still about 125 db, that’s close to a jackhammer at 130 db). My ears were ringing, and I had missed by a mile, making a neat round hole in the ceiling. I fired again and missed again, this time the wooden skirting board splintered an inch from the floor. My would-be killer knew where I was now and it wouldn’t be long before he got to me. I fired again at where I thought he was and a small porcelain figurine on a table by the door exploded some distance from where I wanted my shot to go. I wasn’t getting any better at this. Then there was a hush. Feathers floated down. Bizarrely a feather settled on the stumps of the truncated figurines legs and sat there like a hat. The room was dark save from the light from a flashing neon light outside the window, muted by the dawn curtains. A shadow flitted to my right, I pointed and fired, there was a loud crash as the en-suit toilet bowl shattered, my round had punched a hole in the cheap ply door to the bathroom and buried itself in one of Armitage Shanks finest. There was a loud cough from my right and the bedside phone on the table next to my head shattered. Silence fell again. Then a tinny voice spoke from the remains of the phone; “Hello reception, can I help you?...... Hello?.....Hello?” There was a click and the voice stopped. Suddenly a dark shadow loomed above me, the flickering neon picking out the light blond mop of Storarovson’s hair. Gulp, this was it then. I was done for. Light flooded into the room, someone had opened my room door. The shadow above me was darker now as it was silhouetted by rectangle of bright light from the corridor, it paused and I sensed it turn to face this new intrusion, there was a very loud bark accompanied by a bright flash and something heavy fell on me. It was substantial and stank of cheap aftershave, and it was damp. There was a second smell from this smothering weight on me. It was the unmistakable metallic fragrance of blood. “J.G. are you okay?” a voice I knew too well, and just then the sweetest sound a man could want to hear. The room light flicked on and I struggled to get out from under the heavy lump lying over me. A hand came down, grabbed me and yanked me to my feet. Thank God, Jasmine. I looked down to where I had been cowering, there was a body there now, and blood, lots of blood, all matted in a shock of blond hair. A large portion of Storarovson’s head was missing. I ran to the bathroom and vomited over the remains of the toilet. Terminated Toilet “Lucky I arrived when I did” said Jasmin, as I emerged from the devastated bathroom. “We need to go now, my guys will take care of this mess”. We left the room stepping past my guard who had a lump on his head the size of an egg and no doubt a headache to match. Just then then my phone rang. It was Steph. She wanted to meet in the local Police Station to hand over the Baton. As safe as anywhere I suppose, although I was worried about the level of corruption local police, and, let’s face it, Putinfeld’s was always the one for exploiting that. But it seemed that my fears were unfounded and a covert handover was achieved. As quick as we could we headed to the airport. Jasmine announced that “our aircraft is being refueled as we speak, but first we have to pick up Joe’s package.” We went through security and headed to the posh peoples lounge, not a pleasure I normally get, and one P’s goons never get. Once inside we met a familiar face. I was to take Sharon to Panama City. All of us went straight to the Planning room. We had to cross the Andes and we had two choices. Go high or hug the ground? Whichever way you look at it crossing the Andes meant flying high. Our start point of Bogota is 2640 meters above sea level, that’s well over 8,500 feet to those still back in Roman times, or well on the way to the crew having to use oxygen. However the height of the mountains was much greater than that. We opted for a route that would allow us to be flexible. As it was we were high enough, but we didn’t want to get into trouble going over very high peaks, our options in that situation would be limited. So we opted for a plan that kept away from the mountains as much as we could to give us as much wiggle room as possible. It was just as well we did. We would leave Bogota and head North West to the town of Honda and from there we would fly north to the two lakes of Cienaga Grande and Cienaga Barbacoas. From the lakes we would turn North West again as far as Monteria and then West to Panama City where we would drop Sharon off. Then, for the second part of the leg, it was a small hop North West to Sherman. This route allowed us to fly high as we would like but with the option to change all of that if needed. Plan Map We left our planning room and headed to the gate, down the tube and into the aircraft, an RAF L1101 Tristar K1 tanker. Sharon was going to have to take the role of engineer. I think she had hoped to get a chance to get her head down for some sleep, but someone had to take the third crew position. On Stand We climbed into the Tristar and as Jasmine settled into the co-pilot’s seat I fed the plan into the aircraft. Sharon mooched around in the back. It was raining outside but we would soon be above all that and the forecast for Panama was warm and sunny. I wasted no time in getting the bird ready for takeoff, I wanted out of Bogota as soon as possible, bad things happened here. I raced through the Pilot Functionals, noting that the aircraft was light on everything that it could be, we had no tanker fuel no extra seating and fuel in the main tanks only. The runway wasn’t the longest here and being so high would have an impact. The Before Start checklists were done and I was on to the Engine Start Checklist at the gallop. Sharon was doing her bit managing the APU and soon as all engines were running she shut down the APU and we then raced through the After Start list. Pushback Taxi Meanwhile Jasmine had obtained Taxi clearance and I was all over the Before Takeoff list. As we stopped short of the runway I was switching on the Landing lights, I set the antiskid on, Transponder on and set the Pack Flow. Take off clearance was obtained as I cast a roving eye over the instruments and we were soon lined up and opening the throttles. Takeoff As the Aircraft eased into the air, Jasmine smiled and said “I can see why you want to get away from here but that was done as if you were on QRA*” *QRA – Quick Reaction Alert. High state of readiness. For example the V bomber force would have had at least two aircraft on QRA when they were the UK’s nuclear deterrent and were expected to be airborne in less than 5 mins. We climbed steadily up to 26,000 feet and settled into the first leg, below us were the mountains and so we experienced a bit of turbulence but that was all. Out the window there were some beautiful cloud formation, some of which were typical thunderstorm “anvil” shaped formations. I took a picture of one with my phone but I was a bit slow with my camera, but you can just make out an anvil shaped thunder cloud behind the fluffy stuff. Anvil shaped thunder cloud For the first time since the incident with hitman I started to relax. I knew where I was in a cockpit, familiarity was a comfort. The mountains below petered out and we reached our first waypoint, the town of Honda. I turned the aircraft to 17 degrees and we flew along a broad valley between two mountain ranges Port and Starboard. In the valley the river Magdalena threaded its way northwards as did we as we followed it for 150 km to the two lakes that were to be our next waypoint. 26,000 feet An uneventful cruise took us to the Cienaga Grande and Cienaga Barbacoas lakes where we turned North West towards the town of Monteria, a 250 km leg. This leg would take us over a lot of Jungle and not much else. We had just crossed the Rio Cauca near a town called Caucasia about half way through the leg when our radar warning systems went crazy. Sharon, who had settled in the engineer’s seat behind the cockpit shouted a warning over the intercom. “We are being painted by a P-15 Tropa” radar.” I knew about this one, NATO calls it Fat Face, and it is associated with ground to air missiles, usually the Soviet S-125 Neva or Pechora SAMs, NATO designation; SA-3 Goa missiles. These are usually truck, trailer or track mounted weapons that come in pairs or fours. Old technology, radar guided SAMs that could hit an aircraft as low as 350 ft to as high as 60,000 ft. Main guidance was radar based but some had an auxiliary TV guidance in case of jamming. A good weapon, sold all over the world to potential enemies of the West, including some South American countries. SA-3 Goa missiles This was not good news. We needed to act now irrespective of the intentions of the Tropa radar operator, things had been bad enough to date and we couldn’t pussy foot around with this problem. We decided to go down low as soon as possible, hoping that, if a missile was fired at us our speed would help us and when down low ground clutter would hide us. I put the Tristar into a dive it was never meant to do. Dive – One missile miss! “Jamming”, and then “Missile launch!” Sharon’s voice was strained, “just the one!” - Thank God no salvo yet. - “The jamming is working I think, the thing is headed to where we were.” Just then there was a thud as Sharon fired off Chaff for good measure. And then I saw it. To the left out of the window, a streak of white vapour spiraling away and upward away from us. We had defeated it. By now we were at 10 thousand feet and loosing height rapidly. “What’s happening with that SAM site?” I shouted back to Sharon. “It’s still painting us.” Not out of the woods yet then. 5 thousand feet. Sharon yells “Missile Launch….and another”, 2,500 feet we are pulling out of our dive. 1000 feet …. 500ft and we are level and skimming over the jungle. We have lost one of the two missiles as it went high and confused but the other was still behind us. Down to tree top level now at 550 kts, I see a dip and fly dangerously low into it as Sharon bangs out more chaff. Caught out by the dive and the chaff the missile streaks over us and detonates a half mile ahead of us. There is a bang as we fly into some debris but no warnings show on the panel. Vibration increases a little but there are no obvious problems with the aircraft. “Radar lost contact.” We were free and opening up the range as fast as we could. On the Deck. Note the tail damage! We stayed at 500 feet or lower for the rest of the leg and continued without any other incident to our waypoint at Monteria and stayed low as we turned and headed to the sea and Panama City. We were soon over the coast and flew over the sea more like an Ekranoplane than a Tristar we were so low. When the coast reappeared, we had to gain height to pop over the coastal mountains and then we were in controlled airspace for Panama City with ATC to guide us down to Marcos A Gelabert International airport. The weather was good as promised. Landing. Another fine view of the missile damage. We landed safely and taxied up to the stand. Going through the shutdown checklists we noticed a growing number of airport workers gathering around our aircraft, some of which were pointing at our tail. Shutdown complete and the aircraft made safe we make our way out into the sunshine. On Stand I looked up to see what everyone is pointing at and saw that our tail plane is missing a chunk of its leading edge. We were lucky that whatever bit of the missile that did that didn’t damage the rudder or worse still get ingested into the tail engine. I said as much to Sharon and Jasmine. Sharon smiled and replied, “Thank God we were in an RAF aircraft with all those lovely countermeasures. If we had been in a civilian Tristar the first we would have known about the missile would have been us shaking hands with St Peter”. Now that was a sobering thought. It explained why we had no bother from Ps men at Eldorado Intl. It also meant that the game had changed. Putinfeld was no longer interested in the baton. He just wanted revenge! Jasmine and I said good bye to Sharon in the terminal building and then went over to the bar. The K1 tanker wasn’t going anywhere soon with the tail damage as it was, and so we found ourselves bereft of an aircraft to complete the leg. Time for Jasmine to get on the phone again. Part two to follow..........
  4. Please note: The events detailed below concerning the Baton have been approved by the highest authority, Mutley himself. In Leg 20, Jasmine and I completed the leg and ended up in the bar at NFNA Nausori International This PIREP starts form us being is that bar and before Leg 21 starts. Music to play when reading this: Leg 22. Theft, destruction and recovery. We were there waiting for Ros to turn up. We wanted to do the Baton hand over as soon as possible so that he could get away before P’s goons arrived as we knew they were hot on our heels. He didn’t show. We waited. P’s goons arrived and sat near the exit from the bar, eyeing us menacingly. So much for a quick handover. Still we waited. I was on my third beer when Jasmine’s phone rang. Ros wasn’t coming, family matters had called him away and Joe was taking his place but wouldn’t be here for a day or so as he was flying out from Northolt back in the UK. We left the bar together, the eyes of the goons tracking our every move. We needed a safe place to stay, but we must lose the goons first. Jasmine got on her phone and spoke in hushed tones to someone for about a minute. And then hustled me into a Taxi. When the driver turned to me and said “where to?” The driver had a British accent and when Jasmin replied “Just drive Dave” I realized that we were in safe hands as far as it goes, clearly the man at the wheel wasn’t a real taxi driver. Glancing out of the rear window I saw two of P’s goons get into the Taxi behind us. “Dave” drove off and soon we were headed out of town with the second taxi close behind us. We had been driving through countryside for about ten minutes when “Dave” suddenly stopped. I turned around to look out of the cab’s rear window just in time to see the second taxi stop right behind us. I didn’t like the look of this. I was about to say something to Jasmine when to my horror the driver of the cab behind us calmly turned in his seat and shot the two goons dead! “Feck! Feck! Feck! Jasmin did you see that?” I screamed. ”The driver was one of our ‘Double 0’ agents. Look John, since the discovery of the nuclear bomb this has become deadly serious, why do you think I gave you the gun? It’s not a game anymore, the stakes are high, about as high as they get. I am working as hard as I can to keep other ATWC pilots out of this, but it is getting harder all the time. Don’t worry about those two goons, they will never be found.” Dave put the cab into forward gear and we drove off leaving out late pursuers and their driver behind us. My last view was of the cab driver manhandling one of the corpses out of the back of the cab. Dave looped around and drove back to town and to one of the larger hotels in town where we checked in to wait for Joe. In the evening I went into Jasmin’s room to discuss the day’s events and after a brief discussion I was told I was not to relate the happenings of today to anyone. Official Secrets Act and all that. We said good night and went to our rooms, when I got to mine the door was open just a crack. Something wasn’t right. I picked up the nearest object, a statuette of the Greek goddess Athena, from a table in the corridor and cautiously opened the door wider. I could see nobody inside and so ventured further into the room. The Baton was on the bed, not where I left it, but at least it was there. There was a slight noise behind me but before I could turn to see what it was my world exploded into white pain and then sudden blackness! My last memory after entering my room. I came too with a massive headache and a bump the size of an egg on the back of my head. I staggered next door to Jasmine’s room and banged on the door. Eventually a sleepy Jasmine appeared in a dressing gown and said “Do you know what time it…struth what happened to you? You’re covered in blood!” She ushered me in to her room and set about my head with a wet flannel. As she cleaned me up I told her about what I remembered, and she told me that my wound was not as bad as it looked and I had been lucky. It was the blood that made it look worse than it actually was. She then asked me if anything was missing from my room, and I replied I didn’t know as I had come to her room directly I had woken up. Jasmine nipped around to my room, was gone for a few minutes, came back and said “The Baton has gone!” I groaned “Joe is going to kill me!” and Jasmine replied that that was the least of our troubles. Whoever had taken the baton would soon know by now that the key was no longer inside. They would not be pleased. Jasmine picked up the phone and dialed a number. My room! Three hours later, my room sorted out, and several painkillers and strong coffees to the better, I was thinking that the best way to deal with a bad guy with a blunt object was not a good guy with a blunt object, when Jasmine’s room phone rang. She listened for a minute or so and said Ok before replacing the handset. Turning to me she said “Joe will be with us the day after tomorrow. Pack now and be ready to go at a moment’s notice”. I had a bad night, my head hurt and I couldn’t get comfortable in bed, and when sleep came it was full of nightmare images of dead men and the wrath of Joe for losing the Baton. Jasmine woke me early and said “we need to go.” I was still panicking over the Baton, “What are we going to tell Joe” I exclaimed! Jasmine fished around in her traveling bag and produced the Baton. I breathed a sigh of relief, “How did you get it back?” I asked. “I didn’t, this is a replica which I have been carrying since the beginning of ATWC 7 just in case. Hopefully Joe won’t notice the difference”. I looked carefully at the baton. It was a great copy, right down the scuffs and dents. It was Dark when we arrived at the airport. Word got to us that he was to fly a DeHavilland Dove of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. After a quick hunt around the airport we found the aircraft in a hanger and tucked the fake Baton in with the checklists. Not having to hand it over to him minimized the chances that he would realize it was a copy. As we left the hanger we heard a US Navy Boeing P-8 Poseidon arrive. “That will be Joe” said Jasmine. Joe had arrived with all the stealth you might expect from ironing a cat. “Come on John get your bags, we are going right now as we need to keep ahead of Joe for the next leg.” Were we leaving or were we fleeing? We ran across the tarmac and into the airport terminal. Two guys I had last seen jumping out of a Chinook were there to greet us and hustled us back out onto the tarmac and into another hanger. I noticed that the guys had bought their holiday Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns with them, how nice, I suppose it is the festive season. We were bundled into a CASA C-212 Aviocar hauling boxes of “Souvenirs of Tonga” on its last leg from Australia from god knows where, probably China. We sat in the back of the Aviocar, not at all comfortable, just a couple of bucket seats between the pilot and the cargo. Our Ride to Fua'amotu Intl. The aircraft can best be described as a crate with wings. But the journey was at the cost of a couple of drinks and there was no booking record for Putinfelds goons to follow. During the flight we crossed the International Date Line and we all became hours older in the space of a minute. As we landed at Fau’amotu International I saw an old Beechcraft G 18 parked up on a stand. I realized I was looking at the entire Tongan Airforce. Tonga’s mighty air wing. We taxied up to the cargo stand and soon were saying goodbye to our ride and got a taxi to the Halafuoleva Beach and into an MI6 Safe House. It was a very nice apartment with sea views and a well-stocked mini bar. Once settled in, we left all of our stuff in our rooms and went out in search of some food. We had a good meal and a couple of drinks, returning to our rooms contented and ready to hit the hay. At dawn we were up early, had our breakfast, on my own as Jasmine had popped out to do something spy like. I had finished my breakfast and packed by the time that Jasmine came back with Joe in tow. He had already given Jasmine the fake Baton and it was clear that he hadn’t noticed anything was amiss. We left Joe to enjoy the apartment for as long as he wanted and made our way to the airport. When we got there, we were bundled into a waiting Royal Marines “Jungley” Sea King helicopter. Royal Marines to the rescue I was told to get into the Pilots seat so as not to violate the ATWC rules (which I though was a joke as the Baton we had wasn’t the real one), and we took off as fast as we could. A marine in the left seat told me which way we were to head. A short hop. Our flight was to be a very short one, ten minutes at the most. Just off shore, and visible as soon as we had gained height was a sight to see. HMS Queen Elizabeth, a brand new aircraft carrier was waiting for us. We sped towards her. “Listen up” shouted one of the Royal Marines over the engine noise. “The good news is that we have recovered the baton, the bad news is that the bad guys know the Nuclear key is gone”. (See Leg 20 part 1). Royal Navy Flotilla “Other news, Russian Spetsnaz with members of the SAS have stormed Putinfeld’s missile site that you identified in the PR9 (See leg 5). An ICBM was found there and the warhead recovered. The base was then destroyed. Unfortunately Putinfeld wasn’t there.” Well that was good, shame about P., but no wonder he was mad at me. Landed on the HMS Queen Elizabeth. By the time this short briefing was over we were coming into the hover over the aircraft carrier. Once landed we were hustled off the chopper. Shutdown and on the lift We were guided down some stairs that lead down to the hanger deck. Jasmine turned to me and said “You will be flying this to Niue.” I followed her gaze and saw my next ride. Harrier GR3 For the first time in quite a few days I smiled. A Harrier GR3, an aircraft I loved to fly. Fantastic! “Be careful, we don’t know how resourceful Boris is yet, he may come after you in the air. The gun is armed and the ground crew have done their best to configure it for air to air combat if you need it. They have also loaded a couple of sidewinders for good measure, but just be mindful that these are live weapons. Oh yes, one other thing, you’re cleared to shoot at your own discretion, without reference to your controller”. I kitted up and we watched the aircraft going up on the lift to the flight deck. Isn’t it strange that a massive gun on an aircraft doesn’t worry me but a pistol in a newspaper is terrifying? It must be a detachment thing. Anyway all my kit was with Jasmine including the gun, It had been in my bags so long I had forgotten it. I wish it has been taken when the baton was stolen, but it wasn’t. it was then I realized I hadn’t got the baton. Jasmin still had it! A marine approached and said “you will need this sir” and handed me the Baton. Behind the Marine Jasmine was waving something above her head and grinning. It was the Baton. Wait a minute, two batons? Judging by the grin on Jasmine’s face, I quickly understood I now had the real baton and she was waving the fake. Thank god for that. Joe will never have to know. Later I was to find out that the Navy had followed the tracker and found in in a boat heading who knows where. The Baton was recovered but blood was spilt again. The tracker had done its work but more bad guys had been killed. Jasmine put the fake button back in her bag, just in case we needed it again. We had better not. I thought about the ATWC and its rules. Joe would kill me if he found out, but as I had the Baton back, technically it had continued on its journey, just not quite as advertised. That would be my excuse if the brown stuff hit the fan. Hooray and up she rises The Queen Elizabeth has two aircraft lifts on the starboard side of the ship. One aft of the rear tower and the other between the Bridge tower and the aft tower. The harrier was on the rearmost lift. Once up on deck she was manhandled into position, and the aircraft was ready to be put into action. JG in the cockpit going through the startup procedures Tapes, engine covers etc. removed and with me in the cab I went through the startup procedures being very mindful of the brakes as I didn’t want an engine surge to put me over the side! Turning and Burning Gingerly I crept the aircraft to the rear of the flight deck carefully watching and obeying the ground crew’s every signal. I shouldn’t have worried too much as the flight deck is vast, in fact the whole ship is enormous, my aircraft but a flea on its back. I fed in my flight plan which would take me to Vanva’u island some 172 miles north-north east, at which point I could climb to my cruising height of 10,000 feet and turn east-south east to Niue my destination a further 231 miles away. A total of just over 400 miles. She is a huge ship! I lined up on the flight deck’s runway markings and was ready to go after setting the brakes on and the nozzles to 45 degrees. The controller gave the finger whirling signal to spool up the engines and soon the aircraft was tugging at the brakes. The signal stop the finger whirling and dramatically became a two handed gesture pointing at the bow of the ship. Ready to go I let the brakes off and the aircraft lurched forward pushing me into the seat backrest as she accelerated down the ship. We hit the ramp and the aircraft was thrown up into the air whilst experienced a hard push down in my seat for a few seconds. I was airborne. The aircraft continued to accelerate as I moved the nozzles fully aft and transited into a conventional flight. Ski jump! I turned the aircraft around passing the carrier as I did so. The plan was to fly low so as to go under enquiring radar, friendly or not, for the first half of the flight and then climb to controlled airspace for the second part when it would not be obvious that I had come from. High speed pass. Putinfeld was not able to react to our ad-hoc route to the next leg’s aircraft and could not muster an aircraft to catch the Harrier even if he had been able to track the aircraft on Radar. I could sit back and enjoy the flight. There is nothing more exhilarating than flying an aircraft at 100 feet from the sea. And if I had to choose an aircraft to do it in, it would be the Harrier or perhaps the Hawk. This was going to be fun. After my low pass over the Queen Lizzie I lined up the nose on 9 degrees and skimmed over the waves. Flying at 100 ft concentrates the mind especially at over 500 kts.. You have watch the altimeter like a hawk in fact all of the HUD becomes you focus of attention, with what’s going on behind it of equal interest. You can’t really turn a great deal when flying within these parameters, dip a wing too far and its goodnight sweetheart. In fact more than a two second blink and you’re done. Ten minutes or so into the flight the islands of Pangai slipped by their trees higher than I was flying. Pangai. Note the altitude on the gauge shown in the bottom right hand corner. After 10 minutes more, having given some fishermen a scare by passing directly over then with just feet to spare, the island of Vava’u loomed ahead. Vava’u. Its Cliffs loomed over me to the starboard, and when clear of them I commenced my climb to 10,000 ft. Turning onto 84 degrees to take me to Nuie, a further half hour into the flight my destination was in sight. Niue Island ahead. I flew a circuit around Niue international, lined up on runway 10 and commenced my approach. Because of my fuel load I was still too heavy to land vertically and so a short landing was in order. Finals Landing The airfield has just one taxi way, runway 10 and 2/3 the way down the runway. The Harrier short landing was easily achieved in before the turn off, I turned the aircraft left on to the taxi way and was soon parked up on the stand. Shutting Down I slid the canopy back and went through the shutdown procedures until the aircraft was cold and dark. I climbed out of the cockpit with the baron and was met by one of the brave Special Forces guys from before. We shook hands and walked quickly to the airport building. Once inside he said “Putinfeld has put a contract out on you JG, so keep your wits about you at all times.” By blood ran cold. This was not fun anymore. I had seen two, admittedly bad guys killed in cold blood and again I thought to myself “What had I got myself into?” Things were getting way beyond my control, and I was bricking myself. “We know from Swedish intelligence that Putin has hired Boris Storarovson. He is Sweden’s top hit man and so we are actively hunting him now.” That was not good. Jasmine will be with you tomorrow, we will be guarding you ‘till then. Boris Storarovson I was bundled into a van and we sped off to Makefu and to a place called Turtle Lodge. It was north of the airfield and up the coast a bit. It was here where we would wait for Joe to catch us up for the next leg. When we arrived the holiday villa had be in turned into a small fortress, there were enough armed men to guard a President. I was being well protected indeed. I wonder what Joe would make of it.
