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  1. 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...
  2. Why is it that you always get a phone call just when you are right in the middle of an important negotiation? The mechanic from ACME Air Maintenance, or whatever it was called, was giving me the run-around, and I wasn't even wearing a skirt! What is it with mechanics and women? There was no way he was going to charge me 30% more for the privilege of changing a landing light! I was determined to ignore the buzzing of my mobile until this guy had lowered his extortionate price. Even though I wasn't paying for it, I’d be damned if I was going to be fleeced, even if someone else would ultimately be paying for it! Eventually, he gave in and I could finally check who had been calling my mobile incessantly for the last 10 minutes. Kieran! I’d not expected him for at least another 3 hours, so he must have broken the sound barrier to get here that quick. I sent him a text and told him to meet me at the coffee joint in the International building and left ‘rip-off’ mechanic a deadline of 2 hours for the light to be swapped out. Even though I’d only been flying for Joe and the Hangar for a couple of years, on and off when it fitted in with my IT job, and my <cough> clandestine work for Philippe, I was more than familiar with the dangers of transporting the baton, and some of the unsavory characters that would be tailing us along the way. I had come close to some of Putinfeld’s goons on a number of occasions and had always managed to stay one or two steps ahead, but it seemed that the goons had got a bit too close for me to have the luxury of a decent night’s sleep before heading out. Kieran had 'commandeered' a rather beautiful and iconic Vulcan, which I would have done anything to have used for my leg, but Kieran had to see it safely 'home', so the baton was going to have to come with me via GA. Ouch! GA. Dark forces are closing in and I had to look after the baton in a Cessna 208! I wished Kieran a safe journey and pushed the baton into my rucksack... time for a quick change of clothes and hair then I could be on my way. I swiped the key card and opened the door to my hotel room, throwing the rucksack on the bed and flicking the TV onto Sky News. At least that was something familiar wherever I was in the world, even if all they could report on was Brexit! I went through the selection of wigs in my luggage and settled on a short dark do, that at a distance, I could even pass as a man. Black jeans, a combat jacket and a make-up free face finished the look. I wasn't due to check out till the following morning but that would be part of the diversion... If the Goons had got this close, they would be waiting for me to surface from my room in the early hours, but I would be on my way with the baton and cargo this afternoon and in Eldorado by nightfall. The Landing Light was replaced and working so I was OK to go, once I had a rubber stamp on my cargo. Now, don't get me wrong, there is very little that I won't transport, given my 'varied' jobs, but the one thing I will NEVER transport is arachnids! Just as well that my intended cargo was... Snakes.... Yeah, yeah, I can hear it now! Samuel L Jackson, Snakes on a plane... I never even watched that movie which is odd for me as I watch EVERY aircraft movie there is, even the useless b-movies that leave me screaming at the TV “that’d never happen” and “who was the technical consultant for this piece of tripe”. My precious cargo of those beautiful but venomous reptiles needs to get from Simon Bolivar to Columbia, and no one else wanted to take it! Even my friend Philippe, who gives me many of my globetrotting assignments, didn’t want to touch this one. I should have followed his example, but I promised Joe I would get the baton to Eldorado by any means possible, so this was it. The Cessna 208 was a lease from an outfit that bought up old military aircraft, and in pretty poor condition, but my job was clear... get the slithery things to Columbia and then get back to my ‘job’ in the UK. My fellow pilot on this leg was a twentysomething guy called Chuck from Baltimore who was down in South America trying to get his flying hours up by flying cargo, or whatever else he could get his hands on before sending another pile of airline job applications. He seemed a nice chap, and had a good sense of humor, so this trip should be a breeze. The last job for this bird had been passengers, so some of the seats would need to be taken out to allow the wooden crates to be loaded. One row of seats would be left in place for the two 'snake wranglers' and the third guy who I guessed was the owner of the reptiles. He looked more like Jack Nicholson with greased back, thinning hair, dark glasses, with one sinister looking arched eyebrow, and a thick cigar between his whitened teeth. Moments after the truck arrived with the crates, the airport customs arrived and demanded to see our export and broker paperwork. Not being one for the legalities of transporting dangerous animals in this part of the world, I hoped that everything had been stamped, and was in order, so if they were happy then I was happy, but they seemed overly suspicious, and wanted to see inside the crates. One by one, the reptile wranglers opened the crates up, using their hooks to keep the occupants from slithering out. After what seemed an age, the customs officer gave a slight shrug of his shoulders and handed the paperwork back. At last we could be on our way. Chuck and I made sure that they were secure, and the reptiles unlikely to escape. ‘Jack’ had already taken up his seat in the cabin and was barking in Spanish on his mobile and chewing on his cigar. It wouldn’t be a long trip thankfully. Although the authorities had given us confirmation we could leave, the sudden manner in which they had arrived, and the potential danger of opening crates with live reptiles in, played on my mind. I’d