I wasn't sure if it was a case of John knowing where to find me, or whether I just knew the first place he would head for on landing... it was a toss-up. John strolled into the bar just as I was ordering my 3rd Diet Coke...
We sat reminiscing about the last 2 years, and our flights for the Hangar... I would be flying the baton on the last two official legs from Bad Ragaz to Luxembourg, and then into Leylestad. The sense of finality was really setting in for both of us. John and his side-kick Jasmine would continue to steer clear of Temperence, and I would go back to being at Philippe's beck-and-call, and living out of a suitcase again for the next 2 months. I gave John a hug, wished him a safe journey, and took possession of the baton for the last time.
My 50's era Aero Commander 680s was definitely looking a bit beaten up, and had been flown into BadRagaz by a shady character by the name of 'Xander'. He couldn't hand over the paperwork to me fast enough, actively sidestepping my questions about defects or inops that he might have picked up on his flight in, then waving dismissively and walking off when his phone started playing 'Flight of the Valkyries'. Instead of returning after his call, he just carried on out the main entrance to the airport and disappeared.
[Expletive deleted] I muttered to myself, at least I wouldn't have to suffer his company on the next leg. My Co-pilot was a local called Luca, and looked like he had just left school. He seemed pleasant enough, and as this flight was so short there didn't seem much point in exchanging life stories. I left a colourfully worded voice message for Philippe about him needing to reassess some of his other pilots' attitudes, and then sent Luca to do the walk around while I concentrated on the pre-flight.
The airport isn't much to speak of amenity-wise, and traffic in and out was negligible, so taxi to the active was quick and painless. As we waited for permission to depart, my eyes were drawn to something moving on the runway... what on earth was it?
I announced to ATC that there was "wildlife" on the active and sat burning fuel uselessly for a good few minutes before 'Squirrel Nutkin' decided to forage elsewhere. I'd spotted some paragliders out in the distance too so we would need to keep well clear of that activity.
Our route to Luxembourg would actually go via Strasbourg where I would transfer to an A330 which Phillippe had organised, and then I was to hire anything I could get my hands on to get me to Leylestad.
Finally, we received our clearance and took to the skies.
Our Aero Commander climbs effortlessly ..
The 160NM flight would take us through the mountains to Zurich, West to Basle, and then on a Northerly heading to Strasbourg. If ATC was cooperative, we could be there within an hour, but definitely within two. It would be easy money!
I had forgotten how much I loved to fly the 680s. There were only a few hundred built of this particular variant, and few of them were stationed in Europe, so this was a treat, but somewhere, something was niggling at me; something about the manufacturer making a big song and dance about being able to take off, fly and land with one engine..
With breathtaking views of the mountains on either side, I instantly dismissed my preconceptions as 'something to ponder on another day' and found myself absorbed with the view. I had to make a concerted effort to kept an eye on the instruments... it was all too easy to get distracted!
A sputter followed by a cough, and then a noticeable whine... what was going on?
I scanned the instruments only to see the RPM dropping and the EGT climbing. Dammit, Number 2 was having problems. We had just over 10,000 feet to play with so there was no immediate panic, but I suggested Luca pull out the quick reference handbook for the restart procedure just in case. As he thumbed through the yellowing pages, the engine finally quit altogether.
I contacted Zurich ATC to let them know I had engine problems and may need to divert, and they started to vector us North, and gave us clearance to descend at our discretion.
It took three tries and just under 2,000 feet to get the engine started again, and although I felt relief that we were out of the woods and able to continue to Strasbourg, I could sense Luca knew something was up. Sure enough, they had experienced some issues on the way to Bad Ragaz but Xander had conveniently left that out of the Log Book, and had fobbed innocent Luca off with some story about sub-standard fuel in Slovenia.
If it was a fuel problem, then it could affect both engines, which was worse than a mechanical problem that could affect just one of the Lycomings. I would need to be more vigilant. Thankfully the rest of the journey was uneventful although we watched the instruments like hawks, and I silently planned ways of hunting Xander down and having [unrepeatable] words with him.
My phone started buzzing no sooner had we shut the engines down, but I made a point of filling in the paperwork and instructing Luca to make sure that the Maintenance guys took a close look at both engines before allowing it to fly back out.
I picked up several messages from Phillippe who had left a number for me to call for the instructions for the flight to Luxembourg. I would be meeting up with some of my old colleagues from the RAF, but as we had to be in Strasbourg by sun-down, I had no time to lose.
It may have been unofficially re-named 'May Force One' but the Voyager was still just an airbus A330 re-fuelling tanker with some rather plush seats for the VIPs, who were mainly Government Ministers, including the Prime Minister, and sometimes members of the Royal Family. This trip was going to be devoid of any dignitaries as the Royal Family were still in the UK celebrating the Queen's birthday, and just about the entire UK Government was on holiday.
I had to admire the upgrades they had made.. very nice
Security was understandably tight, as was expected for this aircraft's status, and even though we weren't carrying anyone of notoriety, we conducted ourselves as if we were. The journey was mainly a re-positioning flight so that it was in the right place when the Government was back in 'Brexit' mode.
Wheels up at Strasbourg
Cruising at 9,000 ft. Hardly seems worth making it all the way up here to come straight back down!
A crow flying would probably have made the trip quicker than we did, given that we had to taxi, take off, follow the departure procedure, climb, cruise, and descend into another pattern and then taxi to the stand. I questioned the decision of those in high places for not sending the dignitaries to Strasbourg rather than us going to them.
I hate to think of any flight time as a 'waste', so i was intent on making sure that even a shot hop like this could be beneficial. [The snacks were very tasty and well suited to royalty/government]
On arriving at the stand, I finished up my second set of paperwork that day, and having been in the same clothes for nearly 12 hours, I said my farewells to the crew with promises to catch up when we all ended up on the same continent.
I caught the airport shuttle bus to the Hotel and Spa Castle of the island.
I'd give the Mutleys Hangar Credit Card a final hit... just for old times’ sake, of course...