  5. Leg 20. Part two. The Cat. From NVVW White Grass (Tanna) to NFNA Nausori International (Fiji) Music to read this with (Thanks Matt for the Idea) I sat around for three days while I waited for something to happen. The day after we arrived from NWWE Moue I sat outside the airport building air side with another gin-less tonic and watched an RAF crew strip down the Chinook to its essentials, rotor blades off and stowed inside the aircraft and generally slimmed off as soon as was possible. On the next day I reverted to proper Gin and tonics at it was clear we wouldn’t be going anywhere today. I had seen Jasmine at breakfast and she had confirmed another fallow day was ahead. The silver lining was the return of Gin to my dietary requirement. Just after noon an RAF A400M Atlas landed, in its self an entertaining event as the runway, although paved was only about 1,200 yards long. I witnessed the aircraft do a tactical landing in about 750 yards. Amazing to watch. The aircraft taxied to where the Chinook was and the helicopter was carefully loaded into the rear of the aircraft. I vaguely reminded me of an Anaconda eating a whole sheep. I thought this might be our ride out of here but I was wrong, the aircraft took off with the Chinook in its belly in the late afternoon and I was forced to have another Gin and Tonic. I had always seen the A400M as a rival to the Hercules, but it is actually a much larger aircraft, you wouldn’t get a Chinook into a Herc. Tactical take-off On the third day at breakfast Jasmine announced we were leaving for Fiji that day. I returned to my hotel room and packed and wandered down to the airport ready to go. There was no aircraft in sight. Not a single aircraft anywhere on the airfield. I found my favorite watching spot and settled down to see what would turn up. An hour into my latest book and Jasmine appeared with a driver in an old Mk1 Land Rover, all packed and ready to go. “Come on, we need to be off” she said. I stayed put. I said “in what?” She said “Get in and see” We sped off down the deserted runway and at the far end pulled off the tarmac and bounced along to the tree line. We got out with our stuff and the Landrover drove off back the way we had come. By now I was wondering what was going on, but as Jasmine always knew what she was doing I followed her into the trees. A small path lead down to the sea. This is what greeted me at the water’s edge: The Cat The Catalina bobbed gently on the water fifty yards from the shore, a small boat waited for us at the water’s edge with its owner, a local man in attendance. Completely hidden from the airport, nobody on the land side would know it was there. “Oh very good, you fooled me there, I had no idea…” “It wasn’t you I was trying to deceive, it was Putinfelds men I was deceiving. They are about, even here, and at some stage they are going to try to recover the key. Its early days yet, and we don’t know where they want it to travel to, but when we get there they will make every effort to recover it, and will be mighty displeased to find it gone. The tracker is in place just in case they do manage to steal the baton, so at least we can recover it for the ATWC.” We stepped carefully into the boat and puttered over to the awaiting aircraft. Once we got to the Cat we did a quick “row around” and made sure all was well with the machine. Once inside we started on our preflight checklist but only after I had stowed the baton This satellite photo shows just how near the runway is to the sea. The Cats engines were a touch temperamental. We followed the start procedures and the engines fired. The engines needed coaching to prevent them from stopping, once fired up it is necessary to open the throttles to increase the revolutions to warm up the engines. This is done one at a time and only then can each engine be bought back to idle with the cowl flaps open. Both engines running and ready to go. The Cat’s engines coughed into life and soon the lovely sound of the roar of these engines being run up was replaced by the rhythmic coughing of the engines at idle. Anchors away (literally), and I opened up the throttles to turn the ship into the wind. It’s been a while since I have flown a flying boat and I had forgotten just how much throttle you need to overcome the resistance of the water, it always seems way too much! Just unstuck Our route was a direct line from White Grass to Fiji, no diversions no stops just over the ocean as quickly as this old lady would allow. This because although we may have given the bad guys the slip by using the Cat, they would soon realize that we had gone and would be on our tail as soon as they could be. Which was a problem. Turning over the island The Cat wasn’t that quick, its maximum speed was a paltry 196 mph (315 Km/h) but we had a problem with the starboard engine. It was overheating, so I opened the cowl flaps and that seemed to keep the temperature down. To be on the safe side with these old engines we would have to stick to a safe cruising speed of 125 mph (201 Km/h). Dodgy engine At that speed, If we were being perused it wouldn’t take much to overhaul us. You could do it with a twin, something like a Cessna 340. Cruising Sure enough, an hour into our journey, I noticed a small dot on the horizon behind us. Ten minutes later the dot has become larger, ten minutes after that I could see it was indeed a twin engine aircraft, and a further ten minutes later it was recognizable as a Beechcraft King Air. A nice modern aircraft, hauling us in at 300 mph, no competition, no chance of outrunning her. Al least we wouldn’t be forced down, not over the ocean, they were going to have to shadow us until we got to Fiji. Which they did. They were happy to let us know they were there waiting at our back, intimidating us. The Beechcraft We had started this ATWC with the hope that the boot would be on the other foot, that the forces of good would have the upper hand and that Putinfeld was on the back foot. Maybe he had been at the start, and maybe that was why he was becoming bolder, being more aggressive day by day. I sensed that events were getting faster, more urgent, more out of control, more dangerous. For the first time in all the ATWCs I had taken part in, I was getting scared. The sun was going down when I broke away from my reverie and realized Fiji was in sight. The town of Suva Jasmin had been in the radio to the tower and we started getting busy with our checklists and put the Beechcraft out of our minds. We were on final approach when I realized that we were lucky that the goons behind us didn’t charge ahead so as to be ready for us when we landed. I guess they wanted to make sure we landed at the international airport and not on the sea somewhere. On finals We touched down and taxied to the stand. As we taxied I remarked to Jasmine that there was no sign of the Beechcraft landing. Jasmine grinned, I asked the tower to keep him waiting for a bit, to give us time to get clear of the aircraft at least. All we needed was time enough to pass the Baton on to Ros as Putinfeld and his goons had no what he looked like. The baton should be safe enough on the next leg if the exchange isn’t seen. We shut down the aircraft, climbed out and headed over to the airport buildings. “Oh you forgot this” said Jasmine and passed me the gun. On Stand. “Oh thanks” I replied tucking it into my bag. I had left it on the plane intentionally as it gave me the creeps. I did not like guns, they just reinforced the bad feeling I had. Let’s hope Ros is ready and waiting in the Bar.
  6. 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.
  7. Somehow I'd managed to end up in a bar in Estonia, wearing one of those Russian fur hats. Ushanka, I think they call it. At least that's what it sounded like. The woman who sold it to me said it made me look handsome. Okay, so I'm gullible. Anyhow the heating in the plane has been dodgy, so you never know, it might keep my ears warm. Captain Coffee had suggested it might be a way to be recognised across a crowded bar (!). Yeah right. Just "the person in the silly hat that everyone's steering clear of" would have done the trick. The waitress was getting antsy to be paid for the massive - er, small, boss, honest! - bar tab. So the company card had to do a quick tango before I could make a dash for the airport. A cursory study of the map had shown that the direct route to Moscow was totally devoid of any navaids. So given the choice of trusting the American opinion of Russian GPS jamming technology or deviating to the south for some VOR-on-VOR action, well let's just say I didn't stay alive this long without deviating a little from the straight and narrow . . . "Oscar Oscar Seven India Mike requesting clearance." 'Standby." The clearance system out in Eastern Europe can be a little flaky, so I wasn't too worried. But after ten minutes, the controller still hadn't gotten back to me, so I called him up again. 'Negative clearance. You are required to have valid flight plan." Huh? I scrabbled through the paperwork and studied the plan I'd filed. My home airfield is Enstone, with the ICAO code EGTN. And Tallinn has the code EETN. I reckon I typed in the wrong thing by muscle memory or something. Anyhow, they should have figured that one out and not kept me waiting on the apron. Anyhow, the plan got re-filed and a new take-off slot was issued. But by now it was getting on for 7pm, and it would soon be dark. Already the runway was starting to look like Christmas lights. I think they derived their taxi instructions from looking at the Top Gear track, but eventually I got to the 08 hold and called ready for departure. before take off checks complete. "Seven India Mike, line up and wait" "With a right turn out after departure, Seven India Mike cleared for take off." And we're off! Who said, about bloody time???? "Seven India Mike, I said turn RIGHT after take off!" Er, oh *that* right! Ho hum! "Seven India Mike, climb and maintain five thousand. Tune to departure.' Hey, weather! Cleared up to flight level 120 . . . It's awfully flat in this part of the world! You looking at me? I said, you looking at me? We've crossed into Latvia, as should be obvious from the sight of some barely visible random small town! Our turning point is coming up, and then we'll be heading into Russia. I thought maybe we'd see the Perseids, but that's bloody big for a shooting star! Hurrah! The lights of Moscow are finally visible (once we're right on top of them!) and we're cleared onto the ILS. Hey, I've got wing lights! How cool - I never noticed before! 4 mile final. Soon be there . . . Steady . . . Steady . . . Over the threshold . . . and down. "Exit next left and taxi to the apron." Somehow I thought there'd be more people here. Or at least someone. Or a car. Or a phone for the taxi even. Heck this isn't even the main terminal. JG, where the heck are you? You were supposed to be meeting the plane. Oh well, as they say around here, Добро пожаловать в Москву Da Route: Now I'm off to find some authentic cuisine . . .
  8. Welcome to this, our inaugural flight of the Around the World Challenge 7even. With 47,742 miles to go, this is indeed a daunting prospect, but hey, we’ve done it 6 times before! So, dust off your passports, oil your oily rag, clench your cheeks, and here goes! Having secured the fuel card from the bank, I dropped my trousers (wait for it..) off at the dry cleaners to have the knees sewn back in (such was the groveling), I'll pick them up when we get back. I snatch the baton from its resting place and it is in remarkable condition seeing it has been the equivalent distance to the moon! Our flight today is a mere 367 miles from Southampton to Dundee via Old Sarum. I thought I would add in a couple of points of interest along the way for what would otherwise be a hum-drum flight. Here is the flight plan, I bit of fun at the beginning and end with nearly two hours between: On the apron at Southampton - Fully fueled, we load our gear: The weather today is sunshine and showers, so we make sure the flight plan is in the GPS ready and the WX radar is switched on. We’ve got permission to start and hold short for runway 20: Flash git in a Learjet roars off on his way to Zell Am See, I can see the party lights in the back changing colour: Lined up - let’s do this! Cleaning up after take-off: I wonder how many years/months it will be until I see good old EGHI again? On our way, with Southampton Water and the Solent behind us.. I can already see our first waypoint in the distance, Salisbury Cathedral (just off port wing): I turn toward Old Sarum: Then downwind for runway 06 which just happens... To take us past Salisbury Cathedral. completed in 1258 with the tallest spire in the UK: Lined up for 06, I wonder whether to just fly past as the rain starts: But I go for it anyway: Take-off was more of a bum clencher, but keeping the faith, my trusty Navajo made it over the fence: We pass the massive Boscombe Down establishment, I have my next waypoint in sight: Stonehenge, I squint my eyes but Dodgy Alan is nowhere to be seen! Mmm, a slight change in direction is required to miss the storm ahead: We’ve just passed ex RAF Lyneham where our fallen soldiers from Afghanistan and Iran were repatriated, and Royal Wooton Bassett where, on the way to Oxford, the public would honour them as the convoy of hearses would pass through the town: The WX radar is still showing plenty of cloud cover, ATC advise it’s no better any higher, so we press on: Now tracking the M6 motorway, we pass between Wolverhampton on the starboard side and RAF Cosford on the port side. We seem to be coming to a clear patch: Our next major landmark is Manchester airport: As we press on North, the towns and built up areas become more infrequent: Now in Scotty land, we cross the A7 to Hawick, Edinburgh is not that far away now: The view from the cabin is peaceful, no barf bags used yet: At last! Edinburgh is in view: We head for our next waypoint... At Arthur’s Seat, the site of an ancient volcano, we turn to take a direct track to the Bell Rock Lighthouse: A small diversion to see the famous St Andrews golf links, it's the largest public golf course complex in Europe: Ah well, Bell Rock isn't there, it must have sunk and succumb to the sea, our turn takes us right onto our approach course for Dundee: Landing checks almost complete, gear down: Tuned into the ILS back course, which is bringing us in nicely: AP off, a bit low, a good show for the tourists! Rollout: Here we are just before shutdown: Here endeth flight one. Uneventful, but that's the way it I like it! Off to the bar to meet up with Coff (if he's here yet) and pass over the baton and fuel card. Hope you enjoyed my PIREP, apologies for the amount of screenshots posted, I can give Al a run for his money any day! Software used: Sim: Lockheed Martin P3Dv4 Aircraft: Carenado PA31 Navajo Scenery: Orbx England, Scotland, FTX VECTORS and FX Trees.
  9. "So, are you up to anything next week?", Phillippe asked. Was he kidding? It had been a crazy few months, and all I wanted to do after I had finished my last leg for Joe and the Hangar, was to batten down the hatches, unplug the phone, and spend some quality time with my long suffering husband.. "I'll make it worth your while" he added, sensing that I was about to say no, "and I'll make sure you get the 5-star treatment". There was a pregnant pause as I weighed up the options; I had been having terrible problems trying to find an aircraft for my last leg at such short notice without the Hangar credit card having to pay an extortionate premium, and then there was the distinct possibility that my husband's patience with my worldwide jet-setting had already run out. "Where and when?" I asked, trying to make it sound as much of a chore as I could whilst mentally planning how I could incorporate the handover of the baton in the same route. Phillippe continued, "The PC-12 is stuck at Salzburg with a bent elevator after some idiot in a de-icing rig reversed without looking, but it’s being repaired and will be ready to fly over Marseille where I'll pick it up from you". Just as I was about to agree, but only on the proviso that I could detour to fit in with my obligation to Joe and the Hangar, things suddenly and almost inexplicably fell into place... "You need to pick up a couple of people from a film crew in Italy and get them to a shoot in Interlaken, Switzerland". A film crew? Phillippe's taste in blockbusters left a lot to be desired and I wondered what sort of 'movie' he could be referring to. "Where in Italy?", I asked, "North of Milan. they have been filming in an old 13th century castle. Mareccio, I think". I quickly Googled the castle. Nearest airport was Bolzano. Oh, this was just getting better and better. "OK Phillippe, tell you what, I'll get the film crew to Interlaken and then fly the route as far as Geneva, and then I'm heading home". "You drive a hard bargain, mon Amie" he replied, "but that will work". "We have a plan", I said, and having agreed with Phillippe that all the details would be emailed to me by the end of the day. Result! I would pick up the PC-12 at Salzburg, fly it down to Bolzano in the South Tyrol, which was once famed for having the best quality of life in Italy, pick up the 'B-movie' crew, deposit them in Interlaken, overnight at a 5-star hotel, all expenses paid, and then skip off to Sion to drop the baton off, before hopping across to Geneva, and a flight home before I ran out of clean clothes. Oh, was I a GENUIS at organisation or what! Fast forward to Bolzano. I'd been standing out on that cold and windy apron for almost an hour before Brian found me. I knew I shouldn't have worn a summer dress in April! I would have missed him entirely were it not for that PINK bag, and even then I turned around in denial, vainly hoping that the strange man would walk right past me, but I felt a tap on my shoulder. "I'm not even going to ask where you acquired that bag, Brian", I said with a disapproving look. He looked pretty beaten, obviously from his grueling leg, so I suggested a beer and maybe some carbs to pick him up. "Not bad", he said, taking a huge mouthful of the chocolate cake we'd purchased in the arrivals lounge cafe.. "You're kidding", I said, "Jess's cake was ten times better than this". I pushed my plate aside, and it was quickly collected and devoured by an obviously famished Brian before I could change my mind. He handed me the Baton and I quickly popped it in my flight bag. "Let’s get out of here" he suggested. I need a shower and some nightlife". I was not going to disagree with him. We'd painted the town red until we were in the witching hour (after midnight), and I'd said goodnight in the lift before I handed back the pink bag and suggested he mail it if he wasn't going to see Jess for a while. No way was I carting that back across Europe [sorry Jess, Pink is just not me]. I managed a couple of hours sleep before it was time to get up and head back to the airport. I went back out to the apron to check the aircraft. Although the elevator had been repaired at Salzburg and had given me no problem on the flight to Bolzano, I wanted to make sure that all the flight controls looked sound. I didn't relish the prospect of being over the alps with limited landing options and unreliable controls. I'd finished my walk around using my Maglite to illuminate the surfaces in the pre-dawn gloom, and was about to get things warmed up in the cockpit, when a black 4X4 drove up to the side of the apron. One of the occupants got out and walked towards me, taking off his sunglasses as he approached (why is it that some people feel compelled to wear sunglasses in the night, I mused). "You're the charter to Switzerland?" he enquired. "That’s right", I replied, "we will be leaving shortly so if you want to get your gear stowed in the hold, we can be on our way". "There are only a few cases, but I'm still waiting for two other passengers who are running late". He wandered off with his mobile phone in hand, pointing it to the sky every now and then as though the signal was weak. His companion took the flight cases out of the 4x4 and together we loaded them into the back. He seemed to be looking around like an animal that was about to be pounced on, so I thought I'd divert his attention. "Have you been film crew for long?" I asked, assuming that his role was behind the camera. "Oh, I'm one of the production assistants. Still pretty new to all this Hollywood stuff. I'm here to make sure that the top dogs get where they need to be, when they need to be there. Everything was going fine till some bureaucratic idiot decided to cut our access to the Schilithorn location, so we only have 2 days to shoot 5 days’ worth of scenes. We were supposed to be staying in Italy for another week, but now we've got to fly out to Switzerland early, do the shoot and then fly back. Pain in the <expletive deleted>". No way was I tottering around the alps at the behest of some B-movie crew, so I thought I'd better get things clear at the outset, "Well, I'm only taking you guys as far as Interlaken and then I've got a stop in Sion and then its Geneva for me". "Here's one" 'sunglasses man announced. I turned around to greet the third of my passengers. "Are you our pilot?" the bearded man said with a smile and a perfect British accent. "I am, it’s a pleasure", I replied, my Hampshire roots immediately making him relax. I shook his hand firmly and, trying not to look at him too closely, I tried to figure out where I'd seen him before. The remaining passenger, presumably the 'talent', wasn't far behind, and appeared to be consciously melting into the background; just another passenger... Okay, I'm good with that. Paparazzi and the spotlight are not things I would choose to be a part of. Let’s get the pre-flight done and we're off, I thought. the clock is ticking. With as much 'ignorant dignity' I could muster, I welcomed our last arrival and then shepherded all 4 into the cabin, and helped them stow their personal bags. There wasn't any cabin crew on this flight, given that most of the business Phillipe handled was below the radar, so to speak, so It was my job to go over the safety procedures, give instructions on emergency evacuation, and to show them where the bar was. I was hoping that the bar wouldn't be open too soon! Bolzano is surrounded on 3 of its 4 sides by mountains, and has two runways, 19, and 01 which we would be using. At 784m above sea level it wouldn't cause too much of a problem for us with our light load. I got clearance to taxi to Runway 01 and then lined up for takeoff. The airport was still quiet so we were already ahead of schedule. I gave our four passengers a brief precis of our journey that would be approximately one hour, suggested that they might want to check out the fantastic scenery as we flew to our destination, and then requested take off clearance. Although it hadn't been more than a few months since I had flown 'Juliet Lima' in Africa, I'd forgotten just how much she liked to climb. Better get some trim in quick! Turning to the west towards the TZO VOR we were almost half way to our cruising height of 18,000 feet The sun was up and although there was a slight headwind, we were on course. I was marveling at how beautiful the scenery was when I heard a knock on the side of the wall to the cockpit. It was the 'talent'. "Hey, how are things up here?" he asked, craning his neck to see over the top of the instrument panel. "We're on our way and making good time", I replied. "Can I sit with you?" he asked, "I've done some parts that involved flying but rarely in the real thing. Most of it is CGI, green screens, and a lot of smoke and mirrors. I've always been fascinated...". "No problem", I replied, "Have a seat on the right, but just don't touch anything". Passing over the TZO VOR, we turned North West and headed for PEPAG