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  1. Leg 58 Part 2 - LIRP San Giusto (Pisa, Italy) to LSZE Bad Ragaz (Switzerland) This, the second part of this leg takes me from Pisa north to the Alps, and over them to the ski resort of Bad Ragaz. I was still a bit shaken from the first section of this leg, but I was in one piece thanks to the plucky little Harrier, and I was pleased to find out I was to continue my journey with the same aircraft. For those of you who read it, there is probably a lucrative pilots vacancy in Henchmans Weekly after my drama in the first part of this leg. However, Jasmin had stitched me up for this section as she had arranged for me to take part in an exercise with the Swiss armed forces. I was to act as a ‘hostile’ aircraft and would try to penetrate the Swiss defences and do a mock attack on Bad Ragas of all places. Clearly the Top Brass didn’t want their skiing holidays interrupted in time of war. The Swiss would try to detect and intercept me on my run into to the resort town. I drew up an aggressive flight plan that would make all attempts to evade their radar, and if detected avoid interception. My defeat would be signalled by a successful intercept and my victory by a very low pass over Bad Ragas. All flying at Bad Ragas had been suspended for the duration of the exercise to ensure low level flight safety. My alternative airport would be LOIH, Hohenems-Dornbrin. There was little chance of another attack by Temperance as although the location of their airfield hadn’t been found yet, the Italian air force was up in strength and patrolling the Tyrrhenian Sea between the Italian mainland and the islands of Corsica and Sardinia. There was also a US aircraft carrier in the area. Planned Route. If the Swiss don’t detect me then Temperance haven’t a chance so I was not too worried anyway. It actually sounded like it might be fun, so how could I refuse. I had intended to fly high until I got to the Alps and then attempt the Swiss airspace penetration at low level but given the Temperance attack I opted to go low for the whole trip. It would make it just that little bit harder for the Swiss if their radar covered any part of Italy, which I found out later it did. As it turned out I had a free day in Pisa as the Harrier had to have some minor maintenance done on it. So I went off into Pisa to improve my mind. The leaning tower of Pisa So I went into the town of Pisa and found a hotel. Once settled in I set off to see the leaning tower of Pisa. Originally designed as a bell tower, and already leaning before it was completed it now leans at an angle of 3.97 degrees. The reason for this is poor foundations, so it’s a monument to ‘cowboy’ builders the world over. I also had a stroll along the banks of the river Arno, looked at the Palazzo dei Cavalieri in the Knights Square and wandered around the Borgo Stretto. The Borgo Stretto The last of these is a group of buildings that have fine architecture and contain very high end shops. This is a very Italian thing, shops with glitzy things in them that cost a lottery winners prize and always have no one in them. Every major Italian city has them and they always seem to have no customers in them. It must be a state sponsored thing to advance the Italian image, I can’t see any way they stay in business. San Giusto Airport Pisa I awoke early for my flight to Bad Ragaz and arrived at the airport an hour earlier than I needed to. It was just as well. I went over to the Harrier only to find her in bits, and RAF team all over her like a rash.’ ‘What’s up’ I ask the Sargent in charge of the maintenance team. ‘I think putting this old girl through her paces yesterday has caused a couple of issues. She won’t be going anywhere for a couple of days. Sorry’ This was a problem. The Swiss were expecting an exercise today and I had no plane to do it in. Furthermore I needed an aircraft that was capable of staging a mock attack and landing at a short airfield. I got on the phone to Jasmine and started to explain the situation. ‘Calm down’ Jasmine said, ‘there is a backup plan and I know about the Harrier.’ ‘Glad to hear it’ I said. ‘Where are you now?’ jasmine asked ‘I am with the Harrier at the main parking area’ I replied. ‘Ok, get yourself to the parking area nearest to Runway 04 left, it is between taxiway A and B and on the same side of the runways as you are now. Call be back when you get there.’ I said I would, ended the call and set about finding my way to the area Jasmine described. Eventually I got a lift in a battered old Land Rover and headed out to what was a remote parking place. As we approached I could see there was an aircraft parked out there, and as we got nearer I could see it was military. The nearer I got the clearer it became and suddenly I realised what it was. Royal Navy F35B Lightning 2 The aircraft was a Royal Navy F35B Lightning 2. She had been loaded on an American aircraft carrier that was now patrolling the Tyrrhenian as part of the US task force there. I called Jasmine as promised and she confirmed that I was to fly the aircraft on my exercise. Well I had the perfect aircraft for the job I was to do today, better than the Harrier as I had stealth on my side. However I did reflect on the fact that this aircraft might have made the encounter with the Temperance fighter less stressful, but maybe fighting with a proven platform was better than with a new and unproven one. Before I was going anywhere I had a briefing to go to. My mission on this part of the leg was to penetrate the Swiss early warning radar undetected. I had to learn more about the systems I was up against. Radar coverage in Switzerland is challenging. The country is full of mountains and valleys providing plenty of radar shadows blind spots and so on. To combat this the Swiss have an S band Radar system called FLORAKO. This consists of a four site military radar system named FLORES which is joined with civilian Radar installations all over the country using a coms system called KOMSYS. This is integrated with RALUS, a system that manages the coordination of all the radar sources. Across this system is a warning system called LUNAS-E2, and this is the system I was trying to evade. This can be augmented by mobile ground units as well. One of the Swiss mountain top Radar stations. There followed a further briefing on how to make the best of the aircraft’s stealth capabilities and how to apply these capabilities to the flight plan all highly classified stuff so that’s all I am saying This aircraft was ready to go, so I did a longer than usual walk round to remind me of the external aspects of the aircraft and then settled into the cockpit to take my time remembering how it all works. It’s a much easier task to do this than for a Harrier. A shed load of work is now done by computer and this makes the aircraft so much easier to fly, almost like having a second crew member. Testing the VTOL configuration. I would be performing a conventional take-off as Pisa has ample runway length, but my landing at Bad Ragaz would be a short or vertical landing as the airfield was short. I would have to get my fuel right for this trip. I was taking no payload other than the baton so that would help with getting the aircraft’s weight right as this would be critical to my short or vertical landing at my destination. Taxi to Runway 04R I was given taxi clearance to runway 04 right and started my taxi to the runway, the wheels thrumming and the aircraft nodding gently as I crossed bumps in the taxiway. I arrived at the runway threshold and was given take-off clearance straight away. Ready for Take-off I set up the aircraft for a conventional take-off and opened the throttles. The aircraft roared down the runway, taking care of flaps and gear itself and I was soon away. Hmmmm… I thought, a lively bird she climbs well. Conventional Take-Off I started as I intended to continue and stayed fast and low. I was going to fly the easy long