better make sure I was on my toes this trip. Lining up at Runway 03 ready for take off Continuing our climb Not a lot to see apart from green hills and valleys on our way to 13,000 feet As our route would take us over the mountains, we were soon assigned a cruise of 21,000 feet. It wasn't a problem for our Caravan which could happily go up to 25 but it would be a waste of fuel if we didn't need to. On top at 21,000 feet Passing 'San Francisco' on the starboard side (the 'other' one), and passing over the huge Parque Nacional Complejo Valcanico Dona Juana Cascabel Almost 2 hours into our journey to the Columbian border when I overheard a call from a business jet that got my immediate attention. The accent was unmistakable. Had Putinfeld tracked me down that quickly? Surely not... even he can’t have figured out my strategy that fast, but it was still a possibility. Our delay in leaving Ecuador and our significantly slower speed gave Putinfeld and his goons to catch up. It was possible that they hadn’t identified our flight, but I couldn’t take the chance that the baton might end up in the wrong hands. Pulling the baton from my flight bag and tucking it in my jacket, I told Chuck to take the controls, while I went back into the rear of the plane to check that none of our cargo had managed to get lose. Eager to get some flight time, he readily agreed. The reptile wranglers were deep in conversation and Jack appeared to be sleeping under his hat, although he still had his half-chewed cigar in his mouth. Although the crates were secure, I had noticed during our delay leaving SEGU that some of the crates had an inspection hatch, and that was just about to get me out of trouble. Hoping that the occupants of the crate were not going to have time to react, I swiftly unclipped the hatch of the closest crate, and pushed the baton in. Checking behind me, I was relieved that that no one had noticed my actions, still, I pretended to check ropes and then walked back up to the cockpit. I almost jumped when ‘Jack’ stopped me as I squeezed past his seat, grabbing my arm and demanding to know what was going on. “Just a routine check on our passengers” I lied “everything is secure”. I let Chuck keep hold of the controls while I monitored the ATC, listening for signs of Putinfeld’s flight, and their ultimate destination. Perhaps I had been a bit hasty in concealing the baton, particularly in a place that I hadn’t really considered the difficulties in retrieving it! Damn... The ATC conversation confirmed my fears that Putinfeld, or at least some of his goons, were indeed heading for Eldorado too. I hoped that he hadn’t worked out which of Joe’s team was on this leg, and what aircraft I was in, as they might spot me, even with this disguise. They would arrive well in advance of us, and if they had worked it out, I needed to be prepared. Approaching Bogota and our destination of Eldorado (not to be confused with the cheesy early 90s TV series of the same name), we had to slot in behind a long line of jets, but I was in no hurry, the dim light of dusk might be an advantage. As we neared Bogota, I got Chuck to request ATC have a customs team to meet us at the stand to assist with a possible escaped reptile. Chuck’s eyes widened, and he looked nervously back into the cabin and I put my index finger to my lips; he got the message and visibly relaxed back into his seat. It wouldn't be ATWC without some moody sunset shots would it.. Approaching the turning point to join the ILS. I could see the long line of aircraft on approach. Turning onto the approach for Runway 13R we were caught in a strong crosswind, and at over 8000feet above sea level, I needed to be careful I didn't run out of height. Blown off course at a particularly inopportune moment.. Made it down in one piece, although I think the undercarriage might need an overhaul after that bumpy landing. We were directed to one of the stands away from the passenger gates and in a quiet area. I was wondering how long we would have to wait for the authorities to turn up. Nearing the stand, I caught sight of several burly looking men who, although trying to look like ground crew, seemed not to know what they should be doing. Once out engine was shut down, they began walking towards us, and even in the dim light, I spotted one of them trying, unsuccessfully, to hide his revolver inside his overalls. My mind raced with thoughts of a counter move, but with the baton safe, I could probably stall them with the 'lose snake' scenario until help arrived. Not a moment too soon, the customs team arrived, together with several police vehicles. With weapons drawn, the police chief instructed us to exit the aircraft with our arms raised. The goons, realising that they were in the middle of a customs sting, were forced to abandon their plan and retreat into a nearby hanger. Chuck, ‘Jack’ and the wranglers were ushered into a police van and taken to a holding area in the main airport building while the crates were unloaded from the aircraft. Needless to say, there was no sign of any escaped snakes on the plane… Sat in a holding cell with a completely hideous cup of coffee, I wondered how long it would take for the authorities to start asking questions on the unflattering selection of wigs in my luggage, and the number of stamps in my passport. The door opened and Philippe strode in, his arms open and a vaguely amused look on his face. “Ma Chère” he began, “how do you get yourself into these situations”.. It wasn’t a question. Before I could come back with some retort, the Police chief came in and sat down opposite me. “We have been trying to crack open this smuggling ring for months and it looks like we have caught them red-handed this time”. “Smuggling snakes?” I began. “No, money” he replied “a lot of money. Each of those crates had a false bottom which was full of it”. 