and CANNE . The next two Waypoints would be over in a matter of minutes, so I'd better think about my descent and before landing checklists or I might run out of time. Our route at the south, took us over Milan, and doing all the checks solo needed a lot more of my concentration, so I suggested that my visiting 'co-pilot' go back into the main cabin and tell the other passengers what was happening. I had just finished the descent checklist when the bearded passenger stuck his head around the cockpit area and asked if I know what the 'Piz Gloria' was. Being an avid reader of espionage, I replied, " Of course. It’s one of the locations of the Bond movie On Her Majesties Secret Service, but I much preferred when it was featured in one of last year’s top movies, Spectre". He grinned at me, and winked. "I was hoping that we might do a fly-by before we land in Interlaken" my passenger asked.. "It’s a great idea, however, I doubt that Air Traffic Control will allow us that much flexibility" I replied, secretly hoping that we might be able to.. "Could we try?" he asked, with a knowing look on his face. "Zurich Control, this is Janet 101, 23 miles, requesting fly past at Schilithorn prior to approach into Interlaken" "Janet 101, Cleared for descent to 9,000 feet, Zurich Control" Wow.. as easy as that, eh? I wasn't expecting that, but maybe my passengers had more clout than I thought. The 'talent' had disappeared into the cabin to announce our position and I could make out the heightened excitement as we descended. The revolving restaurant at the Schillithorn is almost 3,000 metres high and offers a panoramic view of some of the most well-known mountains: The Eiger, Jungfrau, Titlis, Vosges and Mont Blanc. The tourists usually go up via cable car, however those of stout hearts and trim waistlines can hike the 5 or so hours to the Piz Gloria restaurant at the top for a well-earned beer. I reduced speed and added one notch of flaps to slow our speed enough for my passengers to get a good look at the site. I could hear the voices in the cabin as they marveled over the setting. I did 2 full circuits over the Piz Gloria from both directions before heading off to Interlaken just a few kilometers away in the distance. "Interlaken traffic, Janet 101, 5 miles South West, 5,600 feet for right downwind entry to runway 23, Interlaken". As we emerged from the mountains I could make out the runway on the port side between the Thunersee and the Brienzersee lakes. This was going to be fun, I thought. There was no tower at Interlaken, no commercial or military aircraft used it anymore so there would be very limited facilities for things like snow clearance and de-icing, if indeed they even had that. I opted to fly East over the Brienzersee, do a 180 and then see how the winds were. I'd need to make sure that I could do a missed approach and clear the mountains at the end by flying South into the valley if I needed to. I just hoped that the runway wasn't too icy. On approach to Interlaken Flaps down to 30, getting a little slow.. add some power Whoa, the surface was a bit icy, but I was just after the numbers and had 6500 odd feet to play with. The braking in the PC-12 is pretty good even on this surface. The welcoming party for the Hollywood group was already waiting with their armored black Land Rovers so I shut down, and walked back into the cabin to open the exit door. As each one passed me, I wished them well and watched as they were quickly ushered into the vehicles, and disappear into the distance. Phillippe had enlisted the support services of a local aviation manufacturer, which was the only noticeable presence at the airport. As I was securing the aircraft a 4x4 arrived and I was greeted by a suited and booted gentleman who extended his hand to greet me. Must be one of the management, I mused. He would ensure that the aircraft was de-iced and ground power was provided for the following day, so I had no need to worry on that score. Phillippe had asked that I be dropped off at my hotel and shown every courtesy during my stay. Interlaken, early morning, and I was starving! I hoped that he wouldn't hear my stomach rumbling as we made our way towards the town. The Hotel Du Lac was hard to miss, and I silently thanked Phillippe for finding something with character as well as a stunning location. "Thanks for dropping me off", I said, as he pulled up to the Reception. "Not a problem", he replied, passing me his business card, "Monsieur Beringer and I do a lot of business. Just call this number in the morning with your expected time for departure and we'll handle the rest. If you need anything at all while you are here, please speak to the hotel concierge". I grabbed my overnight and flight bags from the back seat, and waved as he sped off into the morning traffic. Time to grab a shower, put the baton into the hotel safe, and head out for a late breakfast. Interlaken offered many choices, even for me as a vegetarian, but the sound of the Three Tells got me before the welcome smell of the food.. Having spent a day in Interlaken at my leisure, I headed back to the hotel early evening only to bump into the Hollywood film crew which, with the rest of their entourage, were booked into the same hotel. They had been filming up at the Piz Gloria all day, and from the sounds of it, they had managed to film most of the scenes, so they were all out celebrating, and I was invited. Two JD's down and I slipped out leaving the Hollywood gang to celebrate into the early hours. I would be out before any of them were awake. Or, so I thought. I was woken at 3am as my mobile vibrated until it almost buzzed itself off the edge of the bedside table. Phillippe.. what could he want? "I'm sorry to call you so early, mon Amie, but the film crew contacted me to say that they were almost done and need to get the footage back to the studios in England, so you need to take two of the production staff back to Geneva with you and they will travel on from there". That was a bit of a spanner in the works, but I could still work around it. "I still need to stop off in Sion", I explained, " I have to re fuel there". I was hoping he wouldn't question why I hadn't loaded enough fuel at Bolzano. If Phillippe had any suspicions, he certainly didn't let on, so I agreed to extend the charter but with the agreement there would be a brief stop in Sion. The following day, I was ready to get going by mid-morning, but a call from the film crew to the hotel announced the bad news that filming had stopped due to weather conditions and that the team would be late back to the airport. Dammit, we'd either have to spend another night in Interlaken or a night in Sion. Wanting to get the baton over to Matt as soon as possible, and given that Sion was less than an hour away, I opted for the latter. The Hollywood crew didn't seem to care either way. They were more interested in getting the footage back to Geneva and then back to 'Blighty'. We agreed that we would meet at the airport no later than 4pm local time, and I called the number on the business card to arrange our departure, and the necessary de-icing and ground crew. True to their word, the production crew arrived on time with the flight cases containing the film footage. I secured the cases in the hold and ran the checklists as quickly, but as thoroughly as I could. The sun would be going down soon so we needed to get cracking. Our route would take us to the West towards Fribourg then through the mountains before approaching Sion from the West. Ready for take off As we climbed we could make out Berne in the distance to the North Passing St Stephen airfield Heading for Gstaad (Saanen Airport), beloved of the jet set society not only for the skiing, but for the countless boutiques, art galleries and restaurants. Heading for the mountainous Waypoint 5 in the Vaud district Overflying waypoint 5, I begin our descent to 7,000 ft for the approach to Sion, contacted ATC and checked the ATIS. Sounded a little blowy but still within limits We stayed on a heading of 159 degrees to our last waypoint, following the A9 AutoRoute du Rhone all the way to Sion. Turning into the valley "Juliet 101, Sion Tower, Cleared to land runway 05. Winds 13 at 01 gusting 22" As this airport is frequently used by the military, it has RHAG (rotary hydraulic arrestor gear) but I would never live it down if I had to use it. Down in one piece, and my reputation is safe as far as the RHAG was concerned. I taxied to the stand and shut down. My passengers were in no hurry to vacate, and offered dinner and whatever 'nightlife' was to be had in Sion. "I'll give you a shout", I replied, "it's been a long couple of days". I did one last walk around to make sure that everything was secure before grabbing my flight bag and heading for the terminal. As I neared the warmth of the arrivals lounge I spotted Matt. "What's with the sunglasses, Matt? It's not exactly sunny out there", I asked, trying to see his eyes behind the glasses that were only reflecting me. "You haven't been in a fight have you, or was it too many sherbets?", I added. "Long story, but a good story", he replied, leading me off to what could barely be called a bar and restaurant. "I like good stories", I said, pulling the baton out of my flight bag and passing it across, "first round is on me", I grinned. Add ons: Schilithorn Scenery (Freeware) by Hans-Ruedi Maibach / Hertellt Flight1 PC-12 Aerosoft Sion
  10. This is it. My final leg before we indulge in the last minute rush that is leg 70. What a trip it's been. From the the old to the new, the large to the small, it's been a struggle to find time to enjoy life's little pleasures. So for this small leg, I decided it was time to slow down, take a moment and enjoy a little sight seeing. Well for about two seconds. I'm my case, slowing down was relative. I did toy with flying the Mitchell wing. But with a fuel tank smaller than a babies bladder, that proved impractical. Plus there's slow and there Mitchell wing slow (top speed is just 55kts). Instead i turned to my old workhorse, the ever reliable Epic LT. The dynasty is a super fast turboprop designed to fly at high altitude, at high speed and filled with high rollers. Not surprisingly, the company went bankrupt, but the aircraft is fantastic. It's great for short strips, launching itself up with very little runway, and it makes for a fantastic cruiser. So I settled in to the aircraft I call home when not in the A320. The short leg takes place amounts some of the most beautiful scenery in the Adriatic. Missing that to just a quick hop would be a crying shame. So filled with a sense of adventure, I set off at dawn, taking a straight out departure from Pescara. Next stop would be split before hoping up the coast. The morning isn't the best. It's a bit hazy, but I don't care. Me and D-LION head out from Italy for the longest part of the journey, crossing the Adriatic. With 113 nm to cover, the Dynasty makes short work of the Water, topping out at a leisurely 223kts. After all, I'm in no rush. Before, the coast appears though the murk and I get my first glimpse of Croatia. The coastline is stunningly beautiful and the mist gives the approach into Split a sort of Ethereal look. From here though, things come thick and fast. My next airport is just 50nm away and the epic devours that like there's no tomorrow. All the while though, I'm enjoying the sights along with a early morning coffee. After LDZD airport, I head up the Adriatic to LDLO. It's my penultimate stop along my route. Set amoung the islands off the coast, the airport is difficult to find given the haze, however, just a few miles from the airport, the haze lifts and all to soon, it appears and I line up for landing. From here it's just a short flight to my destination. It's to early to start drinking, so on arrival I plan on having the GA pilots staple, a full breakfast, hopefully lasting until noon and the bar opening. EDIT: fixed the broken links to the images after forum conversion/ Micke
  11. After a somewhat turbulent time at home having been maliciously cut off from the World Wide Web by the very secretive BT OpenReach guys, I finally received information that I should have been in Pula, Croatia at least a couple of weeks ago. Having been thrust in to the dark ages by the aforementioned company by way of cutting our telegraph pole down and erecting a freshly hewn tree in its place, resplendent with a new connection box, we realised that the overworked, overpaid idiot of a technician failed to spot that he had not reconnected three local telephone lines. Ours, being one of them. So forgive me for not getting to Pula on time. Having received my flight details outbound to Pula, I was comfortably ensconced on a Ryanair flight from London, Stanstead to Pula the very next morning. Once I got there though is when my real trouble started. I could not locate the Baton nor Jess. I was told that she had indeed waited for at least a couple of flights to arrive from the UK, expecting me to be on one of them, once she realised I wasn’t there to greet her. Unfortunately that’s where the trail ends. Jess was nowhere to be found within the confines of the airport boundaries. I later discovered that she had taken the baton and gone on a jolly around the hotter parts of Pula town, with a couple of local ladies who offered to show her the delights of what Pula had to offer. I came across these guys and they told me that they had indeed been showing Jess around, as she had flown to Pula dressed in her best Goth outfit and that’s how she left the airport. Obviously these guys knew straight away that here they had a sister in arms, so to speak and it was their duty to show her a good time in Pula. They eventually let me into their little secret and that was, that Jess had left the Baton in a safe deposit box at Pula Airport and that a key would be waiting for me at security. Jess had left Croatia and the last anybody heard was that she was heading to Scotland for a spot of Nessie hunting. What a B****! All that was left for me to do was to get back to the airport, find the Baton and hire myself a fairly decent steed that could get me to Bolzano in time to catch Steph, who by now would be worried senseless wondering where I was. I found the Baton but Jess had left it in the deposit box, inside her favourite handbag. Grudgingly I took the bag along. I thought Steph could take charge of it until Jess could retrieve it at some later flight sim show. I was to start my journey in to Italy with a dawn take off. So I got back to the airport fairly early and logged my flight plan which was to take me almost in a direct line from Pula to Bolzano. But the authorities had other ideas and requested that I follow their plan, which was to call at LIPD – Campoformido Military airfield en-route. There, I was to pick up a military passenger who had cause to go to Bolzano that day and hearing that I was almost passing, could I stop and pick him up. Nae Worries. So with an early departure I was out on the apron checking all was well with my steed for the day. Making sure the trusty Baton was on board. Then just as the sun was poking its face above the horizon, I set off for Campoformido. Gear Up! Altered course to 335⁰. The Sun is almost above the cloud layer now and everything is going well. Trying to dodge the weather down there. The Sun finally makes an appearance as I’m being buffeted about with the wind. Above the cloud layers now and still a few stars out. Some early company high above. Starting my descent to LIPD and I’m in the cloud again. Downwind for Campoformido air base. The wind is still a major upset as I try to line up for final approach. Looks deserted to me. He had better be waiting after forcing me to detour to pick him up. Ah well, my passenger is in the FO seat. No sooner is my passenger aboard, we are off to Bolzano and climbing to clear the mountains that will greet us on the way. Just about cleared the mountains but I’ll be descending pretty soon. Ahead I can see the valley that will lead me in to Bolzano. Time to start my descent. Straight up the valley and a good slow turn should get me onto the active. The wind is just awful at the moment and I can’t wait to be on the ground again. After what seemed like an age, I finally get onto final approach but the wind is still causing havoc. Left of the centre line is good in this wind. Almost down. Spooling down and I think I can just about make out Steph on the apron. I’ll leave it parked there for now. I’m sure someone will hanger it for me later. Now, to find Steph. Ah! There’s Steph, so I can get rid of this garish bag and more importantly, the Baton. Well now that that’s over, my passenger disappeared in to Bolzano and he hardly spoke a word all the way. Very nice considering I did him a favour, but that’s the Italian military for you. Steph and I shared a beer or two and a couple of slices of chocolate cake. We had a good laugh at Jess’ pink Goth bag and we sat wondering just what was inside the Baton. We had a good night on the town with the company credit card and we parted in the early hours of the morning and went our separate ways. Leaving Jess with the Baton and a few hours sleep before she departs on her way. I just have to figure out how to get back to Scotland before the Bannister-Pearce’s drink all my single malt. Until next time……. Add-ons used. FSX FTX Global Base Package FTX Global Vectors FTX Global openLC Europe FTX HD Trees FS Global 2010 Mesh Weather - Active Sky Next with textures from REX Texture Direct 4 and REX Soft Clouds Aircraft - Pilatus PC12 from Carenado Flight planning made using with Plan-G.
  12. Well now, I was left with some things to work out. In preparation for my leg I had booked a rental plane using the Hangar Credit card, but as John had managed to get his wallet, with the card in it, stolen during the last leg I had to re-arrange my plans. The rental company was very clear that I had to present the physical card before I could check my plane out, so new plans had to be drawn. Even though Putinfeld appeared to be out of the story for the moment I still was a bit apprehensive about spending additional time in Crotone considering John's entanglement with the Cosa Nostra. In case Putinfeld hadn't settled his business with them I was concerned that their Calabrian counterpart, the 'Ndrangheta, could try something. So I decided to try to sort my plans out from the relative safety of home and leave John to deal with any threats, and as an added bonus giving him some time to sort out the repairs of the Baton! Several phone calls later I had managed to track down a privately owned SIAI-Marchetti SF260 based in Crotone, and the owner had kindly agreed to lend it to me for the flight (in a very tactical move I neglected to mention any possible entanglements with the Cosa Nostra or the 'Ndrangheta ). So with the plane sorted I boarded a flight bound for Italy and settled into the back of a 737 to do my flight planning. The easy way out was of course to just head straight for Pescara, but that seemed like a wasted sight seeing opportunity. So the plan was to head up the western coast of Italy to Rome, and from there head straight over to the eastern coast and Pescara. Upon arrival in Crotone I found JG in the airport bar. By the looks of it he had managed to stay out of jail, and most of the bruising had faded and was now only preserved as a nasty recollection in JGs head. The Baton was looking almost like new again as well.. Considering the state it was in when I last saw a picture of it I can only assume that magic and/or alien technology was involved in the repairs! After a quick breakfast I headed out to the apron to see my plane for the first time. A tad small, good thing I was flying on my own as it would have been awfully crowded in the cockpit otherwise. Pre-flight checks done, prop spinning, let's get out of here! Taxiing out to runway 35 for my departure Lined up and ready to go.. With full tanks I held the plane on the ground far beyond the Vr Speed, but as we approached 95 knots I eased her in to the air... Turning left to establish my self on the 306 IB to SOR VOR. The climb to 6.000 feet was swift, and I was established in my cruise in no time.. with almost 200 knots indicated airspeed this little plane packs quite a punch. Much more interesting landscape below me compared to my earlier outings in the ATWC.. although my options if something heads south aren't many. The closest airport enroute is LIRI, a good 150 nm away. The weather is OK, and for the moment I can fit below the clouds and maintain a VFR flight. Hmm. from my planning 6000 feet should be enough, but it looks like I've plotted my course straight through that gap. Let's keep a close eye on where we go as we pass that ridge. Straight through the gap, had I strayed to either side it could have been tight though. Out over the "Med" east of Scalea And in to the clouds.. oh well, until I've passed Rome I should be able to descend a couple of thousand feet without problems... Not quite out of the clouds as I skirt along the coast at Marina di Camerota. Coming up on my first waypoint, the Sorrento VOR, time to turn right and head for the TEA VOR Heading in over land again as we pass Naples. Reached the TEA VOR without problems, and visibility is better. Time to turn to the west and head towards the LAT VOR. It's almost strange that the landscape can be so desolate a mere 20 nm from downtown Rome! Enroute from LAT VOR to ROM VOR I passed over Lago di Albaon... Passing ROM VOR and LIRA (Ciampino airport) it's time to keep my eyes out the window.. No navaids to guide me during my sightseeing over Rome. Plenty of sights down there, with the Colosseum being the one I can clearly identify... ..and the Vatican of course.. I hope I didn't wake the Pope, and that the swiss guard didn't mind me passing by... Once passed the sights I climb made a hard right turn towards the PES VOR at my destination and climbed up to 10.000 feet.. My initial plan was to follow the A25 through the valleys, but considering the low clouds I opted for altitude and visibility! Established on the VOR heading towards higher ground.. Considering the clouds below me I feel that my decision to climb was correct.. Phew.. even at 10.000 feet I did encounter some clouds, and as I passed the peaks they were a bit to close for comfort.. But I made it passed the peaks and with the clouds behind me I can see the ground falling away below me.. About 15 nm to go to the airport, time to head down again. Someone taking off just as my destination comes into view.. looks like I'll need to go out to sea and head in from the other direction. Downwind... Established on finals out over the sea, I guess I should feed that last stage of flaps in soon as well.. As I get closer I'm glad I have an ILS to follow in. The haze left me with slightly limited visibility Over the beach, almost there.. I hope that Cessna will vacate the runway before I'm getting ready to touch down. Almost there, let's reduce the speed a tad more to give the Cessna time to vacate.. Time to Flare I think! Down on the ground, let's find my exit. Vacated, now where do I go? After a quick chat with the tower a Follow-me truck came to guide me in. Great, parking right at the fuel pumps Shut down and ready to grab a drink and find somewhere to stay while I wait for Jess to join me. That's it for my last personal flight in this ATWC SiX... now all I need to do is figure out how to get to Calais in time for the final group flight Add-ons in use. FTX Global Base Package FTX Global Vectors FTX Global openLC Europe FTX HD Trees FS Global 2010 Mesh Weather by Active Sky Next with textures from REX Texture Direct 4 and REX Soft Clouds AI Traffic by Ultimate Traffic 2 Custom Cameras by EzDoc Flown in SIAI-Marchetti SF260 by Real Air Simulations Flight planning made using with Plan-G.