and straight parts at 630 kts. and 500 ft. going through the mountains I would have to slow down but I would still be looking to keep my speed up as much as I dared. I passed through the hills of the Parco Nazional dell’Appenennino Tosco-Emiliano to the north of Pisa and then over the wide Po valley to the Alps beyond. Crossing the planes and the river Po. Having had some experience of the Mach loop I was confident I could handle the valleys of the Alps, but they would be somewhat different in scale. If I was to remain undetected then I would have to keep my head down and caress the valley floors. But first I must fly the length of Lake Garda which was my route into the Alps. Low and fast over Lake Garda Lake Garda behind me, the mountains started to rise up around me. As I entered Italy’s portion of the Alps, again hugging the valley floors helping out the aircrafts stealth properties by using the mountains to mask my progress. Penetrating the Swiss border I crossed into Switzerland near the small town of Madonna di Tirano, with my aircrafts defence systems still silent, watching for radar signals and finding none. Mach Loop on steroids Very scary! The further I flew into the mountains I went the more tortious the valleys and mountains became. It was not the same as the Mach Loop, it was far harder and far more lethal, one error and I would become a mountain side fireball. I was less than 40 km from my target when the aircraft’s warning systems lit up. I was flying through the reach of an S Band radar. But just as quickly as it had started the warnings stopped. The radar had scanned across me and not seen me, this stealth stuff really works. I was glad I wasn’t in the Harrier, it would have been game over. Final high speed ‘attacking run’ on Bad Ragaz runway. My Speed at 630 Kts and my radar Altitude 230ft, 40 Km was gone in a flash and soon blasting along the line of the runway on my mock bombing run. RAF 1 Switzerland 0. A good result for me. Perhaps worrying for the Swiss Defence Minister or equivalent thereof. Bad Ragaz chart. I slowed right down, looped back the way I had come and made a vertical landing approach. I went into a hover to the right of runway 2 and then side slipped on to the runway before setting the aircraft gently down. Hover approach After a perfect landing I left the runway and …… Vertical Landing …..taxied the aircraft to the small apron and shut the aircraft down. After climbing out I met a Royal Navy ground crew and Pilot who would take over the aircraft from me. Parking Shutdown All done with the handover, I said my goodbyes and went off in search of Steph to hand the baton over. As I walked to the terminal building I thought about this part of the leg. The mission probably wouldn’t have been successful in the Harrier as the F35’s stealth properties no doubt prevented me from being detected, and the computer co-pilot may well have helped me from becoming one with the Alps. But on balance I preferred the Harrier. It’s more of an aircraft than a computer, which can’t be said of the F35, or should I call it the Lightning 2? Enough of that. Sadly the last of my ATWC 7 legs was complete. I always look forward to the adventures it brings. Time to start planning for next time. I think the bar is through these glass doors.
  2. 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. Kamiros 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. Flight Plan. 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’. ‘Thanks Jasmine.’ ‘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 aircraft 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. Take off 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. Flares away 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. He missed! 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 On finals. 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! X-Plane 11 Trident Harrier Default Scenery
  3. Leg 54: Baghdad Intl ORBI to Diagoras (Rhodes) LGRP After Luxor, Jasmine departed and flew back to England or so I thought. I went on to Baghdad on my own. It’s been over fifteen years since the invasion of Iraq but I was still nervous about going there. The last attack was in April of last year when a funeral in near Al-Shirqat in the north of Iraq, was targeted, Baghdad’s last attack was in January of last year. I reckoned that being a westerner made me more of a target and I wondered what extra efforts I should take to stay safe. Jasmin had given me a name and a contact number of a man who could help me with personal security, but I was hoping that I would have a short stay and I wouldn’t be going far from the airport in any event. Hatshepsut Temple, Valley of the kings After seeing the sights in Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, the tombs and temples etc. I caught a train from Luxor to Cairo. Similar to Luxor, in Cairo I visited the Pyramids, Sphinx etc., and eventually booked an Egypt Air flight to Baghdad. The Sphinx and a Pyramid Baghdad International airport doubles up as the New Al Muthana Air Base which is the home of No 23 Squadron IqAF which has three C-130 E aircraft, and the air base also is home to a number of Sukhoi Su-25 aircraft. The latter being Russian may be some of those which hid in Iran during the Gulf War. I booked into the Baghdad International Airport Hotel which looked like a tarted up military barracks and for all I know it probably was. Baghdad International Airport Hotel I had planned to stay in the hotel for all of my stay in Baghdad, but this was changed by the arrival at my door of the guy whose name was mentioned to me by Jasmine. Sami, his first name, I never found out his other names, was an interesting man. Of Iraqi decent, he had first come to Iraq with the King’s Royal Hussars in a tank, subsequently left the army and returned to Iraq to set up a security company and errm… do some work on the side for MI6 shall we say. Monument of the Unknown Soldier Sami took me to see the sights in his Range Rover. This was no ordinary vehicle, for a start I noticed that the black tinted windows were ½ an inch thick. It’s a good job he knew how to drive a tank. We saw the Al-Shaheed Monument, the Baghdad museum, the Monument to the Unknown Soldier (Iran-Iraq war) and several Mosques. All quite interesting but all viewed from the safety of the Range Rover AUV. (Armoured Utility Vehicle). All of that took a day. Now all I had to do is wait in the hotel for Joe. Fortunately it was not a long wait and I soon was back at the airport with the baton in my hands, but only after Joe had filmed me holding it and spent a while taking movie shots of the airport in general muttering some sort of commentary to himself. Very strange behaviour, I think he fancies himself as the David Attenborough of the aircraft world. Back to the job in hand. What I needed was an aircraft. Sami had told me from the outset that the aircraft I would be flying was an RAF Typhoon and that it was almost ready and would be waiting at the New Al Muthana Air Base side of Baghdad International. I hopped onto a passing airport vehicle and got a lift to the airbase side and. found my aircraft ready and waiting. Next door to the Typhoon there were two civilian aircraft parked up. I asked the driver what they were doing this side of the airfield and all I got in reply was ‘Best not to ask sir’. Ready for pushback. I popped into to the tower and made myself known, and was directed to a washroom where I could change into my flying kit. Checks done and aircraft ready to go I was given a push back which scared the life out of me. I thought the truck was going to hit me, but it didn’t, just scraping under the nose. Fully pushed back and with taxi clearance I set off for the active runway. Pushed back and pointing in the right direction. I bumped and swayed over the taxiway, the general state of the hard standing was not so good, and eventually arrived at the active runway. Bumping along to the