'Jack' had been running quite a nice little operation across the border, and his plan to avoid anything other than a cursory check of the cargo would leave him free to transport whatever needed to be moved. Philippe had got wind of what was gong on, and had contacted the authorities. Whether his decision not to take the job and leave me to handle it was a question I would be taking up with him as soon I got out of this Police Station! “There is just one thing that puzzled us about the shipment” the Police Chief continued, “we found it in one of the crates with one of the Boas”. He took out a rather familiar object from his inside pocket and placed it on the table. “I take it that this is yours?” he said with a wry smile before turning and leaving the holding cell with the door open. Knowing that Putinfeld’s goons could be anywhere in the airport building, waiting to follow me, to see who I would meet to pass the baton to, or worse, I dialed the number for John and told him to meet me at the Police station to collect the baton. The goons wouldn’t be stupid enough to hang around here, so John could come and go without raising suspicion. I would get a flight out the next day, and that would keep Putinfeld’s goons on the false trail before I changed my look again and disappeared. I like it when a plan comes together. No snakes were harmed during the course of this trip
  3. There was three options for getting off the island: Low and slow Low and fast High and fast Low and slow (a) was out of the question. With around 2,000nm to travel, there was no way I was hiring a little aircraft to spend my day looking at water. Plus considering recent events, when attempts were made to go low and slow (see Leg 20 Part 2) it didn't work out too well for the pilot or the challenge. Option 2 was considered. Low and fast. Sounds interesting. But high speed flight at low altitude uses vast amounts of fuel, and keeping that range was important. Plus the concentration required over that distance, as well as navigational challenges, ruled it out. Some tempting offers were received for aircraft though. A rusty old F-111 was offered at a bargain price That leaves the final option - high and fast. A key requirement would be out-pacing any airliner or business jet - so supersonic it would have to be. Also, getting nice and high would be good - well above what is normally possible. Not many options here, so time for some bargaining. Hopefully this won't take long............ Well over a month later, my ride arrived into the island. In a crate or forty. Not ideal, but it would hopefully hide my intentions for a while, as long as Putinfeld doesn't look inside little boats. Assembling my chosen aircraft was reasonably easy, which was quite surprising considering what it was. Construction was in a small-ish hangar well away from the main apron. The first engine run would be the time I advanced the throttles to go. My shipper says the engines run perfectly. I hope he's right. There's not a lot to save me around here, and a crash would inevitably get unwanted attention. A plan was formed to get going early one morning. Everything I do in this challenge seems to involve an early start! A brief look over the aircraft seemed to reveal no outstanding issues. It was time to squirm into the pressure suit and get into the high-altitude mindset Hmm, the only commercial airline to fly here is LAN Chile with Dreamliners. That looks a bit odd Getting ready to push back. That front pillar is annoying The rather bright pushback tug doesn't help my stealthy departure, although soon everyone will know A short taxi to the end of the runway and fingers crossed time Blue flames shoot out the back. Impressive looking, but unusual! Lift off. I'll continue climbing now until around 70,000ft Leaving the sweltering island behind. Thank god Out into the inky blackness of the morning Safely away from the island, it's time to head up to speed. Up to this point I had been climbing at around Mach 0.85. Onwards and upwards to Mach 3 As we climb up, sunrise comes nice and early We took a little diversion to take a few photos of Isla San Felix. Around 1,800 miles from Easter Island, it took around an hour and ten minutes to fly. The island is just off the nose of the aircraft, as we pass over at 74,000ft Turning onto a direct course for Chile Space, the final frontier. A beautiful view All too soon it's time to descend from the dizzy heights to land. Descent started some 300nm from the Chilean coast Running over the coast at 450kts and 10,000ft Breaking for the airport Established on the ILS, with my ground speed horrifyingly low (down from 1,750kts to 250!) Touchdown just before the chute streamed. Not my best landing! With burning rubber and a beautiful braking parachute, we slow down A deserted terminal. Good from a security point of view, but where is my next pilot? After a two hour flight, it's time to get some air With everything shut down, we have to wait for the aircraft to cool down a bit before moving it. A nice black aircraft will attract some attention around here, so I quickly scurry off to a hotel on the other side of the city. I hope the next pilot comes soon - there's some suspicious looking people around here........ Aircraft used: Updated Alphasim SR-71(Paul R. Varn)