  13. Pilot reg opens - Wed 09/03/2016 Pilot reg closes - Wed 23/032016 PIREP Due dates* Flight 1 - Fri 25/03/2013 Flight 2 - Mon 27/03/2016 Flight 3 - Wed 29/03/2016 Flight 4 - Fri 31/03/2016 Flight 5 - Sun 03/04/2016 *The dates above are the PIREP submission dates. The actual date you fly is entirely up to you to allow for any commitments you have. MEBAR closes Sat 09/04/2016 http://mebar.mutleyshangar.com/
  14. Chez moi at the end of Leg 58. The end of my last leg, leg 58 saw Jas and I waiting for Kieran in a nomad’s tent in the middle of nowhere, otherwise known as Menaka. Having passed the baton over to Kieran we bade out hospitable tribesmen goodbye and a hearty thank you for their kindness in putting us up for the few days we were there. Jas and I flew the A400M out of Menaka and on to Sicily and then to RAF Akrotiri. At last a destination where I would be safe under the RAF’s wing and a place where I could relax a little. It was Jas’s turn to drive, and as the 3,700 Km flight was slightly over the aircraft’s range we were to head north, north east to Sicily and refuel at Catania-Fontanarossa airport before continuing east to Akrotiri and Cyprus. Sicily was not somewhere I had been before and so we agreed that we would have a 48 hour layover there and see the sites. I especially wanted to see Mt. Etna, having climbed Vesuvius and descended into its crater when I was a young man. Etna was a step up from Vesuvius in as much it was bigger and was a more active volcano, although Vesuvius has warmed up a bit since I was last on it. Etna In Sicily and therefore back in Europe I felt safe again. Putinfeld’s mafia had failed in east Africa and now I was on home turf, and so felt quite relieved. This was stupid. Just think about my last paragraph and the words used there in. One word should shout out trouble. I missed it so perhaps you have to, so let’s recap and draw attention to the word glossed over: ‘In Sicily and therefore back in Europe I felt safe again. Putinfeld’s MAFIA had failed in east Africa and now I was on home turf, and so felt quite relieved.’ Next ask yourself where was the word mafia born? The answer to this is Sicily, or should I say SICILY. Now do you see the elephant in the room? Yes? Well I didn’t, and what a twat I was for not seeing it. To be fair to Jas she didn’t see it coming either, and she is a lot cleverer than me and is probably a bit cleverer than you to. In our defence we didn’t have the advantage of bold capitalised test to point this correlation out to us. Oh yes, and it seems that various countries Mafiosi collaborate. We booked in at the Hotel Metropole, very nice too, so much better than a tent in the desert. I decided to climb Etna in my free time, but Jas was less than keen. “You do know that it is a long hard trek to the top? She questioned. I replied that I did but it would be worth it. She responded by saying “And you do realise that the fine ash on the cone will make you filthy? Again I told her that I had climbed Vesuvius and knew all about that as well. “Well you are on your own with that” She said, I am off the hotel Pool. Hotel Metropole pool. At the base of Etna there is a cable car that runs up to about 3,000 meters and then you can walk or take an all-terrain vehicle to the top. Well, not to the top but to the altitude that is permeable by the local authorities. Further up than this limit is considered too dangerous. I took the cable car up the first part of my climb. It’s not cheap, but Mutley was paying so I could afford it. There were only few people in the cable car, I guess that this was because it was off season, but two of my companions were medics, complete with a stretcher. It looks like someone had done something silly up there. Path up Etna (Cable car in red, walking in yellow) I arrived at the cable car top station and from there I elected to walk up the rest of the way. It was good exercise and not to taxing as I would be following a path that, to a degree ran parallel to the vehicle path. Etna has several craters and so it was one of the lower ones smaller ones I headed for first. Etna's Cable car Everyone except the medics took the vehicle option. I guess the injured party was on the same path as I was taking, strange as I would have expected them to take the vehicle option as far as they could go. ETNA in 2014 I soon drew ahead of the medics on the main path, and continued on until taking a right hand path to climb the cone I was heading for. Scrambling up the cone was a slow and grubby job, the cone was covered in fine ash which slipped under foot, and soon covered most of me as in a layer fine red-grey filth. Looking back towards the Cable Car Station on the path to the crater. I reached the top of the crater rim and looked around me. The views around me were stunning. I paused for a minute or two to take it all in, before looking behind me to gaze at Etna itself. It was then I saw the medics again. They were about two thirds up the cone I was standing on. This meant only one thing, the unfortunate person that had to be stretchered out was in this very crater! I looked down into the crater but could not see anyone, so I started down into crater itself. The lip of the crater into which I descended. I was about half way down and had still not seen anyone, when I heard a sound behind me. I turned to see one of the medics on his own a few yards away. Where was the other one? Suddenly there was sharp pain and black. I came too in the back of an ambulance, strapped securely to a stretcher, or rather the stretcher, yes the one that the medics took up the volcano. Well that was one mystery solved, the stretcher was for me. They had chosen their spot to bushwhack me carefully, in the crater I was well hidden from view unless you were standing on the lip of the thing. The two “medics” were talking in what I guessed was Italian, It wasn’t Russian for sure. This could be good, that’s a relative good, as being abducted in the back of an ambulance was never good. What’s more the siren they use is very annoying. Me on the way to ….where? Suddenly the ambulance stopped and the rear doors were opened I was pushed out on my wheeled bed, strapped and gagged. I knew where we were, the airport, not so good. My Italian chums handed me over to some new friends from a waiting aircraft. I couldn’t be sure from my prone position but it looked like a Cessna 412C. My new friends spoke Russian, not good, not good at all. My trip out of Italy. Guess where I will be, no not on the seats. I was soon in the air and heading vaguely heading south and therefore out of Europe. Not good again. One of my new Russian friends lent over me and smiled. “Good night my friend” he said and stuck me with a needle. What is it they say before an operation? Count backwards from t… I was in a grubby room tied to a chair. I assumed it was grubby as it stank. I couldn’t see as I had a bag over my head. I felt like s**t. I listened very carefully. On my own it seemed. I had no idea where I was, what time it was and what day it was. I pondered these facts for a while and realised worrying about such things was a waste of time, so I set about thinking what I should be worrying about. It was hot, so I was in a hot country, not worth worrying about short term. My captors spoke Russian. That was worth worrying about, they were most probably Putinfeld’s men. Okay, that was a second thing to worry about. At least I had all my clothes, but my wallet was gone and with it Mutley’s credit card. Time passed. More time passed, and then some more as well. Worrying about what to worry about. I heard the sound of heavy bolts being drawn back and the jangle of keys in a lock. Someone was coming. Sure enough there followed the sound of a heavy door creaking as it was swung open. I am not going to relate what happened next in any detail, save to say there were a lot of questions about the location of the baton, and the name of who had it. The truth was that I didn’t know the answer to either question but the Russian voices didn’t believe me. So there came a period of hitting with me being the centre of attention, and obviously a lot of pain before the questions were asked again. As nobody had come in and whispered me the answers to the questions, I still didn’t know. So there followed another period of pain. And so it went on, for how long I don’t know. Eventually my body surrendered to the beating and I passed out. I came too feeling sore. A quick infantry of my body parts told me that I had bad bruising, no bits broken or missing. I realised that something had woken me from my unconscious state, my senses were alerted by something different. There was shouting and banging from beyond the door and then the sound of the bolts being drawn back and the sound of something heavy banging against the door. There was a slight pause and then a very loud bang and dust swirled up under my head bag. A hand grabbed my head bag and wrenched it off my head. I found myself face to face with an alien standing in front of what used to be a metal door. An Alien? The alien said what sounded like “Target secured” in a muffled voice, grabbed me by the scruff of the neck as rammed me out the door, past my captors who were lying down, one I noted, with half his head missing. And then abruptly I was outside and noise of a helicopter was suddenly defining, I was hauled over the ground and bundled into it. A fraction of a second later we were airborne, and then I felt a sharp sting in my neck, not another jab! I drifted away into oblivion. A light was in my eyes, bright and white, and then a voice. “Well you don’t half get into some scrapes don’t you” in a mocking tone. I opened my eyes and saw Jas. What a relief that was! To cut an even longer story short I was tucked up in bed in a safe house in Tripoli, Libya, badly bruised but with nothing much wrong with me aside from that. I had been rescued from an old desert fort in Algeria by the SAS no less. Apparently Jas had put a tracker in the heal of my shoe way back at the start of ATWC when Putinfeld had started taking an unhealthy interest in me. I hadn’t come back from my Etna climb so I was tracked down using it to locate me. It seems as ATWC 6 came to a close, Putinfeld was becoming desperate. I had lost a week as I had drifted or been forced in and out of consciousness, and on learning this my first concern was for the baton, had I missed a leg in the new section. “Relax” Jas said, I called Micke and made some arrangements. The baton will be coming into Mitiga airport here in Tripoli and I was to take it on to Crotone in Italy. Hmmm, Italy. I didn’t mind if I never went back to that particular country, but Jas assured me that she wouldn’t let me out of her sight. Normally I would still be a bit worried with just a slip of a girl to protect me, but it was Jas and of course there was the silenced MP5 she was carrying as well. I am sure I saw an alien with one of those …. Nah it must have been a dream. “What are we going to fly there in?” I asked, “I am not fit enough to fly a fast jet at the moment”. Its covered was the reply, we are going to take a little nostalgic trip. I got out of bed and dressed quickly as Jas took a call on the mobile. “The baton has arrived, we need to get to the airport said Jas as she finished her call. We went down stairs and into a hire car Jas had in the car park. As we drove to the airport I told Jas how I had come to be kidnapped and thanked her for the rescue. She waved it away and said “we need to talk about the whole Putin thing. Have you any idea why he should be so interested in you?” I admitted I had not and Jas continued with “this last time we almost had him on a kidnap charge, but unfortunately only one of your captors survived the rescue and he took cyanide shortly after his capture. We just have no evidence on him. So I go where you go from now on.” We arrived at the airport and met up with Kiran in the pilots lounge and the baton was passed over, but not before Kiran took a look at me and exclaimed “what on earth happened to you?” A brief explanation was given and we parted company. Passing through customs and passport control was a bit weird as nobody questioned Jas’s MP5 which was just treated as hand luggage, wheels in high places and all that. Oddly it was scanned along with all our luggage. But I guess rules are rules and it was lucky we hadn’t concealed any contraband in the barrel or in the full magazines. As they say in the USA: Go figure? Our Ride, a de Havilland DH 104 Sea Devon Formalities done, we went out on to the black stuff to our waiting aircraft. What a beauty she was. It was a DH 104 Sea Devon, all shiny and ready to go. She even had her own contingent of Royal Marines guarding it. “These guys and I are coming with you this time.” Said Jas. I wasn’t going to argue with that. Although there was something a bit disappointing, having battled my way around the globe in RAF aircraft, the Royal Navy was to be my final sponsor. I followed Jas up the ladder into the aircraft’s rear, but as I did so I dropped the baton. It fell the six feet or so the ground and, horror of horrors it broke. What’s that? A microchip? How did that get in there? The end came off, and something spilled out. It was a microchip. Jas darted down and retrieved it, and got back into the aircraft to look at it more carefully. Her jaw dropped and she whispered to herself “so that was why the baton was being hunted so vehemently, this is what they wanted. She was on the phone at once and issuing orders. “At last we have the evidence we need- there is now an international warrant out for Putinfeld and his gang.” Jas pocketed the microchip and we gaffer taped up the baton before set about prepping the aircraft. Meanwhile the Marines made themselves comfortable in the back. The office for this last solo leg I settled into the left seat and Jas climbed into the right. She gave me a quick tutorial on the instrumentation and the numbers, and then we went through to checklists. On stand at Mitaga Soon the right engine was turning and a minute later so was the left. While we waited for taxi clearance, I went through the instruments again to make sure I had everything right. These old aircraft are nowhere as complex at modern aircraft and so it didn’t take me too long to know what was what. The sun glints off the rudder as we taxi out to the runway I configured the aircraft for take-off after which we had a short wait until taxi Clearance given, we then set off to the active runway. I had the cockpit window open and was glad of the breeze as the Devon’s cockpit had a Perspex roof. Great for all round visibility, but a bugger in the hot sun. Line up and wait At the threshold we were told to line up and wait, but only for a minute or so. I was soon pushing the throttles forward for out take-off run. 87 knots, rotate, positive climb and wheels up. The take-off run seems to take forever in the Devon, speed creeps up to the required 87 knots, after which the aircraft gently responds to backward pressure on the stick and floats into the sky. Leaving Mitiga and a last sight of Africa The climb rate is, to say the least not spectacular. The old bird climbs gracefully into the air at her own pace, which seems right somehow, as she is from an era when the pace of life itself was slower. Don’t you just love this analogue cockpit? By now I was fully up to speed with the instrumentation and starting to really enjoy flying this aircraft. Although slow and only able to make the kindest of manoeuvres the old bird was stable and a real pleasure to fly. Which is just as well as our flight time to Crotone was to be two and a half hours, longer as we were stopping off the unload our Royal Marines at Malta. Over the Mediterranean in fine weather. The fine weather and the almost glassy sea below made for a smooth run to Malta. Soon we were on finals and then parked up on the stand. On stand in Malta Our Royal Marines departed, and we prepared to leave Malta. Before we could go a man in a high-viz jacket over a suit rushed across the concrete and into the aircraft. He showed us his ID that stated he was from the British High Commission here in Malta and asked to speak with Jas in private. They disappeared into the back of the aircraft for a chin-wag and five minutes or so later Jas came back forward and I saw the High Commission chap scuttling away back to the terminal. Taxying to the active shows just how far airliners have come in 50 years. We were given taxi clearance and we set off to the active runway. I asked Jas what he wanted and she replied that he had taken the microchip, and came bearing the news that Putinfeld’s gang had been rounded up with the notable exception of the man himself, who had escaped to Russia. This news, whilst bring me a sigh of relief, was a bit unnerving as Putinfeld had survived. I wondered just how long it would take him to rebuild his organisation. Banking to our required course with Valletta harbour in the distance. I put these thought to the back of my mind and concentrated on the task in hand. Soon we were airborne and turning onto to out course. We passed over Valetta harbour and caught sight of one of her Majesty’s ships docked there. Presumably home to our Royal Marine chums. Sicily to the left, and the region of Calabria ahead. Soon mainland Europe was in sight, first the southern coast of Sicily and then the straights of Messina and Italian mainland ahead. The air became more turbulent as we passed Sicily and through the thermals created by Mount Etna, not so much as a direct result of Volcanic action, but rather from the heat radiating from the sun warmed ashes and cinder that made up her surface. Sunset over the Ionian Sea Meanwhile the sun had been getting lower and soon it started to dip below the horizon. It was almost dark when we sighted the runway at Crotone. Runway in sight Crotone is not a busy airport at this time of day and so we were given clearance to land straight away after asking for it and were soon on finals. On finals Lined up, I lowered the flaps, slowed the aircraft to approach speed and then lowered the undercarriage and took the flaps down to their lowest position. A second or two away from a perfect three point landing. I made a perfect three point landing and bought the aircraft to a walking pace. It took much less room to land this aircraft than it did take off in it. Taxying to the stand at Crotone I cleaned up the aircraft as we taxied to the stand going through the post landing checklist with Jas. Cold and dark at Crotone. AWTC 6 all but over for me. On stand we closed down the aircraft and disembarked on to European soil for the first time in a very long time. I enjoyed flying this aircraft and would always look on it affectionately from now on. Sentimental moment over, we set off to the bar to find Mick, hand over a slightly worse for wear baton, drink to the downfall of Putinfeld and a safe return to Europe. Oh God did I get drunk that night. Aircraft Just Flight's Dh 104 Dove/Devon Op System Windows 7 CPU Intel Core i7 6700K Skylake Processor 4.00 GHz (Overclocked to up to 4.6GHz) GPU Chillblast NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 4GB Ram 16GB Corsair/Crucial DDR4 2133MHz Memory Mother Board Asus Z170-A Motherboard Hard Disks 500GB Samsung 850 EVO Solid State Drive1000GB Samsung 850 EVO Solid State Drive
  15. The flight out of Iferouane was interesting, to say the least. With no scheduled flights and the An-32 gone back to the lessor, a quick search revealed nothing. At all. Getting to Sebha was going to be difficult Would you trust this pilot? I had to to meet the deadline And the stewardess wasn't much better. Although, she did look familiar..... "Sharon?" I ventured Turns out that Sharon wasn't too pleased about the lack of her in the challenge, and the rise of Jasmine in John's stories. So she fled to Africa and did odd jobs there. It was only then that I realised that I was actually tied into seat. Looks like some negotiation was required before I was allowed off the aircraft in Sebha. By the time I could see Matt and my ride out, Sharon had eventually released me, but followed me all the way. Looks like she's with me for the trip to Mitiga and homeward to Southampton. Having thanked Matt for the baton, we hurried over to the waiting aircraft, although Sharon nicked the baton out of the bag. "Just to make sure you take me!" My Embraer ERJ-170 hired from Egyptair Express was waiting for me in the heat When I entered the cockpit, everything was blank and a note was left on the captain's seat. "Enjoy" Luckily a few minutes of reading the manual, and allowing the IRS to set up, engine 1 was powered up Pushback left us right on the edge of the apron Heading out to the active runway Having got permission for departure and take-off, we proceed onto 31 for immediate departure "Ready?" I shout back to Sharon. The reply isn't printable but along the lines of "yes" Lift off A very postive climb out due to the light load. Gear is quickly tucked in Heading ever upwards A sneaky remote control shot of Sharon Heading upwards to our cruising altitude of 30,000ft Cruising along and Sharon relaxes a bit and starts to talk more about Africa. I won't bore you Halfway there. (Living on a Prayer?) Heading down Very low now, but still away from the airport and a bit fast Gear down And go around. Was waay too fast and high Sharon wasn't too happy about the rather steep turn around Heading around at about 170kts to keep in more control The airport's ahead, but to the left. This time though it'll be a full manual approach far earlier than last time Moments from touchdown with a 737-800 waiting for departure Heading off the runway... ...across another one.... ...and parked up on stand Over to you John. I wouldn't bring Jasmine with you..... Aircraft used: Wilco / feelThere E-Jets V1 Bonus marks for the artist and song the first two shots are from. Will be revealed in a few days time.....
  16. Welcome to Iferouane, Niger. Not the most urban of airfields, but the locals are pleasant and hospitable to us foreigners and our huge visiting aircraft. Iferouane is an oasis town in norther Niger, in Agadez Department,. It is located northeast of Arlit in the northern Air, Lghazar valley near the Tamgak Range. Iferouane is also the location of the headquarters of the Aïr and Ténéré Natural Reserves, a World Heritage Site covering more than 19,000,000 acres.The Project for the Conservation and Management of the Natural Resources of the Aïr-Ténéré, a joint venture between the government of Niger, the World Conservation Union (IUCN), and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), is also based in Iferouane. Iferouane receives, on average, in excess of 50 mm of rainfall per year, which falls in the course of a few heavy downpours during the summer months. Mean rainfall per annum was 58.2 mm (2.29 in) from 1940 to 1989, and 76.1 mm (3.00 in) between 1990 and 2004.[16] Temperatures as low as −1 °C (30 °F) and as high as 52 °C (126 °F) have been recorded. (credit: Wikipedia) Today it feels as though we are challenging the high temperature records... Local Architecture is heavily dependent on local materials, and blend well with the environment Overview of the Airfield Chuck found Pat Moran and I working on one of Pat's new SAA liveried "restoration" planes. He has always been enamored of classic 60's, 70's and 80's era aircraft, civil and military. We share a love of Dials over MFD screens. The glance-ability of a rack of familiar needles for something positionally amiss is easier on us than reading a sequence of numbers looking for digits out of place. Pat's company 'Eureka We Haul It' had seen some declines in fortunes recently, prompting restructuring of routes, fleets, and bases. Last we saw him I was in Indonesia helping to calculate refuel timing for a Fast Cargo/Data service that he is still running, though at less profit than he would like to admit. The service pays well when it is being used, but the demand wasn't has great as Pat had hoped, and the few Old Customers that use the covert jet delivery routes don't keep the planes flying often. Pat ends up paying for upkeep for a lounge and payroll for his standby pilots and highly paid aircraft washers/mechanics to look after the planes. More recently Pat came across multiple stashes of brand new/spare parts for planes no longer in service, mostly old airliners, and he negotiated to snatch most of them up for a song. We are bringing home some aircraft to make use of some of those parts, and to begin re-fleeting Pat's business with some classic Dial-o-liners. He found a couple each 707 and 727s mothballed in South Africa, former SAA birds. We and a few of his flight engineers hauled parts to the site and got a couple of the best condition birds flyable and are taking them to their new home at one of Pat's European bases. Pat is flying a Boeing 707-300B, and I am flying a B727-200. As mentioned, the 727 had a power loss issue with the center engine, and we took the opportunity while waiting for Chuck to repair it. When Chuck arrived, we were sweating on gantries under boiling hot cowlings. The tiny puffs of breeze and clouds of flying dust and sand introduced to the field by the AN's twin turboprops were a brief foreshadowing of things to come...I did mention the chickens? Over a cold beer I told Chuck about the locals predicting a wind storm based on unusual chicken activity. Well, Chuck also chuckled at the chicken prediction, but left after just one beer in order to get back to finishing a bit of Cover Work left to do back at Menaka...and fortunate too. The tiny eddies of wind when Chuck's turboprops left never really stopped...now, I'm not blaming Chuck, the Anotov props, nor the chickens, but the dust eddies that started at Chuck's departure kind of kept increasing and building slowly until a few hours before dusk the locals were saying 'we told you so' and smiling through nervous slatted eyes against the blowing dust and sand... and the chickens were long gone under cover. Now, Pat's cache in Africa extends pretty far, and he made some calls to a local mining outfit and got truck loads of tarps down to the airfield in a hurry, and before nightfall between our flight crews and the locals we quickly tarped and sand bagged the Boeings in anticipation of a full blown sandstorm. It howled and blew all night, and the next day, and the next night...until Saturday afternoon, when the winds eventually died down and we finally dug ourselves out from cover. OMG...the entire airfield, and the Boeings, were covered in sand. The tops of Boeing shaped tarps were sticking out of a flat expanse of sand, and no runway in sight. This was not Iferouane's first sand rodeo however, and there were a few CAT D8 dozers, part of a nearby mining biz, handy to start clearing the field. Locals manned the dozers like they were race cars. The spent all day Saturday and most of the following night under high powered lights bulldozing sand this way, then that way, pushing it away in all directions relentlessly till the entire field was bordered by huge drifts of sand. And that is how our two planes ended up in this sand pit in Niger. Interestingly, while doing prep for this leg I discovered that Google Maps was unable to calculate a route between Iferouane, and Sabha, sooo...I guess we can't get a ticket booked to there from here? Joe will again be relieved...no chance for commercial flights on the CC this leg...I am now wondering if I was awarded this leg for this reason... There is not much in the way of services between us and our destination, hopefully we shall have a trouble free flight, or enough spare engines to make it to Sabha if not...well... darn, not much wood to knock on around here, or to crash into for that matter...it is one huge sand strip from here to Libya. Navigation wise, we are following a fairly simple GPS route, nearly direct NE to Sabha crossing the Niger/Libya border, making a slight northish jog to stay clear of a military fly zone around Sabha till we get our clearance to enter it and land. Getting permission to fly through and land in Libya isn't the easiest to accomplish, again, props to Pat's contacts and long history in the area for negotiating a direct route to get his new planes home, and incorporating this baton leg as well. Speaking of his-story...I learned more about Pat's history in the course of this trip. In the course of talking about my concerns about this Puttinfeld character, it turned out that Pat is actually passingly familiar with the guy. Shortly before Pat retired from his former 'occupation' he got wind of a new up and comer on the other side of the shadow curtain named Puttinfeld. Pat, without getting into any details, let it be known that there was little chance that young Puttinfeld would get anywhere near Pat's long shadow, under which I and the baton are perfectly safe. Pat and Putt, and those like them who deal in the shadow system, have but one surety; a good customer or associate is never back-stabbed, and a good operative is never crossed...an agent who aquired a reputation for being a "For a few Dollars More double crosser" never crosses anyone a second time. Any agents Putt could acquire in the Africas would never cross an old established and cached associate like Pat, and would be more likely buy him a cold beer and swap old war stories if their paths crossed. I will be following Pat the entire flight, so he starts rolling first. I am very happy that he is going to attempt to clear the sand walls first. The 727 take off roll is shorter than the 707's, so if Pat makes it, we should have no problems. We are both empty except for 1/2 tanks of fuel and a couple crew chiefs each...so we should not have a problem...looking around for wood...damn. Pat yells "YEEEHAAAA" and rotates easily before drilling into sand...looking good so far. He is clear and we are right behind him and at V1 already. Rotate! I think I could have cleared the berm a bit more, but I was making sure my speed was well up...I yell "YEEEHAAA" over the private channel to let Pat know we are on his tail. And the chase is A-foot, or T-tail as it may... We are both climbing gradually to 18,000 feet..variable while Pat and I fuss with Autopilots trying to learn their classic quirks along the way. It's a gorgeous day, mostly clear skies with just a bit of cloud layering for visual interest, couldn't have asked for better...temps keep dropping as we climb, the engines are happy. Around 12,000 feet I turn on pitot heat. As we near the Libya border, I am gaining confidence and control of the 727 and with Pat's permission and caveat, "Don't hit me...or else you buy both planes" I work my way in closer and practice close in flying. 727 on your Six Pat. Fun fun. I actually find it hard to match speed, I suspect it is in part because Pat is goosing his throttles and making it difficult on me, or perhaps he is still messing with the autopilot. I try to stay behind, not sure where he will dodge to next. Regardless of his occasional zigzagging about, I could definitely use more practice and am glad I went with a double ferry job for this ATWC leg...fun fun. Looking up. There was actually some rare southbound traffic as we entered Libya, a 747 cruising at FL280 well above us. Wonder what he thought about us two old classics barreling north in close formation? Tucking in as close as I dare shortly before Sabha. The airfield is on our right, we were given instructions to make right traffic for runway 13...on downwind. Following Pat in, I have clearance to follow directly after Pat, I am going to be cutting it as close as I can without hopefully entering his rear jet wash. Looks like Pat came in a bit low...but I am in good shape for what is looking like a perfect final. A quick "Gear check!" on our private channel saves Pat a bit of costly embarrassment in Sabha. Looks like Pat deployed his gear in time from the cloud of rubber smoke. (He meant to do that...right.) Hopefully Pat has lots of spare brake parts, he is a bit heavy footed on the pedals. We are parked and ready for some Libyan beer...they do have beer in Libya? Cheers from Libya and the end of this ATWC section. Flown in MS FSX Acceleration Addons: ORBx Global/Base Active Sky Next REX Direct/Soft Clouds Captain Sim B707-300 Captain Sim 727-200 FS Recorder ~Capt. Coffee.