active runway. Where I was told to wait. Now I would have thought a warbird would be allowed a bit of priority in the take-off queue, but no. These civies had paid for their takeoff slotts and I was just an inconvenience so I had to wait my turn. Waiting at the threshold. When I was allowed to go, the tower, unsure of my aircrafts performance, was concerned that I might catch up with the last aircraft to take-off and so I was asked how much space I needed to transit to 10,000 feet. I replied ‘about one kilometre. They were confused and asked me to repeat it. They didn’t get it the second time around and so made me wait what they thought was a reasonable amount of time for the aircraft in front to get clear of my take-off. Afterburners on, gear up. I executed a full afterburner take-off and a vertical climb to 10,000 feet, slightly less than a kilometre from the airfield I was at 10,000 feet. Vertical Climb Once at my cruising altitude of 20,000 ft, ATC called me up and said that an old friend wanted to formation fly with me for a while. I asked what aircraft and was told it was an RAF Tornado. I agreed and soon the Tornado appeared on my starboard wing. Tornado Joining It was the aircraft was that I had flown on my last flight. As it drew closer I recognised Jasmine in the back seat flipping two fingers at me with a big grin on her face. So much for her going home then. Over the lake We flew in formation over Therthar lake, and westward until we were over Syria. Goodbye Tornado. When about 200KM into Syria Jasmin gave me a wave and the Tornado peeled off and dived down to a very low level. As they turned away I noticed the array of munitions slung under the aircraft. Someone in some terrorist organisation was about to have a very bad day. Passing over Al-Salamiyah I proceeded westward over the baron looking landscape that was Syria occasionally passing a green and populated area like an island in a sandy sea. The Syrian coastal mountains Approaching the coastal mountain range, the landscape began to change, seeming to get greener as we approached the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Approaching the coast By now the cockpit was getting very hot as the relentless sun beat down on the Perspex, magnified by its lens like curve. I fiddled with the environment settings to make it a bit less like a pressure cooker in the cockpit. The unforgiving sun The heat and brightness of the sun reminded me of Morocco and the edge of the Sahara which I once found myself crossing baking sand in 52 degrees centigrade heat. But that is another story, and an unpleasant one at that. Cyprus. Sunny Cyprus crept over the horizon with RAF Akrotiri and cold beers below, but not this Greek and Turkish Isle for me as I continued west north westward. The Turkish coast was to my right just a haze in the far distance, all other directions blue sea now Cyprus was left behind. But then, first a smudge and then a line followed by a more substantial shape, the island of Rhodes loomed up to greet me. This time a green isle in a deep blue sea. High Speed pass over Rhodes International Airport I checked my fuel and saw I had plenty although by now the drop tanks were dry, I decided to give the tourists something to gawp at. After gaining permission from Diagoras tower I made a high speed pass low over the sea by the side of the airport. I whipped passed the tourist aircraft disgorging Lilly white livestock and boarding the brown and red passengers at each end of their package holidays, at a little over 580 knots, only just below the speed of sound. They probably didn’t hear me coming, but they surely heard me as I passed. On finals at Diagoras. Going around and slowing down, a lot, I was soon on finals with the air brake deployed, and the aircraft trimmed for landing. Landing at Diagoras I touched down just clear of the piano keys with the air brake out and then deployed the chute. Deceleration was rapid and I soon turned off the runway and was directed to a stand. Taxi to the stand A short taxi to the stand bought me passed the civil aircraft. Many of the passengers and crew stopping in their tracks to look again at the fast jet, this time tamed by the ground as it jolted and bounced over the taxiway toward the stand. On stand and shutting down On the stand I shut the engines and closed up the aircraft before handing it over to an RAF ground crew who had flown in specially to receive the aircraft. Last look at the Typhoon I strolled over to the terminal building, taking a last look at the aircraft as I passed into the building. In a changing room I got out of the air crew kit and into a more comfortable garb and stepped out into the sunshine on the concourse to look for Mike. Now just where is Mike? I guess I will have to find the airport bar and wait there. So I did. Sipping my Gin and Tonic I reflected back on what was the quietest and most uneventful leg I had flown in a good while. I really enjoyed it. X-Plane 11 Freeware Eurofighter Typhoon Freeware ORBI & LGRP
  4. Leg 51: HADC Combolcha to HELX Luxor Part 2 - The Flight Christmas Day over, Boxing Day arrived beckoning me to have a few jars and to watch the local Morris Dancers do their thing in the in the pub carpark. It's always a good lunchtime treat, time to catch up with old friends whilst watching the inhibitions of the dancers drop away with every pint. At the start they do a dance with staves, gently taping them together as part of the dance. They do the same dance at the end when they are completely ratted on the beer. It’s a spectacle, Staves no longer being tapped together but hit so hard that bits fly off them. Morris Dancing is a fine example of historic tradition as it goes back to pagan times. Having had my fill of beer and of standing around in a cold pub carpark I set off home. Halfway there my phone rang. The tone was the James Bond theme so I knew it was Jasmin before I answered it. She spoke quickly and went straight to the point. I was to be ready first thing in the morning, she would pick me up at 6 am and we were to fly out of Farnborough before midday. We were going back to Combolcha. I had a quick turkey sandwich for lunch and packed a bag. After an early supper of turkey curry I had an early night and was up again at 5 am to be ready at 6. In the car on the way to the airfield, and while I munched on my breakfast of yet another turkey sandwich Jasmin showed me the flight plan for the leg. It seemed I was to head to the coast and then turn North West once in international waters and blatt down the centre of the Red Sea and then take the shortest overland route to Luxor. Supersonic flight was permitted. Flight Plan There were two questions that presented themselves upon seeing it: Why this route and what aircraft? The “what aircraft” was to be the Tornado I had seen refuelling at Combolcha, the “why that route was more interesting. It seemed that Temperance had a ship that patrolled the Red Sea. This vessel served as a replenishment ship for pirates operating further south in the Gulf of Aden. The Pirates worked from small boats that were resupplied from larger, but still relatively small mother ships that loiter in international waters in the Gulf. Up until now these Mother ships had to sail home to their home ports to re-fuel and re-stock. Temperance were helping this lucrative trade by offering a resupply service in the Red Sea. This provided a ready source of fuel, food, drink and weaponry to the pirate mothership, thus avoiding the risk of crossing policed territorial waters and helped with the difficulty of sourcing weapons. All well away from the Pirates hunting ground and at a cost of a percentage cut of any bounty earned. A Pirate mothership Piracy in the Gulf of Aden has been in serious decline since 2013, but the seas off the coast of Nigeria have seen an increase in that time. Temperance was attempting to revive Somali based piracy, by supplying the pirates with highly sophisticated