  4. While I’ve been recovering from my first flight, it seems the world hasn’t been kind to my fellow pilots. Russian spies, giant octopuses and a host of other issues remind me that the ATWC isn’t for the faint of heart, or indeed the sober. It’s a fact that was brought home to me late last year when I found the police raiding my home in Austria, certain I had in some why aided the boss with his “accounting practises” following on from the Paradise Papers release. To my good fortune, many of the Austrian police were woman, and an Austrian police woman can brighten any holding cell. That was months ago and both Lynda and I have gotten back to normality, or at least what passes for it here. Right now through, I’m less than happy. At home it’s winter and a time for wrapping up. Goths love winter. It’s cold, dark and depressing. It’s just what you need after a long hot summer. The sun is never my friend. So finding myself in a South Pacific tropical paradise in the Southern Hemisphere summer is pissing me off. The island seems to be little more than an oversized sand bank with a Airport, a giant ring of sand and occasional green plant life. I expect to find David Attenborough discussing the life of some crappy turtle over every dune. Why am I even here? For this trip, I’ve brought my wife with me. This is partly to ensure I don’t slip into bad habits. No one wants a relapse into a 10000 piece jigsaw again. The main reason she’s here now though is to stop me killing my court appointed ‘helper’ (A kind description if ever there was one.) Eddie. Eddie , Like Lynda is here to keep me on the straight and narrow. However, if you look into Eddie’s eyes at any given moment, it’s clear the wheel is turning even though the hamster has passed on. He really does have the look of a cocker spaniel that’s run into a tree once to often. Eddie’s job last time was to secure me an aircraft suitable for the job at hand. Last time he happily produced a 747 for my flight from Paro! I’m hopeful this time he’s done better. Today’s flight is a long one, and it takes us across 5 time zones. It’s a trip of over 1700nm. We leaving at dawn to avoid as much sun as possible. The early breakfast at the hotel is unwanted, while the Black Coffee can’t come quick enough. Leaving the hotel the predawn Air is annoyingly warm, thick and sticky as thunderclouds dance menacingly around the skyline. Oh it’s going to be a fun day. I really hope Eddie has learnt from the Paro incident. Having arrived at the airport, grabbing a quick coffee and a little food for later, just in case Eddie screws up the catering, we head of the pilots briefing room. As expected, the weather isn’t great. Thunder storms and unstable air are expected. The winds are gusty too. I actually hope Eddie has the 747 again, just for the added stability in the take off. Crossing my fingers i head out the apron as the thunder rumbles across the sky. Through the flash of lighting, I see what Eddie has given me. The urge to kill rises and quickly. It turns out all Eddie took from the last incident was that big wasn’t good. So he went smaller. In front of me is a BAe 31 Jetstream. In a world of airliners this thing is a wannabe. There are gnats bigger than this. Hell the mosquito’s that have been chewing on me while I’ve been here bigger. With a range of only 800nm, size matters and I’ve got problems. Sensing my annoyance, mostly because I’m threatening to make a crab’s supper out of him, Eddie hides in the terminal, calling me on my cell to avoid my direct wrath. I explain the issue, with as many swear words as possible, and I quickly work out a plan. We can take the Jetstream down to Totegegie airport, some 500nm away to the south east. That takes us to the edge of French Polynesia. While I’m in the air, Eddie will source an appraise Aircraft for the remaining 1500nm trip. I’ve emphasised the words ‘long range’ and ‘Airliner’ to him in the hope the hamster wheel may get the hint. By the time I get done with Eddie and work out how to fly this little puddle jumper the storms have cleared, but the sun is coming up. The wind though is still on the strong side, and it means I’m heading to the other end of the runway for takeoff. That’s going out take a while. There’s precious little room on this island airport and the sea sits uncomfortably close as I taxi out. There’s not a lot to see in the distance, and with so few Islands around, I’m not expecting much of a scenic flight. On the stroke of 5AM I advance the throttles and we’re off. The takeoff is smooth but once I’m up the aircraft feels ‘skittish’. With gusty winds and a tiny aircraft I think it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. It’ll also be a long flight. With 450+nm to cover in this insect, I need to get comfy. I also need a cup of tea. Lynda heads off to the galley only to discover the cupboards are bare. This day keeps getting better and better. Below the cloud shadows stretch out on the ocean as the day gets going, and I’m envious. I’d really like to be in bed now. Sleep would be great. However, the baton won’t get around the world without my help, plus it will make a handy weapon for when I smack Eddie upside the head. I’m worried about what the hell he’ll turn up with. He’s not really grasping how this all works. I think he’s just enjoying the chance travel. As chance would have it, i get a call over SELCAL. Eddie it seems needs more time. Hardly surprising, but to be firm but fair, i give him 24 hours to come up with something. I think he gets it and the radio falls silent. Lynda returns to the cockpit with a paper cup filled with iced coffee we bought at the airport, alongside a chocolate bar of dubious nature. Ah the breakfast of champions. For next hour, the blank nothingness of the Southern Pacific fills the windscreen. There’s a moment of brief excitement when we spot a ship in the water below and occasionally there’s the odd sandbank island to spark interest, but little else. A game of eye spy would be pointless. Just over an hour in and we cross our first timezone. It’s another moment of excitement in what is a fairly dull flight. Speaking of flight, the Jetstream is certainly an interesting aircraft to fly. She’s twitchy and even with the Autopilot on, we’re being gently rocked around. Add to that the temperamental engines. Like the Twin otter, you need to watch you’re RPM and EGT numbers or you’ll have a fire on your hands. I’m really hoping I can keep it all under control for the approach. Engines that have a habit of grenading themselves aren’t my favourites. That said, a little excitement might be nice. In hope of finding something fun, and just for something to do, I call ahead for the weather. The report is pretty meh. Overcast at 