Leg 58 Part 1 - LIRU Urbe (Rome, Italy) to LIRP San Giusto (Pisa, Italy)
At the end of leg 54 I found myself kicking my heals in Rhodes, that ever popular island holiday destination.
Naturally there are the beaches to explore, heaving with tourists awash with factor eight slowly spit-roasting themselves under the sun, wearing wholly inappropriate clothing for their body mass, and no doubt providing the locals with endless mirth and more than a little nausea.
Beaches are not for me. I do not like to experience sand in my eyes, clinging to me wherever it possibly can, abrading my sun blistering skin, not to mention the mind-numbing boredom of just lying in the sun for hours at a time.
So what else is there to do in the day or so I had to spare?
The town of Rhodes.
Well it turns out there are lots. Rhodes old town is a medieval walled town built by the Knights Hospitallers of St. John in the twelfth century. Its harbour is the site of the Colossus of Rhodes which was one of the original Seven Wonders of the World. It was a huge statue of the god Helios and was destroyed by a huge earthquake in 226 BC having stood for only 54 years.
An Impression of the Colossus of Rhodes
The City also contains the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights if the Knights of Rhodes, built by the knights as a headquarters and is one of the few examples of Goth architecture in Greece.
The earthquake also destroyed the town of Kamiros whose ruins can be found on the northern coast of the island. The city was destroyed a second time when an earthquake struck in 142 AD and not rebuilt.
In fact, Rhodes has many interesting things to see and an interesting history going back thousands of years.
I could go on, there is so much to see, but I won’t as time marches on and I had a flight to catch to Rome. I had arrived on a Thursday and spent three days looking around the island.
British Airways has a service from Rhodes to Rome four times a week, and I had missed the Monday flight. The next flight was Wednesday and so that gave me a day to arrange things and get myself booked on the flight.
I arrived at Rome Leonardo da Vinci International and got a cab which took me along the A91 to the A90 ring road then the Via Flaminia Nuova to Roma Urbe airport. I paid off the cab and went into the airport. Steph was to hand me the baton and so asked the information desk to page Steph to see if she was around. She wasn’t. I left a message with the desk that I had arrived and that I would be at the desk at 10 am every day until we met.
I was in no rush as I had no aircraft to fly yet and so looked around for the airport hotel. There wasn’t one. Well, not a good one. I ended up hiring a car and driving into the centre of Rome and staying in the NH Collection Roma Palazzo Cinquecento on the Mutley card.
I called the airport and updated my instructions for Steph so that she could call me at the hotel, and then texted Jasmine to let her know that I had arrived so that she could let me know about the aircraft.
NH Collection Roma Palazzo Cinquecento
I spent the evening starting my flight planning. There was a single runway at Urbe some 3569 ft. long. So not very long at all for a military aircraft. What would Jasmine provide?
LIUR Rome Urbe
My leg 58 flight plan would take me from Rome up the west coast of Italy as far as Pisa where I would overnight and then the following morning I would push on to the end of the leg. This, the first section of the leg, would be a simple cruise at seven thousand feet under the busy commercial flights crisscrossing Italy. A fairly straight forward flight with the right sort of aircraft, one that could manage the short-ish runway.
So the easy part of the plan was done, I knew the details of the airports involved for the first sector, I knew the ground and tower radio frequencies for both Urbe and Pisa, I knew the approach frequencies for Pisa and I knew that Rome Urbe was not lit and so I would have to leave before sunset. I knew the STAR for Pisa and I would have to investigate getting a landing slot at Pisa as it was a major airport.
The bedside phone rang at 11 pm. I had fallen asleep watching the new Johnny English movie in my room and awoke with a jolt.
‘Hello’ I muttered.
‘Hi it’s Jasmine’
‘Oh hi Jasmine, have you got an aircraft for me yet?
‘I am fine, how are you’ she said sarcastically.
‘Sorry’ I said ‘You woke me up’. Her turn to say sorry. ‘Anyway, I am glad you are fine, I am ok’.
‘It so happens I do have an aircraft for you. Are you current on the Harrier GR9?’
‘Yes’ I confirmed.
‘Good, there will be one waiting for you at the airport from midday tomorrow, with a complete RAF support package’.
‘Sod off and get some sleep then. Goodnight’. There was a click and she was gone.
I contemplated getting up and looking at the plan again with the aircraft in mind. However I decided to take Jasmin’s advice and sodded off to the land of nod.
Rome at night. What! Do I snore? Never!