equipment and weaponry that would enable them to evade the naval deployments or to fight back effectively if evasion was not possible. They planned to do all this without the pirates having to set foot on land and wanted to do this whilst the world was looking the other way at Nigerian piracy. Our job was to sink the Temperance ship, thus denying the pirates weapons, ammunition, fuel, fresh water and food. Effectively closing them down. After locating the vessel we were to attack it with Laser guided bombs and then proceed to Luxor. Out weapons platform would be the Tornado GR4. A Pirate raider We arrived at Brize Norton and were ushered into a waiting A400M Atlas and we were in the air twenty minutes later. Then it was in with the ear plugs and off to the land of nod for me. This is one point where Jasmin envies me. I can sleep anywhere. I once camped 50 yards from the track at Le Mans and had a very good nights sleep. After four and a half hours the flight was interrupted with a stop at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. Fuel and stuff was loaded, other stuff was unloaded. Our Transport at Akrotiri Two hours later we took to the air again for another four and a half hours, passing over Israel, Jordan, Saudi and Eritrea before reaching Ethiopia. Combolcha was much as we had left it except the lads looking after the Tornado were more tanned. There were now two Tornados on the airfield. Interesting. Together they took up virtually all the parking space available at the airport. We grabbed a coffee in the airport building and sat down to enjoy our brew. Just as it had cooled enough to drink my old mate Clive appeared. “No time to drink that now, the Temperance ship has been spotted at sea off the coast of Eritrea, just where we want him. The briefing was a simple affair. We were to head north east at 300 feet using our terrain following radar and cross Djibouti to the southern neck of the Red Sea. There we would proceed North North West up the centre of the red sea still at 300 feet and would be vectored on to the ship by a ground controller. An agent had put a transponder on the ship so it was impossible to attack the wrong ship. One Tornado would then act as target designator while the other made the attacking run. We were to make the attack, and we were to start at dawn tomorrow. Just as the sun was rising Just past dark o’clock the following day we were checking the aircraft as were the other crew. Our stores load was to be a pair of long range fuel tanks, a couple of Boz pods for ECM, flares and chaff, two Sidewinder air to air missiles, a couple of GBU 16 laser guided bombs and a JDAM laser guided bomb in reserve. Checks done, we mounted up and started our pre-flight checks. Soon we found ourselves on the end of the runway waiting for take-off clearance. Cleared for take-off Cleared for take-off the two Tornados sped down the runway and were soon airborne. Our wingman to the right and behind, close in tight we cleared the Combolcha town limits and were soon over a stony wasteland. We dropped down to 300 feet and started up the Terrain following Radar (TFL). In formation over Ethiopia With the Flight Director plugged into the TFL we undulated over rocky hills and flat baron plains at 500 kts. Popping up to 700 ft. to cross some mountains. In the picture above, the left-hand green and black display is the terrain following display. It is indicating higher land ahead as the curves on the display are raised to the right hand side I sat back to enjoy the ride, not really relaxed about it though, so kept watching the terrain following display and the land ahead. My concerns were unfounded, the TLF did its work very well. Crossing into Djibouti airspace at 300 ft After what seemed a very short time we crossed into Djbouti airspace. We didn’t really ort to be here, as we hadn’t asked if we could. However, because of our 300 ft height, speed of 750 kts and the size of Djibouti, we had arrived, transited and left their air space before you could say “what the feck was that!”. The Red Sea coast from Jasmin’s viewpoint. Over the red sea, Jasmin got busy setting up the targeting data. We were cleared to engage with any or all of our air to ground weapons once the target was identified. Jasmine announced that we were ready to engage once the target was identified. Our wingman then climbed away to point his laser onto our target. Over the Red Sea, Our wing man peels off to get into position to lase the target. Ten minutes later our wingman announced he had acquired out target and that he had commenced “painting” the vessel with his laser. We dropped our now empty under wing tanks to make is as manoeuvrable as possible. Target acquired, our drop tanks are discarded before we attack. Tanks gone we commenced out attack. We would drop both GBU 16 bombs and if they failed we would commence a second attack with JDAM. I activated the late arm to ready the weapons and accelerated the aircraft. This was the moment! The second of two GBU 16s away We ran at the target at 300 ft and at the right moment I pulled back on the stick to “toss” the bombs onto their target. There was a clunk and then another one as the GBU 16 left their mounts and dropped seaward to give the Temperance chaps our Christmas greetings. Climbing out of the attack, I bang out some flares just in case. As we crossed the target in a climb, we were pointing our hot exhausts directly at the Temperance ship. I banged out some flares in case someone had an AA missile down there but I need not have worried. I heard nothing over the noise of the aircraft but Jasmine reported that one of the bombs had scored a direct hit. Scratch one Temperance ship. Later we would see a photo taken by our wing man of the sinking Temperance ship (see above). Approaching the coast of Egypt at a little over Mach 1.4 We ran northwards over the flat and very close Red sea, still at 300 ft. as soon as Luxor was on our port beam we executed a 90 degree turn and starter our run towards the Egyptian coast. From a distance it looked quite flat, but the distance was deceiving. There were some large peaks between us and Luxor. Time to test that TFR again. Enjoying the rollercoaster ride that TFR gives you. I can testify just how good the TFR is and back it up by irrefutable evidence. That evidence is me. I am still alive. It is an amazing ride, and it works like a dream. Once your confidence is up, its great fun. But it really is a confidence thing. The green ribbon that is the river Nile I was just beginning to feel a little queasy what with the undulating TFR ride and all when up ahead I saw a green strip winding across the desert, the Nile, and with it Luxor. Passing over the airport I turned down our speed down to 350 kts and climbed up to 1,000 feet to fly past the airport, and then up another thousand to 2,000 for my approach, bringing the wings forward as I did so . On finals Wings fully forward, flaps down full, speed 250 kts, wheels down. And then I was setting the aircraft down on runway 02. Touchdown Once on the deck the lift dump went into action and the “buckets” slid out and round to divert the engines thrust forward. We stopped very quickly and were soon leaving the runway. Reverse thrust “buckets” at work I just love the way the reverse thrust works on this aircraft. It is no wonder a Tornado always has a sooty tail. A long Taxi We had a long taxi as we were not allowed to park up with all the other aircraft. I guess that was because we still had some stores aboard that could go bang if not properly handled. We eventually parked up in the isolation area which was on the far side of the airport away from all of the nice comforts an airport can offer. Parked up on the isolation stand A truck appeared with a bunch of RAF blokes in it and after we had shut the engine down and made the aircraft safe they swarmed over the thing doing whatever they do. Jasmine and I cadged a lift in the truck back to the airport terminal. Luxor