14000, light rain and and a wind of 15kts out of the east. Things may have gotten interesting. It’s not long until I meet the overcast layer and things start to get bumpy. I begin the descent around 60nm out. The cloud is thick in places, but breaks do happen and soon enough I’m through. He island is still playing hide and seek though and I once again curse Eddie as we head into our unexpected landing site. The weather isn’t that bad by the time we get closer the rain has stopped. The cloud however is much lower than forecast. We finally breakthrough at 2500ft and I spot the landing strip off in the distance. It’s hazy but the runway is just visible. It seems that the runway is the only man made structure on this particular piece of land. The main settlements seem to be in the centre of the lagoon. That’s a problem for future us though. For now I just need to get us down. The crosswind isn’t making things easy though. Never the less, we land and I engage full reverse. Damn the Jetstream screams as the full beta range kicks in. We slow quickly and I kick the throttles back to ground idle to taxi. We’re here, for now. Not that here is a place we want to be. Still there’s little to be done about it. Until Eddie sorts out a large enough aircraft for the next leg to Easter island. We taxi up to the end of the runway, park up and shut down the Jetstream. It’s due to fly back to Hao later. We board a boat to the main island, leaving the airport and the plucky little Jetstream alone. We need to find a place to stay until Eddie returns. And return he does. We're enjoying a nice lunch around 1PM when the peaceful tranquillity is shattered by the sound of jet engines. The noise bounces off the restaurant wall and the mountainside behind us. I don't know just landed, but from the look of surprise on the locals faces, it wasn't expected. Five minutes later my cell gets a text telling me to come to the airport. It looks like our stay in paradise is shorter than expected. We pay the bill and head for the dock. The sight that greets us is definitely unexpected. Eddie's found a jet alright, and a passenger one at that. As we get off the boat, a mighty Vickers VC-10 stands towering above the buildings. Eddie greets me and explains where the hell he's found this. It turns out this particular VC-10 was stuck on the Falklands after the RAF removed them from service. She needed repairs and since parts weren't forthcoming, the local crew did the best they could. Finally A museum in Europe offered to take the old girl, paying to get her flight ready and to restore her to her original BOAC colours. Sexy doesn't cover it, and I'm wearing a smile as broad as a sunset. The crew were heading out from Port Stanley this morning when Eddie got in contact. They happily rerouted for the promise of drinks on Easter Island curtesy of the GIZA card. I don't care either way. Its time to get going. It takes an hour to get the VC-10 refuelled and ready. Shockingly the tide has come in since we landed this morning, leaving the airfield surrounded by water. Taxiing is a damn sight more difficult it seems. I get the engines running while the crew who flew her in get comfortable in the cabin with the bar. The Engines whine into life and the noise is deafeningly good. At just past 3 I taxi out carefully and then open the throttles. She Accelerates quickly and before to long we're airborne. I wave good bye to our unexpected stop over and make for FL300. Once in the cruise, the VC-10 proves to be slick, happily cruising at Mach 0.8. If I'm not careful she'll go even faster, topping out close to the speed of sound. This makes the next 1600nm pass quickly. Well that and the ensuring party in the cabin. Apparently Eddie has gotten into the good scotch. Unlike the last flight, the cabin is fully stocked with tea, meals and even a few packs of Austia's favorite biscuit, Manner wafers. As darkness falls there's precious little to see out of the Window. There are more people on board the aircraft than in a 200 mile radius for most of the flight. The time eventually comes to descend and I pull the throttles back and pitch down. So far I'm liking the VC-10 at speed. As we start our approach though, the speed comes off and the flaps come down. The difference in handling is incredibly pronounced. Gone is the fighter jet nimbleness, replaced with a concrete block swimming in glue. With the gear down and flaps set to full, the aircraft is massively heavy and lethargic. I need a lot of power just to maintain my rate of descent. I manage to glide her onto the runway and engage the reverse thrust. We slow and the aircraft becomes dead weight again. Exhausted I taxi back to the gate and park up. Lynda and I need a drink and a good meal. The relief crew are just getting nicely stewed and Eddie is passed out along a row of seats at the back. It's been a long day, but finally leg 2 of the ATWC comes to end. The Baton arrives on Easter Island safely, and the GIZA card is about to get a hammering.
  5. The sound of my alarm clock in the early hours was most unwelcome, but necessary, as I would need to get moving before it got too hot. At 1am the temperature was in the high 20s but usually dipped by a few degrees between 2 and 4am, so that would be the best time to depart. Dale drove me to the Airfield and helped me check over the Ag Waggon by parking in front of the aircraft so I could do my walkaround in the headlights. The fuel had been loaded as I had requested. I would be within weight limits but I was grateful for over 5200 feet of runway, as I would probably need most of it. I waved to Dale and started the engine. With the minimal equipment on the C188, I had to use the sound of the engine to set the mixture to get the best possible performance out of the engine. The sun was due up any minute so I taxied to the end of runway 15 and taking a deep breath, pushed the throttle up. As I reached my minimum take off speed, I was almost half way down