The next day I was up bright and early and driving back to the airport at 7am. I parked the car and looked through the chain link fence and saw my aircraft.
The Harrier and my hire car.
I went straight to the tower and made enquirers about the aircraft.
The guy in the tower said ‘Si Signore, I’aereo is here. There is a Signora waiting for you in the Sala del Pilota.’
So I headed off to the Sala del Pilota, to find jasmine thumbing through a copy of Private Eye whilst waiting for me.
‘Hello’ she said not getting up. ‘Flight gear in the bag’ she said pointing at a large holdall ‘and helmet in the box’, her digit moving to a second item on the ground.
‘Hello, nice to see you as well’ I said this time a note of sarcasm in my voice.
‘I have to go as I have a pressing engagement’ said Jasmine, The aircraft is armed with air to air missiles as our bods in intelligence suspect that Temperance has an airbase somewhere around the Tyrrhenian Sea. Have a look at this photo and you will see what you may be up against. Got to go’ she said standing up and handing me an A4 Photograph. ‘Bye now’ and with that she strode out of the lounge. I looked at the photo:
A poor photo but it would seem Temperance has an air capability.
It showed a Mig-21, NATO code name ‘Fish Bed’ with, as far as I could see, a black disc with a gold skull in it. The mark of Temperance.
Great. I still needed to inspect the aircraft and get the Baton. The baton was up to Steph, so I went after the aircraft.
It was where I had first seen it, on a stand and sticking out like a sore thumb in among the other larger aircraft. I got myself airside and found the RAF team. We had chat on the aircraft set up, fuel amounts, missiles and the aircraft log. All was in order and it was just a case of waiting for Steph. The word was that she was going to show today, so I got into my flying kit and found a nice spot in the sun to read from my Kindle.
My hotel was near this…. Steph's was not!
I had just settled down with a G & T and my book when my phone rang. It was Steph. I knew I was tempting fate, settling down for some peace and quiet! She was staying at the Grand Hotel Fleming, where ever that was. It turns out that it was much nearer the Aeroporto Roma Urbe than my hotel and only a quarter of the price. But it wasn’t a short walk to the Colosseum, the Trajan’s Market and the Circus Maximus to mention only three. In fact it was a 20 minute drive from all of these and from me. We arranged that I will call in at her hotel and pick up the baton the following day on my way to the airport. I got out of my flying gear, drove back to my hotel and went sightseeing.
The following morning I made my way to Stephs hotel and after a gin-less tonic at the bar I drove to the Aeroporto Roma Urbe and, Baton in hand, I walked to the tower and filed my flight plan.
View from the tower
A few niceties later I was on the tarmac with the RAF Ground crew doing my walk around. All was well including the weapons, AIM120s, but no gun. So I climbed up the ladder and into the cockpit. After settling in and being properly strapped in by a member of the ground crew I turned my attention to the checklists.
The pre-flight check list is some fifty items in length and took a while minutes to complete. So far so good. No unexpected warnings, everything is as it should be. I told the ground crew to get ready for engine start and contacted the tower for permission to start. Permission given, I turned to the engine start list. I worked through the list, starting the engine checking the gauges setting the nozzles and flaps and finally switching on the HUD and the MFDs.
Held short of the runway
I asked for and received permission to taxi, I was told to taxi to runway 16. There was yet another checklist to do as I taxied and soon I was at the runway, holding short. I was given permission to take off and I moved onto the runway. I would be doing a short take off given my payload and fuel quantity.
Ready for short take off
I set the Nozzles limiter at 55 degrees and the flaps auto. Next I set the nozzles leaver to 10 degrees and released the brakes. I increased the throttle to full and the aircraft leaped forward down the runway increasing speed rapidly. As the aircraft reached take off speed I moved the nozzles to the stop, 55 degrees, and the aircraft bounded into the air. Gear up and as airspeed increased I moved the limiter right back and then the nozzles back slowly to the rear and transitioned in to forward flight. I turned the aircraft towards the sea.
I settled the aircraft at 750 feet and followed the west coast of Italy towards Pisa.
I had been going for about 15 minutes when a new blip appeared on my radar. It was coming from the west, what singled it out was its speed. No passenger aircraft was that fast. There were no logged military flights in this area today except my own, this was strange. And then it changed course and headed directly towards me. It was then that the aircraft’s systems identified it as hostile.
A blip on the radar, red for danger.
This was not good, I readied and ran tests on my weapons, all good, that was something. It still continued towards me. I changed direction heading more towards the open sea. The blip changed course and continued to head towards me. It knew where I was and it wasn’t being friendly. I turned towards the threat and chose my AIM120s on the weapons select.