  17. With Putinfeld seemingly getting closer every day to seizing the baton, I decided to try and beat him at his own game. It had been clear, from previous attempts on the baton’s life, that Russian aircraft and equipment had been used. So, first thing was to get a Russian aircraft. I looked for the obvious choice – the Antonov An-24. Sadly, just as the lease was finalised and I went to give the aircraft one last look over, somebody stole the wheels and the propellers. So time to find another aircraft. Sticking with the Russian theme, I found this up for lease: Interestingly, the aircraft was in the colours of the Jordanian military Special Forces colours. That should help deter any would-be Putinfeld persons! As an aside, the 2 million West African Francs is about £2365.28 Having checked over the aircraft, I took the aircraft on and started to do some flights around the local area, carrying cargo and earning a bit of money in the process. It’s not quite on the credit card yet Joe – its bundles of West African Franc. From my calculations, it’s 864 franc to the pound. Good job I have more than a couple of thousand! I carried on transporting cargo for about 2 weeks, flying in and out of Ménaka regularly, at about the time I wanted to depart with the baton. It made me known and regular – nothing to be suspicious of at all. Ménaka is not exactly a holiday destination. In November 2009, Pierre Camatte was kidnapped by the North African branch of al-Qaeda and would only be released with the return of 4 al-Qaeda members from French prisons. Luckily for Monsieur Camatte, the French government agreed, and he was released after 6 weeks. In addition, Ménaka is accused of informal slavery between noble caste Tuareg pastoralists and thousands of sedentary low caste Bellah Tuareg. Plus the town is currently under joint Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb control. All this resulted in me not particularly wanting to stay long in Ménaka, besides the heat. Having got the baton from John, I did another cargo run, just to keep up routine, to XXXX, a paved airfield in Niger, which provided me with overnight accommodation My hotel, as seen by John John seemed to be back to his normal self, arriving in style in a big RAF transport. He seemed edgy, and wanted a very quick getaway. So, after handover, John disappeared, where to I did not know Very early the next morning the pair of ZMKB Progress AI-20DM turboprop engines screamed into life and I arrived back at Ménaka early, this time planning a quick turn-around. Cargo off and away we go. It was far too dark for photos so, by the time we got back, the light had picked up Getting the cockpit warmed up, so to speak. Hot enough already...... A final rapid walk around confirmed that the rear cargo door was shut and no obsructions Engine 1 bursts back into life And about the only digital instrument fixed on the plane says all good Rapidly going down the 'runway' And lift off! Gear up and an immediate bank off to the right to get on course. Good navigation is the key here About 20-30 minutes later, we were settled in for the cruise In addition to my GPS, we had a navigator on board. He was bang on throughout The rather empty cargo hold. About the only time it has been empty! Approaching the turning point, DRZA Mano Dayak International Airport in Niger And....TURN! Another 40 minutes and the 'airport' is coming into sight Nearly there, gear coming out to try and slow down a bit Due to the concentration involved on finding, keeping in sight and landing on the rather rough runway, this was the best shot that I could manage - after the roll out Having pushed myself backwards into a parking spot (that I just created), warm air flows into the cargo hold and cockpit. Time for a cold drink with Matt! Aircraft used - Tim Conrad's Antonov An-32 FS Snaps (a great little site now - thanks Joe and co!) used for the photos
  18. At the end of leg 56 I found myself up shits creek without a paddle in the town of Bouake in the Ivory Coast. Actually being in Bouake is bad enough, but being in the town lockup was a whole lot worse. True, I was safe from being robbed, murdered or kidnapped, or indeed all three of these things whilst in the jail, but that made but a little alleviation to the more personal danger that being inside the lockup presented, that is to say, rape. At least whilst on the outside I could mitigate the offered perils by avoiding certain areas (most of the town in fact), or buying a black market gun, or by my favoured method of self-preservation; legging it as fast as I can. Being in the prison there was no escape. I couldn’t even hide in the toilets as I doubt I would have been able to secrete myself in the bucket in the corner. Please don’t put me back in there! If you recall, I was about to get perhaps a little too intimate than I would have liked with about fifteen unwashed and rather smelly members of Bouake’s criminal fraternity, when to my short lived relief I was wrenched from the prison to be delivered to some none to amicable Russians who were no doubt in the employ of one Mr. Putinfeld. That Mr. Putinfeld who, whilst not robbing, raping or kidnaping me, may well visit upon my being the other Bouake offering, that of murder. So here was my dilemma. Rape or murder. What would you do? On balance I thought it more likely that I would survive rape, at least in the short term, but I have yet to have come across someone who had survived being murdered. On the other hand going back to the lockup meant an absolute certainty of rape, whereas surrendering myself to Putins goons would keep me “virgo intacta” and might just offer a chance to escape sometime down the line. As well as a chance to escape, there might be a chance to use something other than a bucket for those more personal of tasks. I decided to take a chance with the goons. I was bundled into a carb by three heavies, two sat in the back either side of me and the third climbed into the driver’s seat. My abductors rammed a bag over my head and we drove off swiftly. I suffer from car sickness if I can’t look out the window whilst in a vehicle. And so it came to pass that I became first a bit queasy, then quite ill and then finally I vomited. This is not a good thing to do when you have a bag over your head. However I managed to spill some on one of my captor’s lap, to which he took exception, causing him to curse and punch me in the stomach. This action told me something about the I.Q. of the goons I was dealing with. I ask you, punching someone in the stomach just after that person had just vomited? Not very bright. I gave him second helpings. We arrived somewhere and I was dragged out of the car and into a building and sat in a chair to which I was tied. The hood was then removed from my head, and my face was wiped down. I was in a vast empty hanger with just me, right in the middle, and two of my new best mates standing over me. I guessed the third had gone to change. One down must improve my chanced of escape. Oh no! Not the comfy chair! Actually, no the un-comfy chair. The goons conferred in Russian. The one with the length of hosepipe said “Da” and proceeded to hit ne across the stomach with said length of hosepipe. This wasn’t very pleasant, and we hadn’t even be introduced yet. The other goon, whom I shall call Goon A, then asked in English, “Vare es de baton?” I replied “I don’t have it”. Goon B, The goon with the hosepipe, reintroduced my stomach to the hosepipe. Now double winded; I could hardly speak. As I was allowed to get my breath back I considered how best to address the subject of the Baton. It seemed that I had two options; continue to deny that I had it, or to drop Steph in it to get these nasties off my back. I decided on a compromise: I told them that I had already passed the Baton to another pilot, but I had to do the leg after and so would be picking up the baton in Ouagadougou. There was another conference between Goon A and Goon B, and after several minutes of Russian gobbledygook punctuated by a few “das” and a few “neits” ,and then Goon A got on to his mobile phone to someone. More Russian gobbledygook but with a more liberal sprinkling of “das” and “neits” followed before he hung up. The now stinking bag went over my head and I was soon back in the car. This time I managed to soil Goon B’s suit. You would have thought they learned but then, as I said before, you wouldn’t find these guys at a university, unless the university town had a zoo. When we got to our destination, the airport, I was down to one goon. Goon A and I boarded a private jet. Once inside my hood was removed and were soon in the air. I have no idea what aircraft we were in but I thought it might be an Ilyushin IL-96-300. The aircraft was lavishly fitted out as the photos here show. Putinfeld’s board room We walked through a board room like section to the more comfortable part of the aircraft. You could hear the echoes of words such as “Give your report number three.” At last the comfy chair! Well sofa actually. It seemed probable that we were chasing after Steph and the baton and were on our way to Ouagadougou. By now I was worrying about Steph getting caught up in this, I resolved to protect her as much as I was able. It then dawned on me that my personal goon would have no idea what Steph looked like or even that she was a she if you see what I mean. I could use this to my advantage should the need arise. When my captor went aft to drain his bladder I took the opportunity to write a little note. Putinfeld’s toilet. Air freshener please! Sure enough we arrived at Ouagadougou airport, we were clearly here obtain the baton. I guess the goon had been told to let me collect the baton and then then extract if from me, probably using violence. As I left the aircraft my hopes were raised slightly by the sight of an RAF A400M on the tarmac. Could this mean that Jasmine was in town? I hoped so. The goon and I walked into the terminal and cleared passport control and customs. I was hoping that my goon would have his silenced Makarov pistol detected and thus free me of his clutches. No such luck. When was the last time you went through a metal detector going in to a country? It’s never happened to me. As we walked through the terminal goon hung back a bit so as not to put off a baton carrying person from approaching me. Suddenly there she was with her back to me scanning the terminal for me. I had but one chance, I strode over and accidently barged into her. I caught her arm to steady her. Looking her straight in the eye I said “I’m terribly sorry, I should have been looking where I was going. Are you alright?” My goon hurried over and chivvied me along, but not before I was able to slip the note that I had written into her pocket. Message delivered all I had to do was get rid of the goon. The question is how? Goon A We sat in the terminal for an hour ostensibly waiting for a baton handover which would never come. I still hadn’t figured out how to lose my goon and he was getting impatient for the handover to occur. I could see that this situation couldn’t last forever, and I thought a trip to the gents might distract him from the long wait and buy me some time. I knew that he would be coming with me and so this would not be a chance at an escape, but it might afford a quick look at a location that I might be able to use later. I went into the gents with goon behind me and was heading for the urinals when there was a double thud behind me. I turned around to see my goon on the floor and a young man of about twenty five in a blue suit standing above him. I can only assume it was one thud young man strikes goon, and one thud goon strikes the floor. “Hello, you must be JG” the man said. “Captain Mainwaring, 22nd SAS, but you can call me Rupert.” he held out his hand. I shook it and asked “what did you do to him?” “Just a simple move I have learned along the way, he will come too in a minute or too. Can you help me get him into trap three?” We manoeuvred Goon A into the cubicle and sat him on the throne. The captain proceeded to lower goon’s trousers and underwear so that anyone glancing under the door would see what would be expected. “Let’s just give him a little longer to snooze” said Rupert whipping out a syringe and injecting Goons A’s arse with a clear liquid. “He won’t be disturbing anyone for four to six hours now.” We locked the goon in and left the gents. Waiting outside the gents was Jasmine. I was safe for now! Jasmin asked if I was okay and I replied that I was but for the bruising on my stomach. She asked if I was okay to pilot an aircraft out of here and naturally I said yes. I wanted to be here as fast as I could be. The three of us walked down a small corridor off the main terminal concourse and Jasmine opened a small door at the end of it and we entered a small briefing room. Jas and I sat down at a table and Rupert excused himself going on through a further door. Jas fished out the Baton from her bag. “Isn’t it strange what you find in lost property sometimes” she quipped. She also retrieved some documents from her bag. These included a flight plan from Ouagadougou to Menaka, which she put on the table in front of me. Rather worryingly, Jasmine referred to this flight plan as plan A. Plan A meant there was a plan B. I have a feeling I am not going to like plan B. Plan A Plan A was simple. Take off from DFFD Ouagadougou and fly to GAMK Mena. Two legs DFFD to DRRN Niamey Diori Hamani Airport, and DRRN to GAMK. Easy. “But that is not all we are going to do” stated Jasmine. I knew it, I just knew it! What was I getting caught up with now? This last set of capture, imprisonment and beating was the worst so far, as I haven’t suffered a beating until now. I was not keen to have another ride on that particular roller-coaster. “Spill the beans then Jasmine.” I demanded. “Here is plan B” she stated passing me a second plan. Plan B She continued; “It’s quite simple really, we fly to our first waypoint at 10,000 feet as planned. Then we make as to land do a low pass and then climb to 36,000 ft. Anyone not in the know will think that the aircraft climbing on radar is another flight doing a planed weather survey out to the west and back. We then fly the extra part of plan B and return to DRRN do the same low pass to look as if weather survey aircraft has landed, we have taken off for our second leg, and then we carry on as normal to Menaka at 10,000 ft.” Ok fair enough nothing too risky there if we are to stay at 36,000 ft. there was only one question to ask: I asked it. “Why?” “You don’t need to know that yet. I will brief you when we are in the air.” She answered. I didn’t like the sound of this trip, very cloak and dagger if you ask me, but I owed Jasmine a lot at the moment, so I agreed to do it. She is so good at twisting people around her little finger. Ask Brian, he gave her a free ride out of the Cape Verdi islands. The next question was “When.” The answer was that we would be leaving in half an hour. No chance to get settled then. I donned my flying kit and walked out to the aircraft to start my walk round and checks. She continued; “It’s quite simple really, we fly to our first waypoint at 10,000 feet as planned. Then we make as to land do a low pass and then climb to 36,000 ft. Anyone not in the know will think that the aircraft climbing on radar is another flight doing a weather survey out to the west and back. We then fly the extra part of plan B and return to DRRN do the same low pass to perform the radar switcheroo back, and carry on as normal to Menaka at 10,000 ft.” Ok fair enough nothing too risky there, a bit of subterfuge, but if we are to stay at 36,000 ft. there was only one question to ask: I asked it. “Why?” “You don’t need to know that yet. I will brief you when we are in the air.” She answered. I didn’t like the sound of this trip, very cloak and dagger if you ask me, but I owed Jasmine a lot at the moment, so I agreed to do it. She is so good at twisting people around her little finger. Ask Brian, he gave her a free ride out of the Cape Verdi islands. The next question was “When.” The answer was that we would be leaving in half an hour. No chance to get settled then. I donned my flying kit and walked out to the aircraft to start my walk round and checks. RAF A400M My walk around completed successfully I climbed up the stairs turned left and into the cockpit. Having flown fighters for a while I needed to remind myself of this four engine aircraft’s panels. Personally I find coming back to any aircraft reasonably easy once I have reminded myself of what is where. A400M’s Cockpit Jasmin appeared and said the cargo had been loaded. As she settled into the co-pilot’s seat I asked her what the cargo was. She replied that she would tell me later, but that all I needed to know was that its weight was negligible. A closer look at the office The gaping hole that my cargo disappeared into. I went through the engine start up routine and soon had all four engines turning. I then set about my post start up checks, switched on the HUD and was ready to go. Taxi permission and instructions we headed to the threshold. At the threshold Jas and I went through the pre take-off checks and then obtained take-off clearance. I pushed the four throttle leavers forward and we accelerated down the runway starting our take-off run; V1, Rotate and we were airborne. Take-off We had settled into our cruise at FL 100 towards Niamey Diori Hamani Airport, on went the autopilot, and I relaxed. Jas cave an impish grin and said why don’t you go aft and then you will see what the cargo is. I got up, went through the bulkhead to the cargo hold. It was empty except for four soldiers in some serious looking kit and pile of equipment which the men were sorting through. Ouagadougou from the air. FL 100 “Hello” said Rupert. “Meet Bravo patrol, Air Troop. Don’t worry about us, we will be out of your hair soon.” He grinned and went back to sorting out the equipment. Rather dumb struck, I muttered “I’ll let you get on with it then” and returned to the cockpit. I quizzed Jas about what was going on. She just smiled and said “HALO”. “Yes Jas, hello to you to, but what’s with Rupert and the others?” “HALO not hello you numpty, High Altitude Low Opening; parachuting out of aircraft at high altitude, opening the parachute at low altitude. It’s a method of covert insertion. We are going to drop these guys off so that they can carry out a mission. They will exit the aircraft at 36,000ft and open their ‘chutes at 500ft. that way they avoid detection from Radar and minimise the time for visible detection.” “What are they doing there?” I asked. Jas passed me a clipboard with a plasticised map on it that had been annotated in various coloured marker pens. “And how are they getting back?” “They are there to make life difficult for Boko Haram in the search area. To get out they will hoof it 150km to Maiduguri and get picked up from there.” “Make life difficult?” I questioned. “As in problematic when it comes to breathing. Anyway I have told you enough, but I would remind you about the official secrets act stuff you agreed to when you got security clearance for this kind of work.” I knew the tone of voice, Jas was being serious; possibly deadly serious. I never know exactly how far our friendship would stretch if I wronged her on that score. The Mission We were soon nearing Niamey Diori Hamani Airport, and started our approach. To make this look right for any prying radar watchers, I dropped the flaps and slowed the aircraft as I would do for landing. The only different thing was that the landing stayed up. I skimmed the runway and then pushed the throttles forward staying at 100ft I looped around for another approach, but this time staying under all but the local radar. After passing over the runway the second time I opened the throttles and pulled back the stick. Out pretend landing and take-off had to have a reasonable delay between the two so as not to look like a touch and go. Low Pass at DRRN Radar deception over, we climbed up to FL100, then up to FL200 and then all the way up to 36,000 and headed towards the east. An hour or two later, I can’t tell you exactly how long, Official Secrets Act and all that, and we got ready to do our covert bit. 36,000 ft Ready for the drop. We put on our oxygen masks and I decompressed the aircraft. When fully equalised I opened the cargo doors and before you could blink…….. Cargo drop ……….my cargo had gone. Cargo? What cargo? Door closed, I re-pressurised the hull and we turned back for DDRN. Another dull hour or two and we were ready to complete our deception. With Diori Hamani in sight we made as to land and then sharply banked around for another pass and a simulated take-off as planned. Second pass at DRRN Soon we were on our way to Menaka as if nothing had happened. We headed off over the remains of the jungle that soon gave way to a more arid landscape. It’s a bit weird going from jungle and scrub to sand and scrub, but soon we were flying over sand and rock desert. Final Leg. Our desert destination It turns out that the town of Menaka is where it is because there is water. Enough to keep a small patch of green and a few hundred souls in water where all around is barren and dry. On Finals We made our approach on to an uncontrolled strip of flattened sand and rock with a bit of scrub around it. Our props sent up an enormous cloud of dust as their wash touched the ground before we did, making the last few seconds of the landing as good as doing it in the dark. Parked at Menaka, Mali. I grabbed the baton and Jas and I exited the aircraft. We walked straight into the stifling heat of the Desert, instantly I started to sweat and instantly it evaporated from me It was nasty, and I made a mental note to keep hydrated. We stopped and looked for an airport building. There wasn’t one. The airport and, you have to understand, I use this phrase in the loosest possible way, consists of a long flat surface bordered either side with a stone wall. There were gaps in the wall where paths entered the walled off runway area, and a group of what looked like tents to one side tucked behind the wall. Menaka its self is just a grid of mud walled, flat roofed compounds in the desert. Not much at all. The river Ezgueret runs next to the town in a wide and shallow wadi, although I didn’t see any actual water in the "river", there was some scrub like vegetation scattered across the wadi floor which indicated water of some sort. How the populous survived here, I do not know. There must be water and the scrub must be fodder as I saw a few goats, but I didn’t see any other crops or water sources whilst I was there. Probably not the best party town in the world then. We walked over to the tents where we were greeted by some sun-dried locals with an “Assalaamu ‘Aleykum” to which we replied “Wa alaykumu s-salam” in our most polite and in my case only Arabic. We were invited to sit on some carpets and offered mint tea and sweet pastries by our gracious host. As we sipped the tea and ate the pastries Jas, who spoke Arabic, explained why we were there and who we were waiting for. It seemed that the idea of transporting a blue stick around the world was amusing to these semi nomadic people. In their world all energy was expended on staying alive in this harsh environment, and praying to God of course. We were offered the use of a tent for as long as we needed it and it was there we waited for Kieran. Hells teeth it was hot. There really was nothing here, no airport buildings, no fuel services, nothing except a flat strip in the desert. The town was a couple of kilometres away, but in this heat it may as well have been on the moon, you’d have died of thirst before you got there. And it wouldn’t have been worth the effort. As soon as we had passed the baton on we were going to take the A400M to RAF Akrotiri, the sanity of Cyprus and cold beer. Aircraft Labori Rolands' fantastic new A400M Op System Windows 7 CPU Intel Core i7 6700K Skylake Processor 4.00 GHz (Overclocked to up to 4.6GHz) GPU Chillblast NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 4GB Ram 16GB Corsair/Crucial DDR4 2133MHz Memory Mother Board Asus Z170-A Motherboard Hard Disks 500GB Samsung 850 EVO Solid State Drive1000GB Samsung 850 EVO Solid State Drive