the runway, but forced myself to resist the impulse to pull hard on the stick till the tires eventually left the ground. I took advantage of the ground effect to build up more speed before allowing the aircraft to climb slowly. It seemed to take an age to get to altitude and even then it was still above zero degrees. The temperature is definitely the enemy to pilots out here in the Outback. Staying on my 150 degree heading watching the sunrise, I was expecting a North Easterly wind according to the forecast, but with my ‘basic’ navigational equipment and the lack of beacons in this neck of the woods, I’d anticipated being blown a little off course. The extra fuel in the Hopper had been worth the extra weight and longer take off roll. As with my leg from Broome Hill to Balgo, there really wasn’t a lot to see apart from the endless undulating sea of scorched red desert, punctuated by small communities, and lakes, the biggest being Lake MacKay, which meant I was about half way through my journey. As I got closer to my destination, I picked up the ‘highway’ 4 which would take me all the way in, and meant I didn’t need to follow the whiskey compass so rigidly. Fuel was getting low but I couldn’t resist taking a slight detour to the ‘Olgas’ which is a group of 36 domed rocks just North West of Uluru. Flying past the Kata Tjuta ‘Olgas’ mountains The huge monolith which was ‘Ayers Rock’ was visible as I turned South East. The last time I had seen this sacred Aboriginal site was back in my late teens, when I had no inkling that I would ever get to experience it from the air. Flying past Ayres Rock I dialled into the YAYE ATIS on 126.55 to check which runway was in use and the barometric pressure. Runway 13 was indicated and the QNH was 1013. The temperature was getting hotter as I descended, and flew the downwind. I hoped that my parking spot would be close to a nice air-conditioned pilots lounge! Flying downwind for a landing on runway 13 On Final for Runway 13 Taxi to parking Once parked up, I shut down the aircraft as quickly as possible before the heat finally finished me off. I had landed with almost dry tanks which wasn’t a surprise given the headwinds I had encountered en-route. I wouldn’t need to load much fuel for my last leg up to Alice Springs, but I would handle that tomorrow; I had to get the baton safely to Beejay and then I could relax for the evening. The Sheraton Yulara was now the ‘Sails in the Desert’, and although the 5* rating and rather over the top price tag was still evident, the hotel had been given a bit of a face-lift since I was last there but at least they hadn’t skimped on the massive outside swimming pool, which I couldn’t wait to dive into. I put my phone on charge and picked up the hotel wifi signal. An email from Beejay, saying he would meet me at the ‘Field of Light’ later that night. According to Google® the exhibition of Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku which translates as ‘looking at lots of beautiful lights’ was so popular, it had been extended for another year until early 2018. Good ol’ Beejay.. making sure to experience the culture and atmosphere before his flight for the Hangar. Slipping into my slinky cocktail dress, I took the baton from my room safe and put it in my handbag. Beejay had booked a table for us at a restaurant where we could see the exhibition, and on arrival, I was directed to his table. After the usual greetings and update on how my trip had been, darkness began to fall and Ayres Rock was thrown into silhouette. The Field of Light, illuminated by over 50,000 frosted glass spheres atop slender stems swayed gently in the hot evening air. The Field of Light exhibition It was a breath-taking sight, and one that I could have enjoyed for hours, but having polished off our lobster dinner, I was shattered, and Beejay needed to be up early for his leg. As we walked back into the cool hotel lobby, I handed over the baton, gave him a hug and then walked to the lift. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a figure sat in the bar who looked completely out of place, but strangely familiar. He glanced at me, and then, appearing to not recognise me, returned to his newspaper. I was immediately alert. Where had I seen him before? Was I being followed? Had I not ditched the horrible brunette wig, would he have been on my heels? I pulled out my mobile and quickly sent an email to Beejay. I only hoped that my suspicions were unfounded, but when you’ve been in my line of work for so long, you tend to rely on your instincts… Created with FSX, Triple Head 2 Go for the widescreen shots Alabeo C188 AgTruck/AgWagon FSDG - Ayres Rock scenery Apologies for the tardiness in posting. The USB that had all my work on went south and i have just had to re-type from scratch. Not sure it was as good as the first time i wrote it
  6. No one would have believed since the last around the world challenge that the 2017 challenge preparations were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences far dumber than ours and yet as mortal; that as Mutley’s members busied themselves about their various concerns they were being scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Slowly and surely Putinfeld drew his plans against us. With the baton safely in its top secret UK hiding place, the forces of evil were held in abeyance, but inevitably the hallowed object must venture forth to fulfil is annual task and circumnavigate the world again. This was its vulnerable time, its very raison d’etre was its Achilles heel, and it would be at this precious time that they would strike, that they would try to put an end to the ATWC once and for all. Latest mug-shot of Putinfeld. However the forces of good were labouring tirelessly to be more prepared than those outings that went before, this time there would be some covertly sanctioned but deniable support from Her Majesty's Government. This support took the form of a joint operation between