is thought to have one of the world’s worst airport cafés We headed to the Café for a drink and something to east. Surprisingly there was a lot of stuff on sale advertised as food, but most of it looked like it had been there since the Pharos time and neither of us decided to risk it. We has a cold bottle of fizz each instead. All I had to do was to wait for Tim and hand him the Baton. I was pondering the events of the last few hours, and I wondered if the Baton had ever been in action before. Joe would know. Authors note: It has taken me a long time to produce this, my first ever leg in X-Plane. First I had to get used to a new sim, and then I had to learn how to use a new aircraft. Fortunately knowing the JF Tornado for P3D helped me with where things were in the cockpit, but there was much to learn despite that. To fly this tornado (By Trident) you have to use both the pilot and co-pilot positions as there are things you can’t do from the front seat from the very start, and quite right to. Almost everything works. The arming systems work, the bomb loads and other stores are there for you to choose from, you can launch AA, AG and fire guns, the target locking works, maps can be loaded into the centre consul (I didn’t do that for this trip, but I will for the next time I use this aircraft), and the TFR works a treat. All of these military functions work out of the box, the only paid add-on for this PIREP was the Tornado itself. I will be doing all my flying with X-Plane 11 now, as it is a superb F.S., highly adaptable, and as stable as a rock.
  5. Leg 51: HADC Combolcha to HELX Luxor. Part 1 – Home for Christmas I had arrived in Libreville on September 15th at the end of leg 44 and had to wait almost a month until Joe turned up to collect the baton. Jasmin had left two days into my stay and had headed to Gibraltar for some unknown reason. After we had met up, in my hotel, Joe muttered some sort of apology and something about unserviceable aircraft, difficult ATC and something about his route. I was torn between two feelings: Where the f*** have you been and thank f*** you’re here. The latter won as I really wanted to get out of this place and find somewhere a bit friendlier and a lot safer. Four weeks of lying awake at night listening to angry shouting and the occasional small arms fire in the streets around the hotel was taking its toll. I could now head off to Combolcha to be ready for my next leg. The list of flights leaving Libreville was not impressive. I didn’t recognise a lot of the airlines let alone the African destinations on offer. All of them could be a case of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. There were only three airlines I knew and two I was happy to travel with, having flown with Royal Air Moroc before into Fez, never again! During this experience our pilot made what should have been a straight forward approach to Fez into a nightmarish rollercoaster ride. The memory makes me shudder. So it was a choice of Air France to Paris or Turkish Airlines to Istanbul. On the face of it the former looked best, but then the thought of a few days of Parisian waiters swayed me and I booked my flight to Istanbul. The plane left Libreville at 14:50 the following day and had one stopover arriving in Istanbul just after midnight. Istanbul Airport Istanbul was a place I hadn’t been to before and I was looking forward to seeing it from a tourist’s point of view. Istanbul was full of intrigue, where east meets west, a playground for spies, smugglers and other duplicitous bad guys. I checked in at an airport hotel and went straight to bed. Istanbul For the next couple of days I did the tourist thing and saw all the sights while keeping an eye on the Mutley web site for the batons progress. Again it was a long time before I had to make my way to Combolcha and start my involvement in the next leg of the batons progress. My first job, find out where Combolcha was. It’s in Ethiopia. Oh great, from the armpit of Africa to yet another sweaty crevice of that continent. I had to fly Qatar to Addis Ababa, and from there to Combolcha airport by small charter aircraft. I booked on to the 13:35 Qatar flight and arrived in Addis Ababa at ten past midnight, far too late to look for an aircraft to get me to Combolcha, so I found a bench in the terminal and settled down for a long wait until morning. All this airport hopping was getting long, drawn-out and tiring. Addis Abba airport I must have dozed off as I suddenly was aware of someone shaking me. I opened my eyes to find myself looking at a clock on the wall opposite. It was 3:40, and still dark outside. That meant AM. Why was I being woken at this ungodly hour? I didn’t ask for an alarm call. It was only then did I look to see who was shaking me. It was Jasmine. “What the hell are you doing here? And why are you waking me at this hour? “Come on”, she said, “we are flying out of here in half an hour”. I got to my feet, grabbed my stuff and followed her through the airport none the wiser as to what was going on. Jasmine and I hustled across the apron and into the back of an RAF Hercules that was already turning and burning, the ramp closed behind us as soon as we had passed over it and the aircraft was moving before we had time to sit down. We were the only occupants, save for the loadmaster, the aircraft’s cargo was fuel, in large removable tanks, configured for transport and not for air to air refuelling. So it was a no smoking flight then. We settled down in those god awful canvas seats, and put on some headphones so that we could talk to each other. “Jasmin, wtf is going on?” Were my first words into the mic.. “There has been a change of plan. You were going to do this next leg as a normal run of the mill leg, but we managed to delay its start to coincide with a little event we want to disrupt”. So it wasn’t all Joes fault that I was festering in Libreville all that time. Some of the bad feelings caused by my Libreville sojourn evaporated, but I still needed to get that photo Joe had of me as a baby back! “It’s getting near Christmas and so as a bonus you get to go home to your family” said Jasmin over the roar of the engines as we took off. “But first we have to collect the baton from your friend Brian”. The flight was dull but we got to Combolcha eventually and soon I was out of the aircraft and looking for Brian. As I was doing this the Herc. We arrived in taxied over to an apron and stopped next to an RAF Tornado. There was no refuling here No prizes as to what aircraft I would be using for the next leg then. Combolcha Airport. I couldn’t find Brian anywhere. I checked with the tower and they confirmed that a Cessna 310 registered as G-MHFC had landed on the 8 December but had left again shortly after. Great. Where was the Baton? They didn’t have it in the tower so I went on a tour around the airport buildings, or should I say bulding, but with no luck. I was just thinking of phoning Joe to get him to ask Brian to enlighten me as to the batons location when the Loadmaster from our inward flight rocked up next to me. “Is this what you are looking for?” he asked proffering the baton, “I found it on an old rusty bowser in the refuelling area”. Thank God for that! I supposed that Brian expected me to be using a light aircraft and so use the relatively small amount of fuel in the bowser. That is if it hadn’t been nicked by the locals, which it had. So there it is! Baton in hand, the Tornado and Herc. Refuelled, we said our goodbyes to the ground crew and RAF Regiment lads who were looking after and guarding the Tornado and piled back into the Herc. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for those guys, it was to be a dull and sweaty Christmas for them. Another dull flight and we were soon landing at Farnborough where I was to meet my wife and then to get home for the festive season. It will go all too quickly and I would be back in Combolcha soon enough. Merry Christmas everyone.