  19. There was no two ways about it… I was late! I all but ran through the departures lounge at Heathrow Airport, apologising to several unsuspecting travellers as I weaved left to right and my wheeled cabin-case (accidentally) ran into their ankles...Where on earth was the check-in desk? “You’re lucky”, the desk assistant said, “if you can get through Passport Control without a hitch, you should just be able to make it to the gate in time”. He handed my passport back and with a hurried thank you and apologies for my tardiness, I headed for Security. I chose what appeared to be the fastest line, which, of course, ended up being one of the slowest thanks to a group of giggly girls, obviously off on their hen party trip, dressed in pink, complete with fluffy wings and pink feather boas. Naturally, they stopped at every possible moment to take ‘selfies’ with the bride-to-be who had what could only be described as a net curtain tied to her head, and a bright red ‘L’ plate on the back of her dress. Thank heavens they weren’t getting on my flight; mind you, that was the first time since my husband had dropped me off, that I was starting to question why on earth I was getting on my flight! When I had originally been asked to fly the route for a friend who ran a west African charter company, I had readily agreed. It fitted in perfectly with the ATWC schedule and I would actually get paid for doing it. My enthusiasm began to wane after the unrest a few weeks back at a popular Ouagadougou tourist hotel had put the area centre stage on almost every news station and newspaper in the western world, and I was heading right for it, by way of the Ivory Coast. It probably wasn’t the brightest of decisions I’d made so far this year, however, the Baton needed to get there, and I wasn’t about to let Joe down, so I’d better show some tenacity and get on with it. I can’t say that my first leg to Nairobi was too pleasant. I’m definitely not a fan of the Dreamliner, and despite the extra-large windows and supposedly serene mood lighting, it did little to detract from the otherwise drab puddle-brown cabin interior. Thank heavens it was a night flight and I could pop the eye mask on and stick the ear plugs in. Even the predictable screaming babies and unrestrained toddlers running up and down the aisle were expunged from my thoughts. The turnaround in Nairobi was only a couple of hours, and just enough time for me to stretch my legs before the onward flight to Abidjan. As soon as I was in the terminal I checked my voicemail messages. There was a message from my charter company contact, Phillippe, to let me know he’d booked my flight to Bouake for the following morning, and reserved my hotel room at the Onomo Abidjan, about half a mile from the airport. Result! With the temperature creeping into the 30s, I’d have the rest of the day to sit by the pool, call home, and maybe do some sightseeing. The airport courtesy bus dropped me at the reception of the Onomo, and I walked up to the Check-in desk eager to get my key and have a much needed shower before reviewing my options for the afternoon. “I’m sorry ma’am, your card has been declined…. Ma’am?” the receptionist prompted. “Are you sure?” I replied. I definitely wasn’t expecting that as I’d never had a problem using the Mutley’s Corporate card before now. Maybe it was a problem with the card machine; I asked her to try again. “The card is definitely declined, Ma’am” the receptionist looked at me as though I was some sort of fraudster. Begrudgingly, I took my personal Visa out and handed it to her. OK, not a major biggie; the room was only 140 quid. I’d send an email to Joe to let him know. Formalities done, and room key in hand, I was off to freshen up. After calling home, and sending an email to Joe to let him know about the malfunctioning credit card, I decided against checking out the tourist sites and instead headed for the pool. My husband isn’t one for beach holidays so I thought I’d make the most of a bit of sun, and cocktails from the pool bar. The Dash 8 flight to Bouake the following morning was surprisingly empty given that there were only 2 flights a week. I chose a seat right at the back and barely had enough time to enjoy my complimentary coffee before we were coming in to land on runway 21. As the aircraft engines were shut down and the cabin doors opened to a blast of blistering, dry heat, I pulled out my mobile and turned it on. Damn, no signal. I’d have to check my messages and texts later. Phillipe met me in the arrivals area and following the customary French greeting and kiss on both cheeks, he grabbed my suitcase and headed for the car park. Before he dropped me off at my hotel, he wanted to introduce me to the client, and ensure that all the arrangements had been made. We drove round to the Northern section for the airport to a group of buildings, hangars, and what appeared to be barracks. We parked up next to a dilapidated hanger and Phillippe instructed me to gather my passport, papers, and follow him. Passing through the hangar, we passed several tired aircraft that probably hadn’t taken to the sky in at least a decade.. thankfully, my aircraft was, Phillippe reassuringly told me, a bit more up to date. Through a door at the back of the hangar we walked across the tarmac to an outlying building where I was warmly greeted by a group of French and American military personnel. “Phillippe said we should be in for a surprise when you arrived, ma’am”, said one of the group with a distinct Texan accent. He didn’t offer his name, and I could tell right away that there was little point in me asking. This didn’t have the tell-tale signs of a private charter any more than it did a full military sanctioned flight. “We’ve filed your flight plan, fuelled the bird, and your cargo will be loaded and ready for you to depart at 0600 Zulu. You will be given your flight plan, weather reports and instructions in the morning”. I was just about to protest that I could file my own plans, supervise cargo loading and calculate my own fuel, thank you very much, when Phillippe put a hand on my shoulder as a silent warning to back off. I smiled and nodded.. no sense in making a scene. “Mac and his team here will meet you at 0500, Parking stand 8”, he said motioning to a man dressed in overalls, who returned my nod with a “Ma’am”. The meeting was concluded. Back in Phillippe’s car, I had to try and find out a bit more.. This was a clandestine flight if ever I saw one, and I at least wanted to know what the cargo was. “Don’t worry”, he said in his calming Parisian voice, “you’re safer with them than you would be going by train”. Before I was able to respond tartly with my own opinion of the ‘client’, a shrill beeping sound heralded the arrival of a text message, and I pulled out my phone to find I had 4 missed calls from a number in Sweden, and a voicemail message. I called my mailbox and sure enough there was a message from Mikael. John had been arrested almost as soon as he had arrived in Bouake, and was in the clink! As I started to wonder what had become of the baton, Mikael’s message continued, “He’s left it in a plant pot in the airport terminal at Bouake. Can you try and find it after you go through Immigration but before you get to the baggage reclaim?” “Blast it!” I blurted out, before I realised I’d said the words out loud. I was already here, and there was no way I was going to be able to get back into that part of the airport. “What’s the problem?” Phillippe asked. I told him my dilemma. Perhaps I could fly out of Bouake and then back in again, but there were only two flights in and out each week, so that wasn’t an option if I had to get the baton to Ouagadougou by Sunday evening. “There may be a way” Phillippe mused, “but it will cost”. I described the baton and the rough location, trying desperately to remember how many plant pots I had seen when I had flown in only a few hours earlier. Jeez, it could be anywhere.. Phillippe dropped me off at my hotel; the rather rustic looking Mon Afrik; and promised to do what he could. Once again, the company credit card wasn’t cooperating, so the Visa got another airing to settle the hotel bill, and again in the bar. I waited impatiently (by the pool) for an update from Phillippe. I never sleep well when I’m away from home, and with the whereabouts of the baton still unknown late in the evening, I only managed a few hours’ sleep. Joe was going to go spare if I didn’t retrieve the baton. I could have benefited from matchsticks for my eyelids, but strong coffee would have to suffice, and mercifully the hotel had 24hour room service. My mobile phone lit up.. a message from Phillippe. All was well and he would pick me up in 30 minutes. There was also a text from Joe to advise me not to use the company credit card as it had been maxed out in Cape Verde and Joe was checking out the purchases with the card company (that explained things). I showered quickly, dressed in my full pilot’s uniform (tie included), then walked out to Reception to check out. Phillippe’s car drew up outside and I got in, looking expectantly at him. He grinned and produced the baton from the glove box, waving at me as though he was about to throw a stick to a puppy! I grabbed it from him; “How on earth did you manage to get it?” I asked incredulously. “I’d hate to reveal my sources” he said with a wink, “but I’m afraid this means your fee for this trip is a LOT less than we agreed”. “Ok, I’ll worry about that when I’m back in the UK. I owe you for this one, Phillippe” I said, breathing a genuine sigh of relief. Phillippe dropped me off and after giving me a hug, he drove off into the night. I put the baton right at the bottom of my flight bag, straightened my tie, and walked into the Terminal. I could make out the silhouette of the Pilatus PC-12 as I walked up to stand 8. She looked immaculate even in the moonlight. I hadn’t flown one for several years but I’d have enough time to familiarise myself before I pushed back. I thought it strange that it was parked near the terminal but I guess the client wanted it to look like any other private charter. Mac and his team had already arrived and I just needed to do my external checks, go over the weight and balance sheets, and review the flight plan and weather. The weather was calm with some cloud at 7,000ft but the route itself looked innocent enough.. less than 2 hours, this could be the easiest leg of the ATWC yet. My Passenger was already aboard seated at the rear on the port side, and I could make out the top of his head. “Bonjour”, I began, and then, when no response was forthcoming, I walked down the aisle. “Good Morning. We’ll be on our way shortly, so if you could fasten your seat belt…" The head nodded in assent, and a pair of icy blue eyes glanced in my direction, and then back to some apparently riveting paperwork. Beyond him in the hold I could see one solitary hard-case. I turned and made my way back to the cockpit. Okaaaay… this might be better if it IS a short flight! Mac and his team pushed the aircraft back and then gave the OK to start. I began running through the checklists. Would have been a lot quicker if there had been two of us in the cockpit, but I could manage, and still get us in the air on time. Generators on, Avionics on, Inverter set to Gen, ECS on, Environmental controls… maybe I should set it to hot to thaw out Mister Happy in the back..? Cabin lights set, Camera…. Camera? Since when does a PC-12 have a camera? Suddenly it twigged. I remember reading an article about how the military used civilian aircraft for reconnaissance in West Africa, and judging by the ‘client’ the real purpose of my charter started to fall into place like a heavy iron portcullis. No time to worry about that now. Phillippe had assured me this was easy money (not that I was going to see much of the cash after having to pay to get the baton back), so I was going to get the job done. I scanned the myriad of switches.. dammit, where was it? I was just about to pull out the Operating Manual when I spotted it almost hidden by the shadow from the yoke. I taxied to Runway 03 and having got clearance from the tower, we were on our way. 05:58Z not bad going. I’d forgotten just how much I loved the PC-12, nice smooth ride, economical, but not the most responsive. Our route would take us almost straight to Ouaga via the BKY VOR and Koudougou. As the sun started to come up over the horizon, I was almost mesmerised by it. Africa does have some of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever experienced. My quiet reverie was cut short as I became aware of movement in the cabin behind me. I’d almost managed to forget about him. As I turned around to get up, he appeared and handed me an envelope. It didn’t look like he was going to return to his seat until I had read the contents so, using my finger as a letter opener, I pulled out the new chart and instructions. We were to cancel our current plan mid-flight just across the border into Burkina Faso, and divert to Gaoua (DFOG). What? [For obvious reasons I can't show his face.. Non Disclosure agreement and all that stuff] I would rather have had a bit more time to consider the new instructions, but by the look of my passenger, he wasn’t going anywhere till I had acquiesced. Just under 5000 feet grass strip runway. OK that’ll work. The PC-12 was used to landing on less than perfect strips, but I was just a bit uneasy about straying out too far off the beaten track, particularly after the unrest in the country exacerbated by recent events in Ouaga. Guessing that ‘Uncle Sam’ wouldn’t want any harm to come to their plane, cargo or my passenger, I turned round in my seat. “Okay. I’ll contact ATC and change our plan. Gaoua appears to be unmanned so I hope the ‘natives’ are on our side!” “Good”, he replied curtly, “they’re expecting us”, and with that he turned and strode quickly through the cabin to his seat at the rear. ATC didn’t seem too bothered by my request to go off my track. Maybe this wasn’t such an anomaly to them after all, but as we neared the airfield, I did 3 wide circuits to see if I could see any activity that could endanger the flight, but to my relief, it was relatively quiet. We touched down with plenty of room to spare, and I taxied to a small clearing and shut down the engine, just as a group of vehicles and a truck approached. My passenger instructed me to remain in the cockpit until some additional cargo was loaded. What cargo, I wondered, but then reminded myself that having plausible deniability was preferable in this type of situation! The rear cargo door was opened and the black suitcase removed, then a team transferred two wooden crates from the truck into the hold. I was about to get up to supervise when my mysterious passenger came back up the stairs and handed me the cargo weight and balance sheet, and a new route. Okay, good news was that we were going to Ouagadougou, the not so good news was that we now had to take a roundabout route to the West to get there. Knowing that any protestations would fall on deaf ears, I programmed all the manual waypoints into the GPS, and did a quick external inspection. I was nearing the left wing when I caught sight of the external camera which had me perplexed that morning. Sophisticated stuff, I mused. If modern satellites can spot something the size of a shoebox from orbit, this beauty could pick out the small print of a newspaper from several thousand feet. Our route took us close to some of the smaller strips to the left of Burkina Faso, so perhaps they were monitoring local movements and looking for potential hostilities. One thing was made quite clear in the instructions; we had to fly well below the cloud layer, which meant less than 4000 ft. and we would have to be fast. No problem, I thought to myself, I’d rather be done with this job, on the first flight I could get to London, and enjoying my beverage service. Checks done, I started the engine, taxied to the end of the field and was airborne before getting two thirds down the runway. The Pilatus climbed easily, and soon we were on our way again. There seemed to be very little out here, just miles upon miles of parched ground, clumps of trees, and small settlements, but I didn’t fancy taking any chances so I descended to 1500ft and hoped that anyone with a SAM in their arsenal wouldn’t have time to lock onto me at this height and speed. The camera would pick up any camps or unusual vehicle movements. We left our last waypoint in the distance and I climbed up to 3800 ft. for the remainder of the flight. We were back on our way to Ouagadougou when the Low fuel lights came on the CAWS panel. Just under an hour of fuel left in the tanks which was fine as long as I didn’t have to spend most of it in a holding pattern waiting for a landing slot. I called ATC and requested a direct to DFFD. The mere mention of our call sign 'Janet 101' was enough to spur them into action. Landing checklist complete, flaps down, camera off and retracted, gear down, three green. On approach to Runway 04L I was a little high. The PC-12 might go up like a rocket, but she was in no hurry (unlike me) to get back on terra firma. “Janet 101, Ouaga Tower, turn off at the third taxiway”. “Third Taxiway, Janet 101”, I replied. We were heading for the military end of the airport and the end of our journey. Slowly we turned into the parking area behind one of the huge hangars, where I was marshalled into position. I had barely shut down the engine when my passenger had opened the cabin door, descended the steps and motioned for the ground crew to unload the cargo. I didn’t bother to try and stop him.. better he was out of my hair anyway. A man I took to be the ramp manager stuck his head into the cockpit to inform me that a car was waiting to take me to the main terminal where I would need to present my passport and travel documents, clear customs etc. He also reminded me of the non-disclosure agreement I had signed in London when Phillippe had first secured my services, so no mention of the purpose of our trip should be shared with the authorities… like I needed a reminder! I finished off the shutdown procedure as quickly as I could, grabbed my travel case, checked that the baton was still safe and sound in my flight bag, and followed him out. Having completed all the formalities and had my passport stamped, I went out into the terminal area. I could really do with a JD, but lukewarm Diet Coke from a vending machine would have to suffice for the moment. I’d waited almost an hour in the terminal for John, and was starting to worry that he hadn’t managed to get out of Bouake, when I was almost knocked off my feet by the very man I was there to meet. Before I could open my mouth to utter a word, he had caught my arm to steady me, and looking me straight in the eye he began “I’m terribly sorry, I should have been looking where I was going. Are you alright?” I was about to chide him for not recognising me, when his pleading eyes warned me not to. A burly man with a bad haircut and five o’clock shadow walked briskly up to him, and told him to hurry up. By the looks of the situation, John was not there by his own free will. Who was this goon that was with him? What had John got himself into now? John apologised again and walked off with the goon to the small café at the end of the terminal. Watching them go, I was completely dumbfounded. He’d obviously wanted me to know he was there, but to keep me safe from whatever he was mixed up in. I put my hand in my jacket pocket to grab my mobile and text Joe when I felt a slip of paper. I recognised John’s almost copperplate handwriting immediately. Hide the baton in the side pocket of your flight bag, leave it at lost property, and get out of the country now! Be safe. JG I went into the ladies’ rest room and changed out of my uniform, putting on jeans and a sweatshirt, tied my hair up and took off all my makeup. Thoughts ran through my mind: Who was the goon? Was John being held hostage and the Baton was John’s only bargaining chip? Should I trust John, or just take the baton with me and wait for someone else from the hangar to arrive? Should I find my own way to Menaka? After fighting with my conscience, and concluding that John was a master of getting out of every bad situation, I formulated my plan which would work even if John couldn’t make it back to Lost Property. First things first, I needed to blend in with the rest of the airport passengers, and quickly. I removed my personal papers from the flight bag, left the charts, and then pulled out the owner label inside the flight bag lid, and wrote Joe’s office its number, and the postcode of the Hangar on the slip. At least if John couldn’t get the bag himself, it would find way back to Mutley’s, albeit later than planned (or at least I hoped it would, or Joe would never let me fly another leg). Walking over to the lost property desk, I addressed the assistant “Hi. I think a pilot has left this in the toilets by accident”. “Of course” the woman replied, “could you please open it?” I pulled open the lid confidently and tipped the bag at an angle so that she could see it contained flight charts and nothing remotely dangerous. She spotted the address tag, and with a (relieved) smile, she closed it and placed the bag on a metal rack behind her. “We’ll take care of it. I’m sure the owner will want it back”. Walking back through the terminal, trying to avoid the café area, I sent a text to my husband letting him know I was safe and was catching the first available flight back. I started to type a message to Joe then stopped mid text... I’d give John as much time as it took me to fly home, to get things back on track, before I broke the news to Joe and Mikael. I hoped that I wouldn’t live to regret my decision. I walked briskly over to the Ticket desk… I didn’t care how I got home but I would pay the upgrade to Business Class myself, just to sleep on a plane going back to London. Time to flex the credit card again.. FSX Acceleration Rex Essentials & Overdrive Flight 1 Pilatus PC-12 FS Dreamteam GSX Ultimate Traffic2
  20. Leg 56 – GVAC Amilcar Cabral Airport to DIBK Bouake Airport. I had had a couple of months off, away from the ATWC. Having completed leg 43 and finding myself in Houston Texas in the good old USA, I spent a week there, wondering about the challenge and how it would fit in with Christmas. Houston is a town built on industry, the energy industry, and specifically the oil and gas industry. It is not really known for its tourism and so I was hard put to know what sights to see. Eventually I gave up and took United Airlines Flight 97 back to Heathrow and home for an early start to the Christmas holidays. United Airlines Jumbo I dare say that my Christmas experience was much the same as many others, eating far too much, drinking a shed load of booze and having the sister in law come round with her kids and doing a fair impression of a lighthouse fog horn whilst trying unsuccessfully to control her offspring. I was glad to escape when it was time to depart for the next leg of ATWC 6. Micke had given me a fair warning of what is was going for my next leg, and I was pleased that my contacts came up with a ferry job for the leg. An RAF Harrier GR9 would be in transit from Trenton Airbase in Canada to Al Minhad Air Base in Dubai. It would be stopping at Amilcar Cabral Airport in the Cape Verdi islands for fuel and for a crew change. I was to be the new pilot. The aircraft was due to fly a more direct route from Cape Verdi to Dubai, but my old friend Jasmine had arranged a southerly diversion to accommodate the batons transit. First I would have to get to Amilcar Cabral. In the world of commercial passenger flights this airport doesn’t exist. It took me fifteen minutes of fruitless searching to realise it was known as Sal Airport by the airlines, probably as it is on the island of Sal. I booked a TAP Portugal flight to Sal via Lisbon. Setting off from Gatwick at a little after 4 pm, I arrived on time at Sal at ten past midnight the following day. TAP Airbus A330 My hotel was to be the Melia Dunas Hotel, on the beachfront in the south west of the island near Santa Maria, about five miles from the airport. Mutley was doing me proud with the hotel quality once again. Bad weather in Canada was delaying the arrival of the Harrier, and so I settled down for a wait. I had expected that the Harrier would arrive ahead of the Baton but this was looking more and more doubtful. I picked up a tourist guide at the shops. A brief history of Cape Verde In 1456, Alvise Cadamosto a Portuguese explorer discovered some of the islands. In the next decade, Diogo Gomesand António de Noli, captains in the service of Prince Henry the Navigator, discovered the remaining islands of the archipelago. When these mariners first landed in Cape Verde, the islands were barren of people but not of vegetation. The Portuguese returned six years later to the island of São Tiago to found Ribeira Grande (now Cidade Velha), in 1462—the first permanent European settlement city in the tropics. In 1462 the Islands were used as a haven for Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal by the Inquision, The islands prospered with a large slave labour force under the Portuguese, but were raided from time to time by pirates, British and French naval forces. In 1747 the islands were hit with the first of the many droughts that have plagued them ever since,. Three major droughts in the 18th and 19th centuries resulted in well over 100,000 people starving to death. The 19th-century decline of the lucrative slave trade was another blow to the country's economy. It was around this time that the Cape Verde populous began emigrating to the United States. In the late 19th century the island was made a coaling and submarine cable station, and there was plenty of work for local labourers. This was the golden period of the city, where it gained the cultural characteristics that made it the current cultural capital of the country. However, during World War II, the economy collapsed as the shipping traffic was drastically reduced and as coal waned as a fuel for shipping her countries economy was further crippled. Cape Verdi gained independence from Portugal in 1975. Having seen the video above I decided to have a look around these stunning Islands while I waited. Although the Islands themselves are small, they cover a large area with as much as 70 or 80 miles between them. Island hopping by boat was not an option as I would have spent all my time in the water, so I took advantage of an offer to be showed around by the islands a female pilot I met in a bar, she went by the name of Constantina. Mooney Bravo Constantinas’ aircraft was a Mooney Bravo. Connstantina didn’t trust anyone with her precious aircraft and despite telling her I was a very experienced pilot, she told me in no uncertain terms, that I probably didn’t have enough experience to pilot her Mooney Bravo, it wasn’t a Cessna you know. So I wasn’t good enough to be pilot, I was to be a passenger for the trip arranged for tomorrow. Well that’s put me in my place then! I had what was left of the day to look around the island of Sal before we set off on our Island tour at in the morning. The island of Sal is famous for its salt. I guess that’s why the ex-Portuguese colony named this Island Sal, the Portuguese word for salt, so I abandoned the fabulous beaches with their pale sand and azure waters and went in search of salt. Beaches at Sal I found it at Pedro Do Lume on the eastern side of the island. Pedro Do Lume, is the name given to a crater of a now extinct volcano. Entry to the crater was made possible by means of an artificial tunnel built in 1804. Salt here is abundant and has been collected since the fifteenth century Sal’s salt (or if you are Portuguese, Salt’s… errm….salt) The very next day we started a round trip that would take us to all the islands and be back before supper. The timescale meant we would not be landing but merely taking a bird’s eye view. Cape Verdi flight plan, start and end point is the upper and right most island, Sal. We would be flying from Sal island to Sao Nicolau island, from there to Sao Vicente island, then on to Fogo island, Sao Tiago island, Maio island, Boa Vista island and finally back to Sel. Start of the tour. We flew out of Sel and as we crossed the coast we could see Sao Nicolau on the horizon ahead. Sao Nicolau Island. This mountainous island is mostly agricultural but is subject to droughts. Flat areas and hills dominate most of the coastline and the central part. A peninsula covers the eastern part of the island. The highest point on the island is Monte Gordo (1,312 m). Other mountains include Monte Bissau in the central part and Pico do Alberto to the east. All too soon we had traversed the island and were heading to the Sao Vicente Island. Sao Vicente Island Although volcanic in origin, the island is quite flat. Its highest point is Monte Verde (Portuguese for green mountain) located in the northeast-central part with an altitude of 725 metres (2,379 ft). Although a great amount of erosion has taken place and much of the Island has been deforested, some volcanic craters still remain in particular near the bay of Mindelo. Other mountaintops include Monte Cara and Topona. The urban area of Mindelo is in the northern part of the Island. Our flight took us in a curve over the centre of the island, and so the town of Mindelo was to our right and, as we passed over the western coast the air strip at Sao Pedro passed below us as we headed south and then south east towards Fogo Island and the only active volcano left in Cape Verdi Fogo Island The crater on Fogo is one of the highlights of Cape Verde and has created what is a very fertile island. The scenery on Fogo is impressive: dark rocks and black sands give an impression of a lunar landscape. São Filipe, the capital of Fogo is a pretty town full of Portuguese squares and cobbled streets. Our passage over the island was brief but stunning, however we were soon on our way to the next Island, that of Sao Tiago Island. Sao Tiago Island Santiago was the first of the islands to be settled, the town of Cidade Velha being founded as Riberia Grande in 1462. It is also home to the nation's capital city of Praia. Santiago is the largest island of Cape Verde, and is mountainous, although slightly flatter in the southeast. Praia, located in the southeast coast, is the largest city and capital of the country. On our way to Maio This rather brown island seemed to rather desolate from the air, and so we swiftly flew on to Maio island. Maio Island Maio is the easternmost of the islands of Cape Verde. The island is known for its sandy beaches and large forest, the latter of which makes a change from the previous islands we had flown over. There is a central mountain range and salt pans in the north of the islands which like Sel are a source of local industry. We set down for some lunch taking a taxi from the airport for the three kilometres to its capital city of Villa do Maio. Yum-yum After a sumptuous lunch of seafood paella we returned to the airport and were soon in the air again. Maio is a small island and so we quickly left behind this inviting islands and flew on to Boa Vista Island. Boa Vista Boa Vista (Portuguese meaning “good view”) is the easternmost island of Cape Verde. The island is known for marine turtles and traditional music, as well as its sand dunes and beaches. Its main industries today are date farming and, increasingly, tourism, with several tourist attractions and large hotels being built in recent times. As of July 2015, the island boasts the highest income per capita in this island nation. Boa Vista hotel After passing Boa Vista, head of us lay Sel and so we had come full circle. As we touched down I saw the familiar