MI5 and MI6. MI5 for those operations in and around Great Britain and its dependents, and, in a larger part by MI6 for international operations. A new temporary department was set up with a name that fairly represented the workload bias. MI5 ¾ was born. Housed in some hastily converted space out of the back of the main MI5 building, MI5 ¾ was soon up and running. Initially thought to be a bit cramped even for a staff of just three, it was soon recognized as having the facilities to get things moving quickly. The three staff were my old friend Jasmine who, much to my surprise (not), was an MI6 agent, her liaison officer Rupert, and a guy from MI5, Bob Squirrel, who was just known as Squirrel. Swanky new offices. So far the baton remained unmolested, but it couldn’t be long before Putinfeld made his first appearance. It was anybody's guess when this would be, but now the baton was in Russia the danger was great. Putinfeld was known to have his main base is one of the exe Soviet countries, indeed there was some evidence that it was somewhere east of Moscow, but that was like saying it was somewhere on the moon for all it was worth. It was decided by the powers at MI5 ¾ that I should apply for the Moscow Sheremetyevo to Astana (Kazakhstan) leg, just in case some new intelligence was received before I was to start my leg. And so it came to be. Someone in Russia had done a dodgy deal and sold a tract of land near the Kazakhstan border to one of Putinfeld’s know front companies, It was worth a look and it came to be integrated into my leg. There were two problems: How to overfly the area, and how to get the hard evidence needed, preferably photographic, to convince HMG, (her Majesty's Government to those who don’t know), that there was a real issue with this man. The answer to the second problem kinda solved the first one. I was to fly the leg in a Canberra PR9, a beautiful aircraft of late ’50 vintage built for the very task of photographing ground targets. I was to fly on the pretext that the aircraft was flying to Japan for an airshow later in the month. The flight plan for the Canberra was to be a direct line between UUEE to UCAA, and at 45,000 feet. This plan in such an old aircraft allowed for enough navigational deviation to cross the area of interest, and take some interesting pictures. The next issue would be getting the loaded cameras past the Russians. F49 camera. The PR9’s F49 cameras were not small things. The lens was six inches in diameter, an on the back of the camera was a bulky film magazine. This is where Q and his department of ingenious gadgets came up trumps (nothing to do with Donald). The aircraft was to have all its cameras mounted but with no film magazine attached to them, nor were there to be any film magazines in the aircraft. Thus we could prove that we were not going to be taking any photographs with the aircraft, and in any event our 45,000 feet flight plan would be too high for these old cameras to be effective. Now this is the clever bit. The lens area was modified to take a modern miniature ultra-high definition digital camera, invisible to all but a destructive examination of the cameras. The camera in a camera was Bluetooth linked to an android phone app for its operation. This meant that the navigation officer could take photos using the app on his phone, and the images would be of such high quality that flying at up to and over 45,000 ft. wouldn’t be a problem. The PR9 was flown to Moscow ahead of me and was duly inspected and approved for the leg flight. They didn’t find the hidden cameras. Once this was confirmed, I flew to Moscow and was kitted out for the leg, including the clever little app on my phone as a backup. My navigating officer was none other than Rupert, suitably kitted out and with a cover identity as ex-RAF personnel. He too had his own Android phone. The flight plan below was, filed. As you can see from the map below, our registered plan in black was for a direct route. But our intended route in red was to overfly a point on the Russian border with Kazakhstan. Flight plan and actual plan All we needed now was the baton. Once we had news that the Baton was on finals, I made my way to the bar to wait for Tim. I had just settled down for a wait when I was pinged a text. He had arrived, and was in Burger King. I inwardly groaned as I hate fast food burgers and quickly necked my beer. After a fleeting feeling of guilt at the thought of flying with too much booze in me, I thought in for a penny, in for a pound and then I downed one I had bought him. I headed over to Burger King. Tim was there eating what seemed to me a small skyscraper of meat, salad and bun. Red and white scunge was leaking out of the sides of this monstrosity and was dribbling down his chin and dripping onto his shirt. It was a sight that I wished I could forget the moment I saw it, however Pandora was out of the box. Tim handed over the baton and offered me a bite of his burger which I gracefully declined whilst desperately trying to hide the sudden desire to chunder. With that over, and with a baton which seemed to have a side order of tomato sauce and mayo I got into my flying gear and walked out onto the tarmac. Our departure Airport Rupert joined me and we hopped into an old UAZ jeep and speed off towards the apron near taxiway 20 where our aircraft was discreetly parked. We climbed into the aircraft, Rupert into the “coal-hole” and myself into the cockpit. All ready and waiting. Pre-start checklists done, we started the engines. Left engine first, the cartridge fired and black smoke belched out of the engine accompanied by a sound like a dentist’s drill which was soon replaced by the sound of the engine turning normally. The process was repeated for the second engine, and with all instruments looking god we were ready to taxi. Taxi. Permission given we taxied the short distance to runway 25R and were told to line up and wait. Takeoff clearance was given quickly and with brakes on we spooled up the engines. Brakes on and spool ‘em up Brakes off and we accelerated down the runway and were soon climbing over the Moscow suburbs. Wheels up and climbing over Mother Russia Soon the buildings below receded, getting smaller and smaller as we began our climb to our cruising height of 45,000 feet. Moscow below Through the thin cloud layer, leaving this to retreat far behind is as had the city of Moscow. We eventually reached 45,000 ft, the best operating height for the Canberra, although she could go higher but with diminished performance. 