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I was mentally tired from the last week of travelling ‘by any means possible’ to get to Australia. I could really have done with a few days relaxing, before my next leg, but it was not to be. Philippe, my friend from years back, who also pushed SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) flight jobs my way, must have been out of his mind when he arranged my passage from Jakarta to Broome Intl via Mau Hau. Had he known that Joe would be piloting the flight particularly with Otis accompanying me, I doubted he would have placed us in such a precarious situation… would he? My cover as ‘Sharon’ the globetrotting Flight Attendant’, that had remained intact for almost 15 years, was blown for certain, even with my brunette wig, sickeningly flowery perfume, and bright red lipstick, which were about as far away from my normal self as possible. I had to act fast and contact Philippe before Joe started asking too many questions, but as I was travelling light through Indonesia, where it was more likely I’d be searched, I hadn’t been able to carry my usual ‘covert travel essentials’ pack, so my options for using the satellite radio with the Dr. Rumack, Otis and Joe about, were zero. I needed to get Joe out of the cockpit, but how? I went into trolley-dolly mode and took Joe a can of Pepsi. Hopefully the few drops of ###### (can’t divulge details) I’d added to the can would do the trick, and just give him a bit of an upset tummy for a few hours. I would have enough time to take over the controls, get on the Sat phone, and then no one would be any the wiser… Leaving Seringapatam Reef behind, I crossed my fingers that Joe had fallen for my story of the last 10 years. Although there was a lot of truth in it, there were also a few embellishments, and some downright fabrications. Unfortunately, in my line of covert work, the fantasy is often easier to digest than the truth, and Otis’ presence did seem to cause a bit of a distraction for Joe who couldn’t stop looking at him in a quizzical way, then to me, and then back to Otis. I had no choice but to complete my mission, and leave as few loose ends as I could! The less he knew about my ‘other’ work, and Otis the safer he would be. As we landed in Broome Intl, and made our way to the Pilots lounge, I briefly nodded to my contact as we walked past him into the building. To everyone else, he was just a member of the airport staff brushing up any F.O.D. (Foreign Objects Damage) which might get sucked up into an aircraft engine.. in truth, he was there to collect the ‘package’ and get him safely to his destination. I needed to hand Otis over to my contact as soon as possible but Joe seemed keen to stay and chat for a while longer. I was wondering how long my contact could keep sweeping in the darkness before being challenged, and I began contemplating having to intervene again to speed up the process, when the prawn sandwich Joe had procured from the Café area brought back his nausea from earlier that day, and apologetically he passed the baton to me and left in a hurry. The handover went smoothly, Otis was finally on the next part of his journey, and I was on my way to my hotel. The taxi driver looked in his rear-view mirror at me when I pulled the horrible brown wig off, and started to pull out the pins that kept my long blonde hair in place. I’d have enough time to check the weather for the following day before I got a few hours’ sleep, and then I would need to be at the airport again by 3:45am for my onward leg. At 11pm, the temperature was hovering found 16°c but in the late morning it would be in the mid 30’s so an early morning departure was essential, given the aircraft I would be flying to Uluru in Central Australia. The Cessna C188 Ag Waggon was being ferried from Broome Intl to its new home just north of Alice Springs where it would be used to dispense fertilizer at one of the new up and coming grape farms in the Northern Territory. Although most of the wine production is located on the South and South-East regions, the early cropping of vines in central Australia is a distinct advantage as they can beat the southern producers to market. The Ag Waggon was going to be an important part of the future success of the grape farm. Although Broome Intl is very close to sea level, Balgo Hill was 1440ft AMSL and the high temperatures would adversely affect the performance of my Ag Waggon, and that combined with the weight, would play a very important part in my journey. The MTOW for my aircraft was 4000, but I should be within limits even if I used the ‘hopper’ as a secondary fuel tank. She wasn’t a spring chicken, but had received a major overhaul before she was sold to the grape farm, so I shouldn’t expect any problems, that is, until I realised just how little navigation I had at my disposal. Apart from the standard Whiskey Compass, there was just an ADF which had been Gerry-rigged and gaffer-taped to the right of my seat, and no Sat Nav!.. I was annoyed to say the least that Philippe hadn’t arranged for what I felt was ‘basic’ equipment for the flight I was about to undertake. At this ungodly hour, I was unlikely to be able to contact the seller of the aircraft to give them a piece of my mind, and I was on a tight schedule to get the Ag Waggon to Balgo Hill before the temperatures got even more restrictive. The GPS in my top of the range smartphone would be ok while I was near ‘civilisation’ but I had no idea how accurate it would be at altitude, and out in the bush, so ADF and compass, it would have to be! I settled into the compact cabin, and adjusted the seat. What is it with these ‘practical’ aircraft.. don’t they ever have pilots that are 5’ 6”? I spent a good 10 minutes trying to move the seat and my gear around till I was satisfied, then I did my run up, taxied up to the end of Runway 15 and was soon airborne. I would have at least 30 minutes to work my way up to my intended altitude of 10,000 feet before the sun came up and the temperatures soared. The performance of my Ag Truck wasn’t great, but in the heat of Central Australia it could cause me a lot of grief. Leaning the mixture correctly was essential, as was flying to the indicated airspeed when having to deal with ‘Density Altitude’. Getting to my intended altitude before the sun came up The Ag Waggon had no Auto Pilot so I would have to be on the ball for the entire flight, and trying to work out how far the winds would take me off the course the woeful navigation equipment was telling me to go. Sun up.. As with Joe’s flight from Indonesia, there wasn’t a lot to look at, just a dusty, gently undulating sea of red. I was content to marvel at the beautiful sunrise that replaced the starry sky, until it became imperative for me to pull out my sunglasses. Without the extra fuel stashed in the hopper, I knew that even if I miscalculated my wind drift a bit, I should have enough to get to Balgo Hill. I smiled as I thought of the similarities between my journey and those of a much more monumental C188 flight… Known as the Mercy Mission of 1978, a ferry flight of a C188 from the United States to New Zealand turned into a race to save the pilot when he became lost over the open waters of the Pacific. A commercial DC10 flight, piloted by an accomplished Air New Zealand Captain, Gordon Vetee, used some unorthodox, but ultimately successful solutions involving ‘Aural Boxing’, and location triangulation using the sun and the knuckles on their fists to locate the lost pilot. Like Jay Prochnow, I was flying alone and with minimal navigational equipment, but at least I wasn’t over an ocean, and despite the desolate landscape before me, I was also reassured by the fact there were a few farms below, some with airstrips used by the Royal Flying Doctor Service based in Broome, and Alice Springs. Gordon Vetee and Jay Prochnow – cameo appearance in the film depicting the monumental rescue Tuning into the YBGO NDB on 206 Htz, I adjusted my course. I had definitely gone off track a bit. The sight of Lake Gregory was a relief as I knew I was only about 30 Nautical Miles from Balgo Hill, and my fuel wasn’t looking too good. Approaching the lakes near Balgo at 10,000 feet As I neared my destination I began my slow descent and dialled in 126.70 on the radio for the Multicom given that the airport didn’t have its own assigned frequency. Balgo Hill, or Wirrimanu to use its proper name, is a small indigenous community on the edge of the Great Sandy and Tanami Deserts. The airfield has no manned control tower but I checked the ATIS primarily for the temperature which was climbing as each 1000 feet slowly wound down on the Altimeter. The weather in the outback regularly reached the mid 30’s by lunchtime so I needed to be on the ground and sipping a cold one before then. On final at Balgo Hills Surrounded by hills, plains, bores, and weird and wonderful communities such as Killi Killi, Nobby Hills, and Yagga Yagga. This was the Outback as I had imagined it, with red earth, prickly bushes which were, without doubt, hiding places for scorpions, spiders and all sorts of other creepy crawlies, but the welcome was anything but ‘sparse’ like the landscape. A group of aboriginal children had gathered at one end of the ‘runway’ and were wildly waving at me as I taxied back to the stand. My contact was Dale, who was, strangely, a native of Wales, who had arrived in Balgo with a desire to study the incredible art of the local aboriginal community before heading back to the UK and finishing his Masters. He put my backpack and pilot bag in the back seat of his Land Rover as I climbed into the wonderfully cool air-conditioned interior. We drove over to what served as the main airport building and arranged for the refuelling of the Ag Waggon. Once again, the temperature would be a deciding factor in what time I would depart given that the longest runway was the 5282 feet 15/33 gravel runway that could ground aircraft as soon as there was even a thimble-full of rain. Patchy rain was forecast but not till the following day. As long as I could get in and out, I wouldn’t risk being stuck. Dale wanted to take me to the Warlayirti Arts Centre but I needed to freshen up and get some fluids to counteract the dehydration which would rapidly overtake me if I wasn’t careful. Dale’s place was a veritable oasis in the desert, courtesy of some very wealthy parents. When Dale headed back to the UK, it would be rented out to those with deep pockets and visitors to the local artist centres. We had a light lunch before heading to the Arts Centre where the credit card took a bit of a hit. Hey, it’s not every day that you get to pick up some of the most collectible art in the world, and speak to the person that created it. Back at Dale’s place, I contemplated my new persona.. obviously my final decision is secret… The efficient temperature control in my room was enough to send me off to sleep immediately….