  6. Leg 42: KLGA La Guardian to GCLP Gran Canarias The last couple of legs I have flown have had a strange feeling about them. I think that this is because there seemed to be a lot going on behind the scenes. There was the gun battle at Panama City which I was kept isolated from, and then there was the entire Royal Navy ships thing, which I am beginning to think was a diversion to keep me away from other things closer to my expected route. Something was distinctly fishy, and I wanted to know what was going on. Questions put to Jasmine and Clive were met with a quick dismissal with an accusation that I was getting paranoid and that there was nothing to get worried about. There was some feedback from Panama though. It seemed that Putinfeld was actually there to direct his men and had narrowly escaped capture or worse. He was becoming bolder and perhaps more desperate. This news had been extracted from prisoners taken at panama when they were “processed” deep in the bowels of Vauxhall Cross House. Also extracted was news that Putinfeld was not actually the top man of the organisation he works with. He merely ran the procurements section of a larger organisation which we had known nothing of before. This news was alarming enough. How could a huge organisation such as this escape detection by any security service in the world? What did we learn about this organisation? Well, not much really except for its existence, its name and a very small amount about its leader. The organisation was called Temperance. This was an acronym for the wordy: Terror Extortion Murder Prostitution Embezzlement Robbery Arson and Narcotics Crime Executive. MI6 investigations discovered that they were registered as a charity called ‘Temperance ’ in the Cayman Islands and are purported to come to the aid the of prostitutes, drug addicts and alcoholics across the globe. In fact this aim brings them into contact with vulnerable people that they can recruit into their criminal ranks or can exploit in their wide ranging prostitution and drug smuggling operations. The directors of Temperance are innocent do-gooders who have been duped into believing that they are running a genuine charity. The real head of the organisation is a shadowy figure known only as ‘The Geography Teacher’ and is hard to pin down. There are few photos of him, below is the best there is. The Geography Teacher And this is an earlier photo when he was caught in background of a Japanese tourist’s photo. He is thought to be conspiring with a high ranking IRA leader: He is known to have connections with the IRA, several Arab terror groups including Isis, (he was a supporter of both Arafat and Bin Laden), some African extremists and with many criminal groups such as the Sicilian Mafia, Russian and Serbian criminal gangs, Central American narcotics gangs and many far eastern criminal organisations such as the Triads, and the Yakuza. Rather bizarrely he is said to be both a teetotal and a vegetarian, completely in line with his organisations front, but totally at odds with its real objectives. Temperance “Helping the vulnerable to achieve new goals” Note: Whose goals that are being achieved are not stated in their by-line. In reality it is the Geography Teacher’s criminal goals that are being achieved. The only release from his slavery is the grave. Such was the state of things as I headed to New York for a leg that would see a large step in the direction of home. Getting to the big apple from Uruapan to anywhere wasn’t easy. First I took 12:43 Volaris flight to LA International, and then after a two and a half hour wait, I caught the 16:45 flight out of LA International to JFK. I arrived at JFK at 1:16 and on time, but by the time I had cleared customs and immigration it was almost 3am. What is it with US immigration personal? Do they go to “how to be miserable” classes? I think they must do. The Russians have sent people to “how to smile” classes for the world cup, so it’s not impossible. After that it was into New York City and to an expensive hotel just for the luxury. Sorry Joe but the last few places have been at best okay and at worst a prison cell, and now I needed a hotel with a laundry and a room with a big extravagant bathroom. I took a suit at the Four Seasons Hotel at 57 East 57th Street Manhattan and presented the Mutley’s credit card for the bill. Oh God was it good. Four Seasons Hotel This is where I am supposed to say that after a couple of weeks I was getting fed up with lounging around doing nothing, and longing for my next leg to start. Well if you think that is true then you would be stark raving mad! And so it was with mixed emotions that after answering a knock on the door at an unsocial hour in the morning I was bought back to the real world and reunited with Jasmine and therefore with trouble. ‘We will be with Chuck soon get dressed.’ She said pushing me back into the room. I staggered over to the window to draw back the curtains and to let the light of morning stream in. There was no light. It was still dark. I looked at my watch, 03:30 AM. I must have my watch on back to front. I didn’t. ‘What the hell time do you call this Jasmine? Are you insane? … No don’t answer that, you are insane, I am going back to bed!’ ‘Oh no you’re not, sunshine’ she said ‘you are coming with me. Your aircraft awaits’ ‘Sunshine? Sunshine? The whole point is that there is no sunshine for another three or four hours! What do you think you are doing?’ ‘We”, she said for emphasis, ‘We have a long journey ahead of us, and we are due to take off just before first light and we have work to do before then. So pull your finger out and get your stuff together’. I extracted said digit and quickly packed the few things I had as was ready to go in five minutes. It took five more to check out with the Mutley card and we set off to the airport. Only we weren’t. We crossed the river into New Jersey headed away towards the airport and but stopped in Union St. at the 109th Precinct, that’s the 109th nick in English, and went inside. Jasmine spoke quickly to the desk sergeant, who then made a call, and after which asked us to wait. He made a second call as we sat down, and then we waited. After a few minutes a handcuffed, and rather sheepish Chuck appeared with another officer and was bought out into the public space. Chuck was then uncuffed and then given back a bunch of confiscated stuff, one of which was the baton, and made to sign for them. 