45,000 feet. See how dark the sky above is. The weather was supposed to be good for our mission, with little cloud over our point of interest. For once the weather boys were spot on and we found ourselves cruising over minimal clouds. Cruising at altitude. As soon as we were out of Moscow controlled airspace we slowly we allowed our course to drift southward as we headed towards the target area that was of interest to MI5 ¾. There isn't much traffic above 40,000 feet in darkest Russia and so we received no interest from ATC as we continued to drift southward. Banking over the area of interest to line up the cameras. We settled into a rather dull cruise, mindful of Russian radar and ATC nonetheless. We were less than 50 miles from our target when we were lit up by a military radar, alarms flashed and hooted in the cockpit which instantly sharpened the mind, and browned the trousers. After 30 seconds the alarms stopped as suddenly as they started, the radar had been switched off. what a relief! The radio chirped up with ATC telling us that we were straying off our course and must turn to correct the drift at once. We had been spotted by someone who had alerted ATC, but didn't want to stay switched on long enough to be pinpointed themselves. By this time we were over the target area, had commenced our bank to line up the cameras for taking photographs. Whoever it was lighting us up was too late. Smile please. Click-click, click-click, click-click Our High-Tec cameras went into action and after a minute of activity we had done the job. We then complied with the ATC instruction and headed back towards our intended destination. Over Astana It wasn't to long until we started our descent as we approached Astana. Permission to land was given without us having to hold and we were soon on finals for runway 04. On short finals Slightly rattled by the earlier military radar, I made a dog’s breakfast of the landing, putting the aircraft down an embarrassing distance from the centre line. Not quite on the centre line. I dug out the chart for Astana to work out where to go after we had received taxi instructions from the tower. Our destination airport We slowed to taxi speed beyond taxiway B and so had to run the length of the runway to taxiway A and then took P and B to reach the terminal buildings. Astana terminal buildings As I glanced at the terminal buildings I noticed that they looked very new and I commented on this to Rupert. He told me that the city of Astana had only been the capital of Kazakhstan since December 1997, six years after the country gained independence, and that as a result there had been loads of development in recent years. Before 1997 the capitol was Almaty, right down in the southeast of the country. Taxi up to the stand History lesson over, we were directed to a stand near the refueling point and once the aircraft was parked we went through the last of the checklists and shut the engines down. Shut down and handed back to the RAF There was an RAF crew waiting with some Kazakh minders and they took over from us. We had left the cameras in place and they were now the responsibility of the collecting crew. I said goodbye to Rupert who stayed with the aircraft and I walked into the terminal buildings. I headed to the bar to find Brian. Our diversion meant I was late. Brian would have been in the bar a while. I hopped he wasn't to pissed, either in the ..off or ..as a newt meaning of the word. It wasn’t until a few days later when I had flown back to the UK that I found out what we had photographed. The cameras left Russia in the diplomatic bag and were analyzed in London. This is what was found: Putinfeld’s Farm Above is the first shot we took of the plot of land bought by Putinfeld. It looks innocent enough, perhaps a farm? It is just inside the Russian border with Kazakhstan, let’s look closer… Perhaps not a farm then! Do you still think this is a farm? Notice what appears to be a double set of lines that surround the site, and the strange corners these lines have, and that there seems to be only one entrance at the bottom of the picture. This is a double razor wire fence with corners designed to be strong on defence and visability. The larger buildings are too big to be barns and seem to be some manufacturing or processing plant. There is a perimeter path, studded with white roofed watch towers. The four square areas of land where the grass is browner than the rest hint at large underground buildings, the soil depth here is thinner than that around it because of the concrete structures below and so holds less moisture which in turn causes the grass to brown more quickly. Now look at the smallest black roofed buildings. The one nearest the entrance is in its own square of uneven ground. This is the entrance to an underground store for something sensitive or volatile, hence its own wire fence around it. Its uneven surface and the two smaller areas of brown grass indicate something below. The second small building is by a white circle, and is the most worrying. This is a blockhouse and offers access to an underground facility. It is the entrance to what lies below the white circle, or to be more accurate, the very large circular hatch, that is of the utmost concern. This is an ex-Soviet Nuclear Missile silo. Why has Putinfeld acquired a Nuclear ICBM base?
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