Suddenly an alarm sounds in my ears, I was being painted by a radar, I checked the aircraft’s systems. They recognized its signature as being an old Soviet radar, an RP-21 Sapfir system, NATO called it a Spin Scan, and it wasn’t behaving in a friendly way. Quite the opposite, it looked like I was being attacked by an old Mig 21 Fishbed fighter. Older tech than the GR9 but very quick.
The Mig was a much faster aircraft, twice as fast as the Harrier, I could not hope to out run her. Suddenly the Mig was on me, it shot past me at a cracking speed, it was just a pass to confirm that me as a target.
Mig checking me out.
Since the contact I had been gaining height to allow me more maneuverability but still I nervously touched off chaff and flares buttons as he passed. A complete waste of time as he was passed me in a flash and I would have been way too late.
The intruder started to turn, further confirmation of what I had feared, I was a target. The distance between us was closing rapidly but I couldn’t actually see the aircraft yet. Even so I warmed up the missiles and they started to growl. I punched in the secret frequency I had been given by Jasmine many legs ago to use in an emergency and gave a report of the hostile looking aircraft. It was received with a ‘Roger that’ and ‘The skull in the black disc identifies it as a Temperance aircraft, you are weapons free’ and nothing else. Well that was a fat lot of good, nobody was coming to my rescue.
And there it was, a dot in the sky, if I didn’t know that my canopy spotless I might have thought it was a spec of dirt. Then a puff of smoke which turned into a streak spiraling towards me, quite pretty really. Then alarms sounded in the cockpit and I woke up and realised the danger I was in.
Seconds to react. Hard to starboard. More flares released. Chaff fired. Nozzles back to 90 degrees, VIFF. Sudden deceleration. Dropping like a stone. Nozzles back to normal. Throttle max. Hard Port. The confused missile tumbled over my head harmlessly.
We were back over land now but where I did not know. The Mig overshot and was now in front of me and above me nose up, My missiles screaming as their heads locked on. Fox 2! I fired a missile, it sped away curving fast to get to its target. But not fast enough, its lock lost, the missile soared skyward and then harmlessly plunged into the ground, although it did scare the c**p out of some wandering goats on a hillside.
First missile away
But evading the missile had used all of the Mig’s energy, it came out of its climb rolled on to its back and dived in a desperate attempt to gain airspeed to manoeuvre, but for a few seconds it was vulnerable, and in those vulnerable seconds it was in my sights and my second and last missile was screaming. Fox 2! Missile away. I remember thinking – let this count as I have nothing left now.
My second missile drops away before igniting.
This time the Mig had no momentum to evade the missile and the three meter pole with a charge on the end entered the engine of the Mig at a little over Mach 2. It didn’t need to detonate but it did. In an instant my attacker was a fireball spitting out debris as the Mig was literally blown to smithereens.
Scratch one Mig!
Suddenly it seemed quiet, no warnings no screaming missile locks, and I was alone in the sky. Nothing on the radar, nothing in sight, I was alone, slightly stunned bit still in one piece.
The Pilot in me kicked in and I checked my instrumentation. I had used a good amount of fuel in the last few minutes but had more than enough left to get to Pisa, all other systems were looking good. I turned the aircraft back onto its planned course and settled in to a cruise. This time at 25,000 ft. just to be safe. The radio squawked with my call sign, it was still on the emergency frequency.
‘Be aware intelligence indicates that Temperance might be using an ex world war two air base on Corsica, they might have some Russian built fighters active at the base’
‘You don’t say!’ was my first comment, but I went on to detail the last few minutes events. Then a familiar voice came over the airwaves, It was Jasmine!
‘JG you can relax, US Navy aircraft are patrolling the Tyrrhenian Sea now so you won’t have any problems.’
I signed off and re-tuned my radio to the local ATC.
It wasn’t far to Pisa now and so I prepared for a normal landing to save fuel, as I was still on the heavy side on despite my unexpected fuel use and the missiles gone. It wasn’t long before I was on finals and touching down at San Giusto
I greased the landing and turned off the runway to taxi to the stand. I pulled up next to an Air Canada aircraft and could just about see a whole bunch of faces and cameras at the aircraft’s windows making the most of this unexpected neighbour at the airport.
Shut down on stand at San Giusto, Pisa.
I shut the aircraft down and went in search of an overnight bed, as I would be continuing my flight in the morning.
A glance back as I head off for a nights rest.
Time for a G & T I think!