sight of Brian’s green a white 747, so I knew the baton was in town. I said my goodbyes to Constantina, whereupon she presented me with a bill for the days’ tour. I should have seen that coming but I was in no mood for arguing, Mutley’s credit card took an unexpected hit. I found Brian in the airport bar drinking something long and cool with half a ton of fruit and one of those fancy umbrellas in it. I bought him another, which took ages to prepare as the barman had to harvest the entire islands fruit production for a week and settled for a nice refreshing gin and tonic myself. “Ahem” said a voice behind me. “What about a drink for me? Especially as I have just delivered your ride for the next leg. Arn’t you going to introduce me to your friend?” I looked around to see who this was. It was an RAF air crew suited woman. “Brian, meet Jasmine, she is an old friend of mine” Introductions done, Jasmine stole my G & T and handed me a package. “Change into these, you need to get going, and here is your bone dome”. It seemed that both Jasmine and Brian had arrived when I was on my tour. I set off to the gents to change just catching Jasmine turning up the charm on Brian and saying “any chance of a ride out of here?” Brian was putty in her hands. Having changed and looking suitably like a fast jet pilot Brian Jasmine and I wandered out on to the apron. Brian kindly took a photo of Jaz and me before saying goodbye and returning to the bar to finish his fruit harvest. Brian’s photography Jaz and I walked to the waiting Harrier. With this flight planned in advance there was little for me to do but for a detailed handover from Jasmine. The aircraft was parked the alongside Brian’s massive aircraft, with a certain persons Mooney Bravo on the others side. Constantina had wondered from her aircraft, around Brian’s 747 and was staring with something akin to wonderment at the RAF Jet. “Hello Constantina” I said. “I would give you a ride in my ‘plane but there is only room for one”. She looked at me and did a double take. I have never seen someone blush so deeply in my life. Flight Plan The flight plan would take me south southwest from Sal, to a refuelling point over the ocean, from there to Dakar airspace and then down the coast to the point where the border between Liberia and the Cote d’Ivoire, Ivory Coast to you and me, meets the sea. There was no point getting permission to fly a military aircraft over West African countries when it could be avoided. An unusual line up of aircraft. The Harrier was still dressed for her Canadian winter exercises, and looked a bit strange here on this warm tropical island, but as I did my walk round all seemed well so still smiling, I climbed into the cockpit with Jasmin following to help me get strapped in. Jasmin and ladder cleared I started the pre start checks. Jasmine would be acting as my ground crew. · Battery switch – ON · Master Caution light – RESET · Parking brake – SET And so on….. Soon I was ready to start the engine. The engine wound up to the rushing air sound as the turbines speed up. Then the rushing gave birth to a whine as the engine ignited and settled down to its idle speed. All was looking good on the instruments. Time to taxi, I closed the canopy. Start up Out at the runway threshold, take off clearance was given, I decided to put on a show for those on the ground, Constantina in particular. Lined up on the centreline for short take-off, I would have done a vertical take-off but I was way too heavy on fuel. Now before you say hang on what about the fuel use for this and the small matter of 1,200 miles yet to travel, what about your range? - Well actually the aircraft has a ferry range of 2,129 miles, however this is with full drop tanks, and although I had the tanks, it seemed that the RAF wanted me to top them up in flight as they didn’t want to hang around at my destination, which was, to say the least a bit of a dodgy neighbourhood. So I was to mid-air refuel about 350 miles out. Take-off! I opened the throttles wide and in less than eight seconds I was airborne, I cleaned up the aircraft and continued to accelerate. Twenty seconds had elapsed since the throttle had been applied and I was transitioning to full forward flight. I thought I would give Brian a show and rub Constantina’s nose in it a bit and so I circled around the field and passed down the runway at 250 feet and doing 250 kts. Not my top speed, but good enough for a bit of a show. Low pass At the end of the pass I pointed the aircraft at the blue yonder and climbed up to 36.000ft. As a youth I can recall the Harriers of the taskforce screaming in towards Port Stanley to deliver the good news the trespassing Argies, or sticking a sidewinder up the exhaust of a Skyhawk to stop its evil intent. Not this mark, but I was flying a truly iconic aircraft. Climb. Up at 36,000 feet and a good few pounds of fuel lighter it was time to look for the tanker aircraft. Five minutes later I had her on radar and in another five minutes I was manoeuvring to take on fuel. Refuelling – Approach I approached the tanker, an old VC10, perhaps on one of her last sorties. About to dock After overcoming the turbulence of the VC10 I carefully approach and dock with the fuel lines basket. Docked with the tanker, I started taking on fuel at rate of about 1000 kg a minute. Goodbye – and thanks! I had to fly docked for two minutes to top up my tanks, but once done I was good for the rest of the flight. All done I rolled away and set a course for Bouake. I settled into a cruise, the Harrier was not the fastest jet in the world, subsonic and built primarily for short range strikes, and for its STOL and VTOL abilities. My cruise speed was going to take about the same time that an airliner would take. A low Sun reflecting off the tail plane. As my flight continued, the sun neared the horizon. It would be a night landing at my destination. Sunset If it wasn’t for the normal orchestra of sounds emitting from the aircraft, it would be a beautiful evening. The last vestiges of light. The sun finally dipped over the horizon and the stars gently appear. Stunningly beautiful, I was a luck witness to the end of this day. Having made the coast of West Africa at Dakar as planned I came out of my revelry and banked to my next reading. I could relax now. Land – Ho! The workload well and truly down, I had time to cogitate. Things were going well at last. Maybe Putinfeld’s gang had given up on me and I had avoided prison for some time now. Prison was usualy avoided by good behaviour but the Putinfeld problem was still nagging at me. I switched the Electronic Countermeasures just to make me feel better, but something else was nagging at me. Then it came to me. It was Brian’s aircraft. There was nothing wrong with it in the physical sense, but there was in another way. Brian’s 747 was actually a white and green beacon. Let’s face it, you couldn’t miss it, wherever it went it stuck out a mile. Bouake below Perhaps a good thing for his business but very far from covert which was what I would want. When it was not in one of its usual haunts, It shouted out like a foghorn: “THIS IS WHERE THE BATON IS” and therefore a good chance where JG is. The rest of the cruise went uneventfully and after a sightseeing tour of the coast of West Africa, I was contacting Bouake ACT, and then tower for clearance to land. Approach Lined up with the runway I bought the aircraft down for a conventional landing. With the fuel tanks still fairly full a vertical landing was out of the question. After a nice short landing, I turned off the runway on to the taxi way and asked the tower for taxi instructions. They came, directing me to the far end of the airport, remote from all of the rest of the facilities, where there are some military hangers. Touch down at Bouake Airport This meant a long taxi as I had almost passed over them as I came into land. Parked up at the remote north end of the runway On arrival there I was greeted by an RAF ground crew, who were guarded by a detachment of RAF regiment soldiers. A reminder of how unstable the Ivory Coast was. After all it was only five years ago that the resident UN peace keepers had to fire on President Gbagbo forces to protect themselves. I wanted to get out of here as soon as I could. Bouake military area. As I was changing into my civvies in the hanger that the Harrier was being backed into I noticed that the guys here to turn around the aircraft’s transport. An A400M, one of the RAF’s new shiny C130 replacements. I was given a lift by some trusted locals in a Toyota “Technical” to the other end of the airfield to the civilian airport. They dropped me off and sped away without waiting. This was odd as the locals anywhere in this region expected some ‘baksheesh’ for any service rendered. Bouake civilian terminal. Entering the terminal building I headed for passport control where I was promptly arrested (without charge). Fortunately I had time to secrete the baton in a giant plant pot and so I it didn’t fall into police hands. I was allowed one phone call which I used to call Micke to tell him where the baton was hidden and to ask him to get in touch with Jasmine and to ask her to rescue me. Phone call over, I was lead out of the terminal to a waiting Police car. Just as I was getting into the car I heard the roar of aircraft, the Harrier and the A400M were already on their way. They didn’t hang about. At the cop-shop my cell which was home to another 15 condemned souls was clearly a front runner for Africa’s filthiest lockup, and I would put money on it winning. It was so filthy I dare not sit down for soiling my clothes on the floor which was scattered with stinking rags, plastic and sacking. I think the rags were torn cloths with dried blood on them, so I remained standing, trying not inhale the stench and smiling at my 15 new best mates. They weren’t smiling back. My new shared living space, with all my new found friends. I didn’t have long until things in here got very nasty. Especially for yours truly. After 20 minutes the bigger of my fellow inmates had started to edge towards me while the weaker ones just stared at me with malevolent eyes. I was very close to becoming the big boy’s new toy. Just as I thought the biggest of my companions was about to grab me, a guard appeared and said I was free to go. There were clearly a few disappointed faces in the cell. Apparently someone had stood bribe bail for me. Thinking that it was Jaz and she had got here quickly, I said “was it a woman?” My guard said, that it wasn’t, it was a man, a Russian man. This wasn’t good, not good at all. It could only mean that Putinfeld had caught up with me at last and I was going to be served up to them on a plate.
  21. Unusually for me, I was not feeling my habitually amiable self. The reason for this (the wounds were self-inflicted, as you’ll see — which only made things worse) was that I had given both Ken and Geoff, my F/Os, leave for the whole of the Christmas and (beyond) New Year period, assisted by the fact that as it happened there was no demand for our specialised services during that time anyway. I had been warned to have one of them on standby by Julie (my FD, Company Secretary, and obsessive bean-counter) — but in my usual generous fashion, and wanting to give the guys a decent amount of time with their families, I had opted to ignore her advice. Then the request for this ATWC flight came in. It would, naturally. Life’s like that, don’t you find? As a result, every time Julie meets me now, she gets that supercilious look on her face. <sigh> Hey ho, she’ll get over it. So I had no choice other than to see who I could fish out of the current pool of 747-400 F/Os for hire. It wasn’t easy, given the time of year, but in the end I found one, although of course he lacked the specific knowledge of some of Brian’s Charter’s more.... let’s say “specialised” operations, so inevitably he wasn’t my ideal. But hey — the ATWC flight was a boringly straight line 1500 mile milk run over the Atlantic, from the top right-hand corner of Brazil up to a small island 350 miles off the west coast of Africa, so what could possibly go wrong? (I know, I know...). Well the first thing that went.... let’s say not exactly right (?!) was that I had to collect the baton from where Jess was leaving it for me, which was scheduled to be Augusto Severo International Airport (SBNT). Now the rather considerable snag with that was that SBNT closed to civil aviation on May 31st, 2014, when all such flights moved to Governador Aluízio Alves International Airport (SBSG) — and, trust me, it’s quite difficult to take something the size of a 747-400 into a closed airport without someone complaining. Furthermore, long experience has taught me that it’s one thing to take an item in to an airport, but it tends to be something else entirely when you want to take it out. So it was time to pick up the phone and try to get in touch with one of my many contacts — those that were were answering the phone just after Christmas, at least. It took a full morning of increasing irritation whilst listening to extended ringtones and recorded invitations to leave messages until I finally got to speak to an old RAF contact of mine currently working in a Retired Officer post in the M.O.D., and who said that he’d do his best.... but was I aware that Brazil wasn’t exactly a healthy place to go to, what with mosquitoes, dengue fever, and the Chikunyunga and Zika viruses, not to mention violent protests and underlying terrorism threats? I thanked him for this recycled HMG-issue information as cordially as I could (not easy when you’re gritting your teeth at the time), but nonetheless persisted in enquiring how I could arrange to land at SBNT where, he told me, the Brazilian military still had a presence. (In fact I was cheered by that information, since that meant that with any luck the navaids would still be working). So I pressed him again to see whether he could make the necessary arrangements. Sighing deeply in what I felt was an unnecessarily patronising sort of way, he grudgingly said that he’d do his best — but added that I wasn’t to hope for too much. However, since, reading between the lines, he was in the office more or less on his own with little better to do (and, even more to the point, knowing that he owed me a few favours), I did have some slight cause for optimism as I waited for him to ring back. When the phone finally rang it was late afternoon. I made myself wait for three rings before answering (I didn’t want him to feel I was too eager), and then had to put up with a long tale about how complicated, difficult, and stressful his task had proved to be. But the bottom line was that everything was arranged. Once having received the details, including the all-important questions of where in Brazil to send a copy of my flight plan and the military contact frequency for the airfield, I thanked him sincerely for his help, promised to buy him lunch next time I was in London, closed the call, and awarded myself a modest glass of single malt. SBNT, here I come. Once the soothing effects of the single malt started to take effect, I then began to review the flight. One potential problem which could arise was the possibility of a thorough search of the aircraft by the military on arrival, so I resolved to be scrupulously careful and ensure that my 744 would be conspicuously empty and pristine when it arrived at SBNT. I also have to mention that this wouldn’t be the first time that the requirements of the ATWC meant that I had to fly without any payload at all — which hurts, for a Charter operator like me. But hey — anything for the ATWC, right? Fast forward a week or so and you find me in the cockpit of my 744, approaching the northeast coast of Brazil. In the right-hand seat is my temporary F/O, whose name turned out to Timothy. “Not Tim!”, he emphasised in his breathless fashion as we introduced ourselves. He had the bounding energy of a young puppy, and seeing him enthusiastically frisking about I resigned myself to the prospect of double-checking everything that he did in the cockpit as soon as I had the chance. We had been assigned a specific frequency in the 128.85 MHz -132.00 MHz range for talking to the Brazilian military, and so as we entered Brazilian airspace I attempted to contact them as instructed, but for some reason was unable to do so. And as the miles slipped by there continued to be no reply, which was a matter for increasing concern. When we had started our descent towards SBNT and the silence still continued my disquiet moved up a notch into outright worry, whilst Timothy’s excitement was evidently increasing. “Gosh”, he burbled, “I’ve never landed at a military airport before”. Well whoopee, I felt like saying, I certainly have, and I’d be an awful lot happier if I was talking to them right now. With the alarm bells getting louder in my head, on a sudden impulse I asked Timothy to tune his HF radio to 243.0 MHz (the radios on my aircraft have extended coverage into the military range specifically for occasions like this — one of a number of non-standard modifications which are fitted). I then needed to explain to him that 243.0 was the emergency frequency for military use (also known as Military Air Distress, which makes for a not entirely inappropriate acronym). He selected the frequency on his ACP, and immediately we picked up a transmission requesting us to acknowledge. Hmm. Clearly, whoever was on the other end of the radio was, shall we say, somewhat unfamiliar with civilian practices <sigh>. But once communication had been established I was able to feel a little easier (although I should have known better) — and soon after crossing the coastline.... .... we landed, and were instructed to proceed to Gate 2 which, like the rest of the civilian side of the old airport, was completely devoid of aircraft (unless Jess’s A320 was for some reason hiding in the nearby hangar). In other words, worryingly, it seemed that Jess hadn’t yet arrived — unless perhaps she had already done so and then left? Questions, questions.... But I put them out of my mind as I approached Gate 2 when it quickly became obvious that the stands at SBNT had not been designed with a 747’s wingspan in mind, since there was no chance whatsoever that the aircraft would fit between the jetways. So I had to stop short of the marks — so far short, in fact, that Timothy looked at me in considerable surprise — something which I affected not to notice. Truly is it said that youth is wasted upon the young. At that point I was still hoping that I might meet up with Jess and the baton inside the old terminal. Having no clue what might await us at SBNT, I had brought on board sufficient refreshment for us, since it seemed distinctly possible that we might be on our way immediately (foreign civilians and their aircraft are rarely afforded the warmest of welcomes at military airfields). So I set the parking brake and we got on with the business of starting to prepare the aircraft for a short stay — however whilst I was shutting down the engines I was distracted by another squawk from burbling Timothy. “Hey great”, he enthused, “They’re giving us a military escort”. I looked outside. We were encircled with men all right, but this was no escort, not with every one of them pointing automatic weapons at us. Having no wish to see my aircraft turned into the world’s largest colander, I had no option other than to leave a puzzled Timothy temporarily in charge whilst I went to find out what was going on: so after first of all giving him some succinct and extremely explicit instructions I went to greet the natives. They had evidently been expecting us, since they had jury-rigged a dangerous-looking series of steps, mounted on wheels for additional instability, that just about reached the level of the lower doors. Evidently the primary gunslinger had no English, but he and his SMG made it pellucidly clear, using the international patois of violence and intimidation, that I was to descend to ground level. So I did, although the steps swayed and bent alarmingly during the process — the Elf of Safety clearly wasn’t a part of the culture here. I was frogmarched with the minimum of courtesy into the old aircraft terminal and thence to the upper floor (which gave me, at one point, a view of my aircraft — Timbo was still in his seat, so hopefully he was carrying out my instructions). My destination was evidently someone’s office, in which I was unceremoniously shoved into a chair facing the desk — clearly, their brand of military courtesy wasn’t quite what I was used to. On the other side of the ornate desk sat an immaculately turned out little man with slicked-back hair and a uniform whose badges of rank I couldn’t decipher, but who was clearly the boss man in these parts. To my relief, it quickly became obvious that he spoke good English, so that at least communication was not going to be a problem. His entourage was ranged around the room, some of them seated at what looked like military folding tables. But I couldn’t help noticing (I find that being in a room full of unfriendly men with guns tends to sharpen my perceptions) that no one looked remotely pleased to see me. After a suitable pause for effect, the individual behind the desk condescended to notice my arrival. “Welcome, to Natal, Captain”, he said (without, I noticed, making the slightest effort to sound in any way welcoming), “I am Colonel Fernadez. So exactly why have you come to visit us?” Well so much for social chit-chat, this guy obviously preferred to cut to the chase. I considered my options, whilst simultaneously wishing that I knew exactly what my friend in the M.O.D. had told them. When in doubt, I generally opt for sticking to the obvious (whilst also trying to say as little as possible), so I explained to him about the baton and the relay, although I also embroidered things a little and made it sound like a race, in the hope of expediting matters. He pursed his lips, gave a pseudo-sad shake of his head, and dropped his bombshell. “I regret to inform you, Captain”, he said, “that we have no baton for you. No one has arrived with your so-called baton. It appears, therefore, that this talk of relays and races is merely a pitiful excuse for you to land here, and that you are a spy.” I began to sweat in a manner which had nothing to do with the temperature, and embarked upon an emphatic denial that I had any association with espionage. But whilst I was still in full flow one of the Colonel’s colleagues went to him and began whispering in his ear. Stopping my indignant explanations with an emphatic gesture, he stated “Ah, it now appears that another aircraft is on its way here, and will be landing soon”. I was suitably relieved. “So it seems that there are two of you involved in this!”, the Colonel triumphantly pronounced. Things were definitely not going well, but it should help if I could demonstrate that all was as previously arranged. “I think you will find that the incoming aircraft an Airbus A320”, I stated. To my chagrin, the Colonel assumed a thin smile and shook his head, “Not at all. It is apparently a microjet, similar to the type used by some of our drug smugglers.” Oh terrific. Not only a suspected spy, but now a suspected drug smuggler, too. Wondering what on earth had happened to Jess and her A320, I realised that I needed to talk my way out of this one fast. But the Colonel was now engaged in a whispered discussion with two of his senior officers, so I felt it politic to await the outcome. Turning back to face me, Colonel Fernandez seemed grimmer than ever. “The pilot of the incoming aircraft is clearly one of your fellow criminals,” he declared, “since she has asked to be directed to where you are when she lands. Very well. You will meet her in the restaurant area below us, where you will be served with coffee. You will not inform her of any of this conversation; we will be listening and will shoot both of you if you reveal anything to your colleague — if she should ask, tell her that this terminal is empty”. I agreed to this scenario with what little enthusiasm I could simulate (although I was relieved to discover that Jess was OK), and I was bundled downstairs into the restaurant, just in time to see her taxying a microjet to a halt at the south-easterly end of the terminal. I was then ordered to beckon her inside, and to sit at a particular table (presumably, the one with the microphones, and with a clear field of fire for the hidden snipers). As Jess came into the restaurant I was relieved to see that she was carrying the baton, although I was definitely not looking forward to explaining to her that the only form of liquid refreshment on offer was coffee. In view of her various excursions on the way to SBNT Jess had a lot to tell me, and the subsequent monologue must have expanded the listeners’ knowledge of the certain aspects of the English language quite considerably, although happily it should also do much to explain to them the reason for her late arrival. I gently steered the conversation towards the ATWC in general, and we chatted about previous legs (and certain personalities — I think your ears might have been burning, Joe) in a way which I hoped that our hosts would find reassuring. Perhaps they did, for at that point our conversation was interrupted by the arrival at our table of Colonel Fernandez. After curtly introducing himself to Jess, he briefly explained to her that unfortunately the airfield was closed to civilian traffic, and hence it would be necessary for her to immediately fly the very short distance to Governador Aluízio Alves International Airport (SBSG) for her overnight stay, for which purpose her A320 was being pushed out of the adjacent hangar and would soon be ready for her to board. Seeing Jess’s face darkening at this unwelcome turn of events I had to forestall the imminent explosion somehow, so I hastily interjected “And I must be on my way too — thank you for your hospitality, Colonel.” (Sarcasm may perhaps be the lowest form of wit, but I felt it to be entirely appropriate at that point). But this was not what the Colonel had in mind. “No”, he shouted at me, wagging his finger for emphasis, “She may go, but you — you will stay!” With a puzzled glance in my direction, Jess got up and hurried away to be reunited with her A320, her tiredness temporarily forgotten. Meanwhile, back in the restaurant, the Colonel had seized the baton, while his gun-toting merry men took me upstairs to his office again. This was getting wearisome, but at least I could be hopeful that Jess would be on the radio to Tim, to warn him that things were not well and that he should stay put and await further developments. As to how Jess’s A320 had arrived — that was a mystery which was explained only later (see Jess's own account for details). After a short delay, Colonel Fernandez and the remainder of his officers entered the room: the Colonel sat down at his desk and regarded me with disfavour, albeit not unmixed with some puzzlement. “You expect me to believe that it would take an A320 and a Boeing 747 to carry your small baton?”, he mused. “Yet it is not at all heavy.” Put like that, I had to admit that it must have seemed odd, but sensing an opportunity I explained that the mix of aircraft during the relay race was merely a question of what the individual pilots considered appropriate, or had to hand. The baton itself, whilst not heavy or bulky, was nonetheless the most essential aspect of the relay, since to win the bet it had to be returned to its starting point as quickly as possible. So I ended by saying “I would therefore be most grateful if you return the baton to me, and allow me to proceed on my way with all possible speed, Colonel”. Colonel Fernandez sat in silence for a few moments and then snapped his fingers, at which to my surprise one of his flunkeys stepped forward (I thought that only happened in Mafia movies), and I saw he was holding the baton. I put out my hand to take it from him, but Colonel Fernandez had no intention of releasing it just yet, and dismissed the flunkey back to the sidelines with a wave of his manicured hand. “You know, Captain”, he said, “we have a lot of trouble here with drug smugglers.” Aha, I thought, that’s where we are — although I was relieved to note that at least espionage seemed to now be off the menu following Jess’s explanations of her extended trip, so I remained cautiously silent. But Fernandez then continued: “Perhaps this... baton of yours is full of cocaine? So we should open it to find out, no?” Faced with the prospect of his goons systematically reducing the baton to matchwood in search of imaginary drugs, I needed to come up with something quickly. “Colonel”, I suggested, “this airfield was closed to civilian traffic only eighteen months ago. You must still have some of the old luggage scanning equipment in use — especially since, to judge by the baggage carts outside, you still use this terminal for troop movements”. We exchanged glances — clearly we both had experience of troop movements and some of the interesting items which turned up in troops’ luggage from time to time. I continued “Why don’t you simply scan the baton to prove to you that it is harmless, and then I can be on my way, since any further delay could imperil the bet and prove very costly”. The Colonel gave his staff the evil eye — someone was going to pay for not suggesting this to him earlier — and regarded me slightly less coldly. “Very well”, he announced, “I will do that. And whilst my staff carry out this order as rapidly as possible, you will tell me more about your relay race and the bet, yes?”