Here we are at Umbu Mehang Kunda Airport, (formerly Mau Hau - much more exotic than its new name). This has to be one of the most unexciting flights in sector 2! Howabout 3 three screenshots? Take-off, cruise, and landing? (You will wish you had said yes). Looking at the maps, this flight was going to be point to point over 510 nm of water: So I added a couple of waypoints, 1 for a rest break near to Seringapatam Reef and 2, to deliver supplies to a remote island called Browse Island where the lighthouse keeper was running short of rum. There after I was going to head for Cape Leveque on the Aussie mainland and then on to my destination, Broome International: It’s a nice morning, I still had bells ringing in my ears after Chuck’s air display yesterday and his departure later in the day. He had forgotten to hand over the baton so flung it out of the cockpit in my direction whilst posing in a hover for a while. My Pigboat was still in the shop after leaving its nose gear on the runway during a rather hard landing by the ferry pilot. It was going to be ready by lunchtime: We had a couple of passengers coming along for the ride which was welcome news as it would help break the mesmerising monotony of the Wasp engines. Checking the loading sheet and manifest I see we have a doctor emigrating to Aus, a flight attendant who comes with the aircraft, her son, and two crates of rum. We were well short of MTOW so range will not be an issue today. Having spent an hour greasing nipples and dipping sticks, the Catalina was ready. Our passengers and precious cargo were making their way to the aircraft. I could make out an older man with grey hair (no relation!) and a familiar outline of the flight attendant, in fact the closer she got, the more familiar she became… it was Sharon! She introduced her son Otis (who!?) he seemed strangely familiar, but I didn’t give it a second thought. I think Sharon has some explaining to do? We loaded the cargo and ate our lunch comprising of local fish (caught only this morning), Lychees and a chocolate muffin, all washed down with some camel’s milk. Blurrrgh. After coaxing the engines into life, I checked the weather enroute and it is going to be balmy, but it was starting to get hot and humid here so I was keen to get us under way: I we were off the tarmac less than halfway down the runway, but with hardly any cargo I am not surprised: Our first sector started over land which is a mostly low hills, with village settlements, Sumba is like a poor neighbour to Bali: After nearly an hour we were leaving Sumba, I was pleased to leave the island and the humidity behind. We were well set up on our cruise, our GPS was showing us the way but we had no autopilot, the Pigboat had a tendency to drift left of course if unattended, even with rudder trim: It's a couple of hours into our flight and I was starting to feel a bit nauseous, the clanking and drone of the engines was making my head spin. Luckily, Sharon had noticed and called Dr Rumack for help, the following unfolded: Surely we were doomed? (and don't call me Shirley). As Dr Rumack dragged me from the cockpit, Sharon jumped into the driving seat and with a quick scan of the instruments started to pull back on the column: Now this turned out to be one of those moments that will pass into annals of ATWC history! Sharon, who was always the bridesmaid, not the bride, revealed that she is, infact, a very capable pilot, albeit a bit rusty. What's even more amazing is Sharon is also an undercover British spy and her real name is Steph. And that's not a coincidence, we have seen her in the challenge before. I just knew there was something about her, now with her cover blown, all pilots must vow to keep their silence, Putenfeld is a ruthless man and he hates being crossed by a woman. Sharon had this well under control and we headed to our scheduled stop at the reef: We killed the engines as we were coming to a stop: I was awoken with a jolt, those smelling salts made me want heave (again): After half an hour I was ready to fly again, Sharon recounted her past 10 years and how Otis came into her life, like the Beckham's first child, he was named after the place he was conceived .. (eh?) We were underway, still about 250 nm to go. That extended stop had set us back a bit: Heading set east exactly on 090 we were headed for Browse Island: Our navigation was sound, the island is ahead: This is an odd place and has has a listed airfield, ICAO YBWS, runway 9/27 length 9 metres! We can actually land on the reef: We've dropped off the rum and had a quick rest break. Time is pressing on..: Next waypoint is Cape Leveque on the mainland: We find another island on the map with a lighthouse and it's exactly on our track, so we make for it: There's no airfield here but quite a few buildings, the light from the lighthouse guided me in: Hello Adele Island. We gave it the Mutley flypass chopping up a couple of seagulls on the way. My pleasure! Ok, no more messing about, we head straight for Aus: As we pass YCLQ overhead, the ATWC airshow hits Australia! Screenshots are going to be tricky to see after this one, we press on, 201 degrees towards Broome: After another 40 minutes we have Broome in sight: Called in our approach, civilisation at last: After an uneventful landing, we are directed to our parking position. Who would believe it? A man with a broom sweeping the apron..at Broome! Checking out an extract from the log, total flight time 7.3 hours. Sharon Steph, Dr Rumack, Otis, and me depart to the pilots lounge with the baton. After a couple of hours of chat, food, and a small libation, Steph stores the baton as she is rostered to take it onto Ayres Rock. I am worried for her as I have my suspicions about the man with the broom? Sim: P3Dv4.1 A/C: Aerosoft Catalina with repaint by jeansy WX: REX Texture Direct / AS for P3D Scenery: FTX - Global / VECTOR / Australia Region / Broom International Airport (Not that you could see it) With acknowledgement to the makers of Airplane! The Movie.