'You’re free to go' the desk sergeant grumbled. Outside we relieved Chuck of the Baton and after some profound thanking directed at us, we went our separate ways. Isn’t amazing what a UK spook can do? We drove to the airport and when we arrived we went airside through a gate in the peripheral fence lit by a single street light. Thus we avoided all the faff in the terminal. There was a perfunctory check on our passports, a quick dig around in my backpack and that was it, we were through. The car took us up to the terminal parking, and there she was, a Tornado GR1, fuel tanks under wing and under fuselage, a BOZ-EC Countermeasures Pod, a Sky Shadow ECM pod and a couple of AIM-9Ls mounted to boot. Not much of a punch, AA only, but a good range and plenty of protection. In fact just about everything you could get with the Sky Shadow and the BOZ mounted. Missile warning, radar jamming, 360 cocktail flares and chaff, towed decoy and the kitchen sink between them. Transportation has been arranged. Flight panning had been carried out by Jasmine already and so after a twenty minute briefing we were ready to go, with her in the back seat. The flight was to be direct, a distance of some 2950 miles, beyond the ferry range of the aircraft. In theory this would mean only one in-flight refuelling, but as we were crossing the Atlantic, and therefore couldn’t afford to miss that mid-air meet, we opted for two top-ups, roughly one third and two thirds along our route. This way, should we miss one rendezvous, it wouldn’t be compromising our fuel status. There would be a further two tanker aircraft available as ‘spares’ should one of the tankers become unserviceable or some such other fuel emergency occur. To this end, the RAF has stationed two tanker aircraft in Gibraltar, and the USAF were making two tankers available at Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts, north of New York. Flight plans of the tanker aircraft and our own. The two tankers were to run ‘race track’ flights along our route, we would have two large windows to refuel in. Jasmine entered the flight plan from the back seat while I settled in and started on the check lists. We were to take off at 05:00, just before dawn, and with a flight time of about seven hours, perhaps a bit more with the refuelling, our ETA was about 17:00 Local time because of the time difference. Jet lag wouldn’t be a problem as we would be compressing twelve flying hours into just a net five clock hours. Jasmine and I set about our respective checklists and were soon ready for push back. Ready for pushback Taxi from the Pilot’s perspective Taxi from the Navigator’s perspective Awaiting clearance Take off At a little after five AM we were accelerating down the runway, afterburners lighting up the runway as we left the ground and climbed quickly to our cruising height of 40,000 ft. Climb Later we would dip down to 17,000 ft to refuel, but for now 40,000ft and a settled cruise was our aim. We didn’t expect any issues, the aircraft had just had a major overhaul and was on top line. Never the less, Jasmine set up all of our threat detection systems as routine and continued to monitor them as we cruised. Every so often Jasmine call out a course correction and occasionally she would report a contact but it was always some airliner below us and no threat. We cruised on, the sun rising as dawn matured into day. Cruise A few hours into the cruise it was time to start looking for fuel. There was nothing on the radar at first, but a half an hour later a blip appeared and Jasmine confirmed that it’s IFF confirmed it was friendly military. A quick radio exchange determined that it was indeed our tanker. We descended to 17,000 ft to approach the tanker from above, when the aircraft was in visual range we slowly dropped to 100ft below the tanker. We moved to 50ft below the tanker when close up, inching up until the probe was in the basket and there was just enough forward pressure to see the hose bend slightly. Tanker approach from the cockpit Tanker approach The fuel started to flow and I concentrated keeping the dock in place. The last thing I wanted to do was make a tit of myself by losing contact or worse still snapping off the basket. The latter would be a disaster as we not only would we be forced to stop the refuel but the broken basket would lodge firmly over the probe. This would put an end to our flight as we wouldn’t be able to get enough fuel to fill our tanks, and we wouldn’t be able to refuel again until we had landed and removed the basket. We would have to turn back. The Boss would not be pleased by the baton’s delay, but he would go apoplectic at the cost of the failed flight which would no doubt find its way onto the credit card. Refuelling. Refuelling successfully over we were full as a cow in calf. We climbed back to 40,000 ft and settled into the cruise again. There were less aircraft for Jasmine to report as we were now in mid-Atlantic with nothing to see but sea. I set up the auto-pilot and settled in for the long haul. Fast forward to the next part of the flight that wasn’t a game of eye-spy where everything spied began with ‘S’ and was either sky or sea. We approached the next tanker racetrack area, again without any such aircraft in sight. Like the last tanker, it was probably at the eastern end of its track. We had been using our external tanks and still had some juice left in them, although not a lot. Our internal tanks were still full and we could make our landfall in the Canaries without a refuel if we needed to, with a safety margin included. We cruised on but still with no sign of the tanker. Our radar screen was blank. It was still blank as its range probed over the eastern end of the planned track. Where was the RAF? Jasmine asked the same question of me, like I knew! Just then the radio crackled into life. It was the tanker. Jasmine spent two or three minutes on the radio to them and then came through to me. ‘My calculations say we can make to Grand Canaries on the fuel we have, do you agree?’ I agreed that we could. Jasmine went back to her conversation with the tanker. After the conversation she spoke to me. ‘We have a problem.’ This was not good. ‘The tanker was intercepted by a Mig 23 and warned off, they had returned to base. However the reserve was now in the air and would be available in about two hours. The bad news was that the Mig had long range tanks and could be loitering’. Ok, this was not good at all. My guess is that Putinfeldt was back on our case. As if she had read my mind, Jasmine spoke up again. ‘That’s not all. The tanker crew got to see who the pilot was. When the Mig closed with them the pilot moved in really close and deliberately removed his mask. It was Putinfeld himself. The guys in the tanker think he wanted everyone to understand it was him and that makes me think he is coming after us himself’. ‘I think it sounds like you might be on the money there. I guess it is a case if you want a job doing well then…….’ ‘…..Do it yourself’ jasmine chimed in. We were at 40,000 ft and still in the cruise, five minutes later the last few pounds of available fuel in the external tanks were used up and I switched to the internal tanks. Given the potential threat from Putinfeldt, between us we decided to be as ready as we could for any action. So with this in mind I dropped the empty tanks and immediately felt the reduction in drag. Tanks Gone We had two AIM-9L all aspect sidewinders to attack with. Only two shots. Fortunately defence was robust with both the Sky Shadow and the Boz to defend ourselves. No gun ammo, and most of the stores weight and mount points were taken up by the drop tanks. Thank god Jasmine had insisted on the Sidewinders. Oh for a F3 now instead of this GR1 mud mover! Puttinfeldt couldn’t have a full load of ordinance as he too would have to have drop tanks to intercept us this far out in the Atlantic, but he would have more offensive weaponry as he would be fitted out for an intercept and not a cruise. Cautiously we cruised on south-south eastwards towards our destination. Only five minutes passed when Jasmine’ voice interrupted my thoughts. ‘Threat at two o’clock low, ten miles and closing fast. We are being painted by a targeting radar, it’s a Russian AA2 Atoll. It’s a heat seeker and not all aspect so he won’t fire until he gets behind us.’ Immediately we both switch to and concentrated on our combat roles. She tracked the target and readied the countermeasures; I armed and set up the missiles. Then from Jasmine; strain in her voice, ‘Missile incoming, dead ahead pull-up ….NOW!’ I yanked the stick back, my blood rushing to my feet, my G-Suit fighting back, breathing hard, two thuds, flares and chaff being launched by Jasmine, and a missile passing under us desperate to catch a flare and not a Tornado. A close one, but a mistake to fire a heat seeker head on, this guy was an amateur as far as mixing it up air to air. A head-on attack using a heat-seeking missile is easily foiled with flares. Jasmine: ‘He is still coming at us the fool, turn to port … NOW, Stick to the left and backwards, more Gs, struggling to breath, the Mig flashes past, our turn brings him in front of us Jasmine’s call timed perfectly, a great view of his jet pipe. The growl of the sidewinder, a sound I hadn’t consciously heard until now, changed to a piercing tone, ‘Fox two!’** I shouted. The missile streaked away greedy for the Migs heat, flares were fired, and the deceived missile spun earthward. I hung on to the Mig’s arse for all I was worth, only too aware that I had wasted half of the weaponry I had. The second missile was screaming at me now, desperate to make friends with the Mig. “Fox two!” I pressed the tit to let it off the leash and prayed it would do its work. This time Putinfeld fired off flares again, but had left it too late. There was a wink of light in front of me as the missiles proximity fuse detonated the warhead, smoke haemorrhaged from the Mig for a full second, and then a ball of flame expanded and collapsed into smoke and flaming debris where the aircraft had been. ** Splash one Mig ‘Target contact lost’ piped up Jasmine, cool as a cucumber. ‘Splash one Mig’ I replied. ‘Any more contacts?’ I asked of Jasmine. ‘None’ she replied. I levelled the aircraft, and asked for a course to our destination. It was given and I flew the aircraft onto the course. We had lost five thousand feet during the combat which had lasted but three minutes. I climbed the ship back up to 40,000 feet and resumed the cruise to Grand Canaria as the sweat dried on me. Back in the cruise It was then that I could relax a bit and think about what had happened. It dawned on me that there had been no ejection, no sign of a rocked powered seat hurling from the burning Mig, indeed no time for that to happen between the missile detonation and the fire ball. Putinfeld was dead. Putinfeld was dead! He was actually dead! It was over, he was gone. I shook my head to clear away these thoughts and checked our fuel. Despite the combat which would have been thirsty work I calculated we still had enough fuel to get to our destination. Jasmine concurred, and was on the radio to let our controller know what had happened, and our fuel state. The second tanker refuel had always been a ‘nice to have’ option in any event, but we were told that it would still be available up to 100 nautical miles from Canaries. The remainder of the flight was unremarkable and we were relieved to start our final approach without further incident. I slowed the aircraft down, the wings moving forward by degree as we lost airspeed until we were on short finals with the wings fully configured for landing. Jasmine’s first view of the Canaries. Approach We touched down, and when all three wheels were on the black stuff I engaged reverse thrust, heard the ‘buckets’ swing forward and the aircraft slowed dramatically. Reverse thrust After a short taxi to the parking slot reserved for us I shut the engine down. I grabbed the baton from it secure place and exited the plane. We were met by a replacement crew and a bunch of RAF ground personnel who set about reading the aircraft for its onward journey to the UK. They all seemed keen to see the empty pylons, knowing we had been in combat by the missing tanks and missile, but not knowing anything else about it. The rumours would be running rife this evening. On stand I was approached by a somewhat quizzical flight sergeant. ‘Hello sir, I was given to understand you were carrying four drop tanks and two missiles. Am I wrong sir?’ Jasmine interjected showing her ID. ‘Sergeant, the drop tanks were dropped and we used the missiles. That is all you need to know’ ‘Very good Ma’am’, He saluted, turned on a heel and marched back to the aircraft. We wandered into the airport and were guided to a debrief room. Clive was waiting for us. He said just one word. ‘Well?’ Jasmine described the events of the flight, after which Clive said a single sentence. ‘Good, that never happened, ok?’ That sentence held authority. It was fine by us. I had always thought that Clive was just Jasmine’s colleague or even a subordinate. Just goes to show nothing in the dark world they inhabited was what it seemed. Clive was definitely Jasmines boss. I think. He must be. That must be it. Maybe. After a pause he carried on talking. ‘Putinfeld is dead. The Royal Navy fished enough bits of him to enable a DNA test. It was definitely him piloting the aircraft and he didn’t eject. If you think it’s all over you are sadly wrong. We have managed to get a mole into temperance. He is only a lowly foot soldier but he passes on what he can, when he can. The word is that Putinfeld made too many mistakes. Temperance gave him one last chance, a kind of trial by ordeal if you like. He was to take you on in a dog fight. If he won then he lived, if not, well let’s just say the ejection seat was probably disabled.’ Jasmine and I looked at each other. I opened my mouth first. ‘Does that mean that it wasn’t just personal with Putinfeld? ‘Yup, Temperance has punished Putinfeld and still has a score to settle with you two.’ We were still screwed. I would never be able to get life insurance again. ‘Now piss off and find Jess with blue thing of yours.’ Clive stood up and left.’ Flown using P3D v4.3 and Just Flights Tornado GR1 (Probably the best addon in the world).
  7. 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
  8. 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.
  9. 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..........
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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 . . .
  14. 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.
  15. "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
  16. 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
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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/
  20. 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
  21. 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.....
  22. 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.
  23. 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
  24. 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
  25. 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
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