. I tried to look delighted at the prospect of inventing a full-scale and detailed around the world relay race bet story on the fly, and thanked the Colonel for his courtesy. He rattled off some clipped Portuguese orders and the baton-carrier literally ran from the room. Clearly, Colonel Fernandez could be a man to be feared. I will gloss over the next ten minutes or so, during which I invented in fanciful detail the tale of a bet between an unnamed billionaire and a group of adventurers from the internationally-known Mutley’s Hangar team of crack flyers who were determined to complete the relay in time to win the prize. Clearly, the Colonel was a betting man himself, because he listened with increasing enthusiasm and was starting to ask about the amount of money involved when the flunkey returned, somewhat out of breath (and with the baton still intact, I was relieved to see). The unfortunate scapegoat was then made to stand at quivering attention whilst he received a severe tongue-lashing in front of his peers, which I was (perhaps fortunately) unable to understand since my Portuguese is more or less limited to ordering beer, but which clearly had a considerably chastening effect. After snatching the baton out of his quivering hands and dismissing the unfortunate fellow, presumably to spend the remainder of his career in the Brazilian equivalent of Siberia, the Colonel rose from his chair and offered the baton to me. “Here you are, Captain”, he said, all smiles now, “Please allow me to escort you back to your aircraft.” As I retraced my steps through the terminal building accompanied by the Colonel (with his entourage trailing behind us), he regaled me with stories of the marvellous string of racehorses which he kept, all of which, it appeared, were certain winners — providing he could keep them out of the hands of the dopers. I sympathised deeply, speaking with warm feeling of the curse of cheats and envious owners in the racing community (entirely on the flimsy basis of information acquired during a fun greyhound race evening, many years previously). “Do you own any racehorses yourself?”, the Colonel enquired. I considered the tempting prospect for a moment, but the well springs of inventiveness had more or less run dry whilst I was coming up with the relay bet saga, and besides, I couldn’t see my way clear to trying to accommodate a racehorse in my small garden shed, so that I simply informed him that, alas, I was not so blessed. “That is sad”, he said, “you should. Name your first one in honour of me.” I gravely undertook to do so, and the Colonel would, I think, have accompanied me on board the aircraft — right up to the moment when he caught sight of the rickety and hastily lashed together steps, at which point he came to an abrupt halt on terra firma and formally wished me well. We shook hands, his entourage managed a ragged salute, and with considerable care, not unmixed with trepidation, I managed to ascend the wobbly temporary steps and get safely through the door. Turning, I saluted them in return in the best RAF tradition and added a final cheery wave with the baton, before closing and arming the door prior to re-joining Timothy in the cockpit. To give the lad his due, he had followed my instructions to the letter and the aircraft was fully prepared for immediate engine start and taxy, so that literally within seconds of resuming my seat (after a quick glance to be sure that the Brazilians had all retreated to a safe distance) we started engines 3 and 4, closely followed (as soon as 3 and 4 were stable) by 1 and 2. Timothy had, whilst I was away, managed to work it out. “You knew there wasn’t going to be any pushback, didn’t you?” he beamed. Not being a betting man (in spite of my words to the Colonel) I wasn’t able to give him the exact vanishingly short odds, so I contended myself with a mumbled affirmative as I released the parking brake and applied gentle amounts of thrust. Then as we started moving I eased the tiller hard over. Assisted by additional thrust on the outboard engine on the port wing together with some gentle pressure on the starboard toe brakes, the aircraft made an immaculately tight right turn without clobbering any of the jetways, and soon we were trundling along the taxyway towards the runway threshold. To my surprise, in my absence there had apparently been no search of the aircraft, but I would surmise that the troops probably felt the same about those jerry-built temporary steps as did I and the Colonel. Besides, it was still extremely hot out there, although happily Timothy had followed my instructions to the letter and kept running the pack which supplied the cockpit (using bleed air supplied in turn by the APU), so that we were perfectly comfortable and able to concentrate fully on the job in hand. I asked Timothy to switch on the strobes and the landing and taxy lights straight away — if the rest of these guys were as unfamiliar with civilian practices as the idiot on the radio then at least they couldn’t claim that they didn’t see us coming. Whilst taxying, I was able to point out to Timothy some of the FAB military aircraft parked on the other side of the field, including an Embraer E-99 (airborne early warning and control), several C-130s (tactical transport), a Boeing KC-767 (also equipped for in-flight refuelling), and a clutch of AS-332 Super Pumas (transport helicopters). Six months ago, the FAB reached an agreement with Sweden to finance the purchase of a batch of 36 Gripen NGs, too, so this bunch are very serious people. In a way I would have liked to have stayed longer to chat to the good Colonel, but it was probably better this way. Clearly, he and his staff were bored, and indeed it’s generally known that in the absence of any serious external or internal threats, the Brazilian armed forces are searching for a new role. Promotion, I reflected, would hardly be rapid in a situation such as that, and in view of a certain episode in my past I have good reason to know very well what can happen when highly-trained personnel are left with too much time on their hands. But my reflections ceased as we approached the runway threshold, and we were then cleared to enter the runway…. ….. and, almost immediately, to take off. I sensed the Colonel’s hand in this (I could only hope that he wasn’t expecting a percentage of our imaginary winnings) but in any event we lost no time in applying take-off thrust and subsequently leaving Natal behind us. With four powerful Rolls Royce engines more used to powering a rather stately take-off when the aircraft is fully laden with around 240 tonnes of payload and full fuel tanks at the start of a very long trip indeed, our empty 747-400 would have achieved startling climb rates well in excess of 4,000 ft/min had I not previously reminded Timothy to derate the climb — even with the derate, we ascended at a rate (for a 744) that must have astonished anyone tracking us. Once safely into the climb-out phase I handed over control to Timothy and tried to contact Jess over the radio, but it seemed that she must have already landed at SBSG (which is only 12 nm away from SBNT, after all). Our departure took us first of all out towards the coast…. …. after which we headed northwards to join the airway across the Atlantic…. …. and after joining it we were cleared to climb to our cruise altitude of FL370. There was a lot of traffic on the airway, both inbound and outbound, as depicted by the TCAS (Traffic Collision and Avoidance System) on the ND (Navigation Display). But soon we were at cruising altitude, with three and a half hours of Atlantic Ocean to look forward to. Here’s a view of some water in the Atlantic Ocean: And, er, some more water: And some clouds (with more water below): At this point, you will be beginning to understand why my introduction to this piece was more extended than usual: there really are very finite limits to the number of pictures of the Atlantic Ocean that most people can put up with, especially during a straight-line flight of <yawn> 1500 miles. So if you don’t mind, I’ll omit the rest of the water pictures and move on to the point where we’re approaching the top of the descent towards Sal (GVAC). Cape Verde (or "the Republic of Cabo Verde", as its government would nowadays prefer it to be known), is an island country spanning an archipelago of 10 volcanic islands in the central Atlantic Ocean, and located 350 miles (570 kilometres) off the coast of Western Africa. Between them, the islands comprise a combined area of slightly over 1,500 sq miles (4,000 square kilometres). According to the Wikipedia entry I had looked at before leaving home, “Since independence Cape Verde has been a stable representative democracy, and remains one of the most developed and democratic countries in Africa”. We were headed for Amílcar Cabral International Airport (GVAC), also known as Amílcar Cabral Airport, or, since it is located on the island of Sal, Sal International Airport. (So good they named it thrice?). As you can see from the map, above, Sal (top right) is by no means the biggest of the islands, however until September 2005 GVAC was the only airport in Cape Verde to serve international flights. The airport's main runway is 10,734 ft (3,272 m) long, and is still the longest in Cape Verde. It’s therefore used for long-haul flights, and it was also one of the designated emergency landing strips for the U.S. Space Shuttle. Arriving from a south-westerly-ish direction, we would overfly the tip of the main island of Santiago as we began our descent towards GVAC. You can see in the next picture that our aircraft is just about to pass Santiago: you may also notice that most of the islands in the archipelago now have airfields. As we neared the rocky volcanic island of Sal, we passed the island of Boa Vista on our right. A few details of our destination were now becoming visible, and we began to have an idea about how the very dry-looking Sal got its name. (After we had landed, the barman confirmed that the island is indeed named after the Portuguese for “salt” — from the salt mines at Pedra de Lume). A short time later, here we are about to land: In spite of the long runway, there seemed to be few visitors to the airport apart from another 747 parked on the ramp, so we taxied to our assigned gate, parked, and shut down the aircraft. And finally it was time for a long cool drink or two — and a suitable opportunity, also, to complete a few items of Timothy’s education whilst we awaited John’s arrival, and the handover of the baton. Until the next trip, then…. Cheers, Brian (a.k.a. bruce) Resources: * Accurate and complete 747-400 aircraft simulation with ATC, traffic generation, and planetary real time weather: Precision Simulator X v10.0.6c * Information injection into FSX for the visuals: VisualPSX v6.6 * Traffic injection into FSX: TrafficPSX v6.6 * Puppet aircraft in FSX: the iFly (free) FSX 747 (with Brian’s Charter repaint) * Scenery generator: FSX (in permanent DX10 mode, thanks to Steve’s Fixer) * Generic scenery: Orbx Global base, Vector, [and OpenLC Europe + OpenLC North America Alaska & Canada], with worldwide mesh * Sky and water textures: Rex 4 Texture Direct with Soft Clouds * Real world weather: Active Sky Next Afterword: My thanks to Steph for her reminder about the military presence at SBNT, without which Colonel Fernandez might never have been created; and thanks also to Micke for the picture of his hands holding the baton (you may remember me taking the original photo whilst we were at RAF Cosford last year, Micke ). Finally (@Joe) — I did remember to include a reference to a shed!
  22. There's no escaping the fact that when is comes to drinking, Mutley is in a class of his own. Having met up with him on arrival at SBJC, all I remember is a bottle of Bacardi and then nothing. Right now all I have to show for myself is a splitting headache. The headache though is the least of my problems. I have absolutely no idea of where I am. There's no city and me, and instead I seem to be out in the countryside. What the hell do Joe do this time. I do a quick check to confirm I still have all my kidneys, liver (whose going to steal that though?) and I'm relieved to find I'm in one piece. My hand bag still contains my wallet and fortunately, I still have my phone, and it's charged. Checking the time I'm shocked to discover I've lost two days! What the hell! There's also a text from Joe. 'I've decide to give you a bit of a challenge' he writes. 'Get to the airport to find out more.' I'm always worried when Joe sets me a challenge. So I flag down a passing bus and get back to the hotel and grab my bags and quick bit of breakfast, along with a few pain killers. At the airport though things turn worse. My Airbus is missing. For this leg of the challenge I was lucky enough to be flight testing my A320 around Columbia and Ecuador, so it made sense to bring the old girl with me on this leg. Joe however has other ideas and he's nicked it! Apparently, or so the ground agents inform me, Joe left the day before, flight plan unknown. He did leave me an envelope and something to fly, though I'll be damned if I can see another aircraft. Opening the letter, it's clear Joe is in a funny mood. 'Hello Jess. We had a great night out last night, and in case you don't remember, you challenged me to try and fly the Airbus. Well since yours wasn't busy, I thought I'd give it a try. You'll have to come find me to get it back though. So rather than a boring old airliner leg, how about a treasure hunt? First up, head south, for the next clue. Oh and enjoy the new aircraft I left you' Livid I scream at the poor station manager who quickly leads me to my 'aircraft.' Joe in a fit if wit has left me a litle surprise alright. The reason I didn't see my aircraft was because someone was stood in front of it. It a bloody micro jet. The micro jet is the same one from the 1983 bond movie, octopussy, which saw Roger Moore fly through a Hangar in this nibble little thing. And now Joe expects me to fly it on a wild goose chase. So be it. I check a local map and discover an airfield in the middle of the jungle to the south that's bound to be my first stop. Then with a great deal of trepidation, I set off in the smallest thing I've ever flown. Taxiing is a little rough, though being just a few feet of the floor explains that. For take off I floor it and hope for the best. It isn't as quick as you'd think and as I've brimmed the tanks, it takes awhile to get of the ground. Once I'm in the air though, boy does it feel fast. The Top speed is only 250kts if I red line it, but in something so small, it feels bloody quick. The stubby wings make it very agile, and as annoyed as i am with Joe, this aircraft is slowly bringing a smile to my face It takes just 30 minutes to reach the first airfield and sure enough another clue arrives, sending me to the coast for SBSL. At nearly 200nm distance, it's going to take a while. Along the way, with little to see but jungle, rain makes a fleeting appearance and there are more than a few thunderclouds around to make life interesting. After 100 nm or so, the jungles give way to green pastures mixed with dry fields and the Lightning can't spoil my mood as I settle in with the micro jet. It's great fun to get low with and with a little smoke here and there, it's fun to barrel (quite literally) around in. Before I hit SBSL I spot an old airfield and decide to 'buzz' the old tower. Great fun until I discover the airfield is active. I hit the deck and hope their radar can't find me. Feeling brave after my Encounter with the Brazilian airforce, I climb up to 4500 feet and I'm greeted with a beatific sight. The coast. The tropical waters glow ice blue. Arriving at SBSL, I find my third clue. I think Joe is getting board already as this one just tells me to head to SNWC. It's another 200nm trek but the weather is improving and the coast beckons. The leg is long but the stunning scenery is its own reward. I'm enjoying it so much, I've decided Joe gets to live having stolen my Siggy and hidden him. As I approach SNWC I begin to wonder where my A320 is though and I'm hoping that at this airport I find the rare sight of an Austrian A320 sat at a gate. Sadly it's not to be and I begin drawing up plans for Mutley's disembowelling. Another clue points me on to the next and hopefully last airfield. On to SBFZ I go, another 159nm leg. There's no sign of the a320 here either and just a note saying 'it's in the last place you'd expect.' The penny drops and with thoughts of murder running through my head, I realise where the aircraft is. It's where it should be at SBNT. It's 235nm and I max out the micro jet to get there. I'm tried now and I need some sleep. The weather ahead seems ok and I'm looking forward to parking up and getting a coffee. Finally, after a long days flying I arrive to see Brian's 747 parked and ready to go. More importantly my A320 is sitting in a Hangar and Joe, well Joe is nowhere to be seen. I head off to the terminal with Brian and tell him about my day, and advising him to ensure the 747 is locked up tight. You just can't trust some people.
  23. Thanks of course to Pete for getting the baton safely to Porto De Moz. Another day, another featureless airfield, but wait, I am sure we have seen this place before? Ah yes! Loic's excellent Amazonia 2015 tour! Ladies and gentleman, I give you the magnificent Porto De Moz So another fun filled flight across South American jungle and as Pete said "Brown water. Clouds. Jungle. Not a lot of variation in the scenery". and he's not kidding and what's with this river lapping over the numbers on the runway!? In order to make my flight really fun I decided to drop into Breves (SNVS) for a comfort break and a Strawberry Daiquiri, hang on to your hats, here's the route: When considering an aircraft, I thought as I only have a couple of half-hour flights I would fly something .. yes.. fun. Enter Gee Bee Z #4, I saw a replica of this beast in the Fantasy of Flight Air museum in Florida along with a couple of others in different colours. No navigation equipment so my portable GPS will be calling the numbers. The infamous "boots in the water" take off position. Without much ado we're off. And away on on our track of 87°. Can't see the wood for the trees... Looks pretty much the same inverted! Changing course to fly over a lake, yippee! Lining up for a "how low can you go?! First stop (Breves) ahead. Down safely, making a beeline for the bush! Refreshed and relaxing in the shade. Time to crack on, I know Jess will be getting impatient, I should have been there by now, I hadn't counted on taking that nap! Aww crap! Not another storm, I have only just stopped stammering after the last one. I decided to take her low, there is absolutely nowhere to land, the driving rain starts. Some pretty trails from the wings, we seem to be ok now... X@Z!%% - Spoke too soon Belém is about 20 miles away, we have been vectored in via the south. Across one of many rivers. Julio Cesar in the distance (about 11 o'clock), a welcome site! Landing this aircraft is quite a challenge... Because the cockpit is so far back you can't see the runway on final... ...Unless you side-slip in to see the runway and hit the rudder to straighten her up just before landing That went quite well! I can guess where Jess will be! Parked up writing my PIREP Thanks for viewing. Software used: P3Dv3 FTX Global + Vectors Alabeo Gee Bee Active Sky Next REX4 Texture Direct & Soft Clouds PrecipitFX Plan-G
  24. Whew! Those caipirinhas really pack a wallop. Who knew you could have a party in the middle of a jungle? The mosquitoes around there must be constantly buzzed. Anyway, Manaus is one rockin' town for the middle of nowhere. I know we just had a leg with a Kodiak, but seeing as this was going to be a river run all the way, and I had quite a load of party cargo to drop off, the Kodiak made sense. That and the G1000. Need to get more practice with glass cockpits. It's hard to see in this picture, but there's a buzzard at about 5 o'clock to the sun. I think it's over where the party was the previous night... I think I expected the water to be blacker. The lovely little hamlet of Itacoatiara. Say that three times fast. And its airport. Not a lot of those around these parts. There's a couple cases of cachaça back there. Just for medicinal purposes. The Kodiak is much more docile than it's namesake. But just in case something goes wrong, there is plenty of runway. How is it that every leg I fly seems to turn into a scud run at some point? The weather report did not mention this. Hopefully the clouds stay over there. Just peachy. At least if the ceiling drops to zero I can go fishing for a while. Dodging some clouds. Not a good place to have a problem. I knew I should have brought that pilot's companion! Next plane I buy must have a relief tube. I made it 2/3 of the way there before having to stop. That's Santarem. About 170 more miles to Porto de Moz. More scud. If nothing else this thing can be a really expensive boat. OK, it looks to like it's clearing up. The rest of the trip should be nice. Spoke too soon. I think that's Prainha. Hopefully not named loosely after the fish. I should probably not land on the water near here. There is a lot of nothing along the Amazon. But of course there are more clouds. Brown water. Clouds. Jungle. Not a lot of variation in the scenery. Good thing there's GPS to let me know where to look for the turn to Porto de Moz. Why does the airport stick out into the water? This could be interesting. Time to set up for landing. Gear up or down? This is not a 172. Should probably be a bit higher and farther out. But definitely gear down. Lined up on final. There must have been a lot of rain here. Not much around here. Need to work on centering on short final. Lots of rain for sure. I think I'll go a little long. Back on solid ground. What's with all the buildings? 3.7 on the Hobbs. Not even broken in yet. Time to unload the "supplies". Where did I put the baton again? There are enough stores in there to keep boredom away for a bit and exploring the airport may turn up something interesting. I think one of those shacks is a bar... Addons used: Lionheart Creations Quest Kodiak Steve's DX10 Fixer FreeMeshX South America SceneryTech South America Landclass GEX Asia and South America REX 4 Texture Direct + Soft Clouds REX Essential Plus Overdrive for WX engine Plan-G TrackIR 5
  25. My tent was by now thuroghly soaked from the down pour that had been present for the duration of my stay. Luckily the temepratures had been far from cold, and the rain had kept the mosquitos from getting to friendly. That flight school where I borrowed the Corvalis to get me here had turned up merely 4-5 hours after my arrival to reclaim their airplane, apperently they needed it for their business. The upside was that they had brought with them enough supplies for me to last the stay, and among the crates were a healthy supply of Cachaça, the local sugar cane based spirit.. Whilst trying to coordinate Section 6 through a not very fast internet connection I was now also faced with the challenge to find a ride out of this wet desolate slab of concrete runway located in the middle of nowhere. After a few days of not to promising searching I managed to track down a company specialized in delivering used airplanes to new owners, and after a quick e-mail I got a very pleasing response. They had a Crew currently delivering a Beech Duke from Miami to Rio de Janeiro, with a planned stop in Manaus. If I wanted to they could stop in Barcelos to pick me up. I was even offered to fly the leg since one of the pilots had contracted some sort of Virus in a previous stop and was feeling a bit under the weather. After just a few hours wait I could hear the sound of a plane coming in to land. A sleek metal plane skidded to a halt in front of my tent and shut down the engines. The pilot came out and helped me pack up my tent, while his crew mate remained in the plane, covered in blankets in one of the cabin seats. In what might be a world record in tent dis-assembly we had my stuff packed in the plane and were ready to get going, with me in the left seat. Checklists done, engines running lets get out of here. Taxiing on the grass, needed some extra power to keep her going. Lined up and ready to go. Take-off power set, 80 knots, rotate! Making a hard right turn to 138 degrees to try and get in range of the MAN VOR that we will be tracking down to Manaus Over the Amazon again, starting at 3,000 feet to try and stay below the clouds Well, that didn't work. We first try to climb above the murky weather but with no clear skies at 7,000 feet we decide to head down below the clouds again. Breaking through the far end of the clouds at 5,000 feet and we level off. The VOR comes active and the auto pilot is switched over to NAV mode. As we get further south we hit another bank of clouds. Oh well, we'll just stay at 5,000 and press on. At least the ATIS for our destination is reporting clear skies! Just as we pass over the Amazon river we once again break free of the clouds. Getting closer, the river barely visible in the right side of the shot is just on the outskirts of our destination. Manaus in sight! Cleared for Visual Approach, Join left Base.. and no it's not the destination airport visible in the picture, that's the larger Eduardo Gomes Intl Airport (SBEG) As we pass the extended centerline for runway 10 at SBEG we turn to our base leg and start extending our flaps. Wow, that's a big bridge! Not sure we could manage to pass beneath it though. Turning to finals over the Amazon, and now I have the runway in sight. A bit to the left, and a tad low, but I think this is as close to Established on Finals I'll get.... Didn't manage to get a shot of the landing, but we're down and have vacated the runway. Waiting for that Follow Me truck to guide us to our parking spot. As I come to a stop the ground crew just gives me a strange look and shakes his head in disbelieve of my crappy parking skills. With me and the Baton in Manaus it's once again time to play the waiting game.. but at least this time I can get a proper roof over my head and a bed to sleep in! Catch me in the Hotel bar to pick up the Baton Pete! Addons Used. Rex 4 Texture Direct Rex Soft clouds Weather provided by Active Sky Next. FTX Global base package FTX Global Vectors FTX HD Trees RealAir Duke v2 AI Traffic by Ultimate Traffic 2