Australia Flight March 1990
This is a trip which, had I thought about it 12 months ago, I would have said was an impossibility. Not only had I no desire to fly, but I was always petrified. An airline pilot friend once told me that the first 60 seconds after takeoff were the most critical, so there I would be sitting in a Boeing 747 on the runway waiting for the initial thrust of the engines, silent and sweating. As soon as the wheels lifted I would discreetly look at my watch and count away the 60 seconds, much to the amusement of my wife, who has no fear at all (it must be nice not to understand engines!). I would then relax a little until the slightest change in the tone of the engines. The more I flew the worse I got.
The cure came by pure accident. Whilst on a skiing trip I met John Roberts (who has since become a very good friend). He had just bought himself a Bell Jet Ranger Helicopter from the USA and was having it imported to the UK. Whilst we were skiing, needless to say I was offered a ride and, being 700 miles away from home and enjoying the skiing, I agreed. The day eventually arrived and with some doubts in my mind, I went and surprisingly enough I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I put it down to being up front and being able to see what was going on. I flew with John quite a lot but still had no intentions of learning to fly myself.
However, for some unknown reason, I went to Rochester |Aviation Flying Club on the 12th April 1989 and booked a lesson for the next day. Arriving at Rochester I was told to go and sit in a Robin DR400 and wait for my instructor. Once in, I was mesmerised by all the dials, switches and levers, thinking to myself there is just no way I am going to be able to learn to fly this thing. The instructor eventually arrived and commenced to show me how to check the aircraft prior to flying. This just added to my total confusion and terror. What had I got myself into? I don’t really remember a great deal about my first lesson, only that I was even more convinced I would never be able to do it. As time went on things began to make more sense. The summer of 1989 was very good and I was able to take my GFT in July.
Suddenly there I was with a Private Pilot’s License enabling me to fly anywhere in the world. I remember sitting in the Club House listening to a couple of obviously very experienced pilots planning a trip to Bembridge, Isle of Wight. I remember thinking to myself it must be fantastic to be able to fly all that way to the Isle of Wight – maybe one day in the distant future I would be able to do the same.
Between passing the GFT and actually receiving my PPL I bought a Robin DR400. I had some difficulty in getting used to the speed after the Club 108’s, especially in the Airport circuit. However, it soon became easy and eventually if felt strange going back to the 108’s. My first major trip was to Jersey in company with another aircraft, G-DIZY. My second trip was to Texel, Holland on a Club outing. No problems were encountered except my first cross-wind landing, but I landed safely.
After completing several other trips and obtaining my IMC and Night Rating I jokingly said to Don “The only thing left is to fly to Australia” (not really meaning it) – What a good idea” said Don, so the seed was sown. I was flying with Mike Debens of TVS and mentioned flying to Australia to him. He suggested doing the flight in aid of ITV’s 1990 Telethon, which I agreed was a good idea.
After a great deal of organisation the trip was finally planned. One of our biggest headaches was obtaining flight clearances and visas.
Our trip would take us through 16 countries, namely:-
and finally Australia, landing in Darwin, then on to Alice Springs, Ayres Rock and finally on to Perth.
The anticipated flying time was approximately 130 to 140 hours over approximately three weeks, depending on good weather. The aircraft is fully equipped with navigational aids, life raft, flares etc. and is only 7 months old, so we didn’t anticipate any problems en route.
I woke at 06.30 after not sleeping too soundly, I could hear the wind howling. I pulled the sheets over my head hoping it would go away – it didn’t. I eventually got up at 8 o’clock. Don and I both avoided our Malaria tablets as we had been sick the day before as we hadn’t taken them with a meal and we weren’t taking any chances on the first day. We had a last check and reweighed everything. We ended up about 100 kilos under our maximum all-up weight. 09.40 saw us off the Rochester. The aircraft was out waiting. By 10.30 half of Kent seemed to have come to see us off. TVS were there, which was probably the most embarrassing part of the day. Pete Johnson’s mother presented us with two beautiful cakes. Don and I both wished we had taken one with us as all we had to eat was a packed of biscuits and a few sweets. We departed at 11.10 and were escorted to Folkestone by Pete Johnson and his family in G-OC, which has since been written off in a crash at Rochester (not by Pete I might
add), Alan Covel in Victor Victor with TVS in hot pursuit in helicopter G-JEXT, which is the helicopter that started me off on all this. We left the English coast with the radios crackling with good wishes and bon voyage from Lydd Air Traffic Control.
We were instructed to climb to flight level 90 (9,000 feet). At 4,000 feet we entered cloud and the temperature started to drop. Not a problem in normal circumstances, but we had had the heating disconnected so as to allow cool airflow continually to counteract the anticipated high temperatures once past Italy. The temperature dropped to –10 degrees centigrade and we started to ice up. We got clearance from Paris to climb to flight level 110 (11,000 feet) to try and get clear of the cloud. We broke through at flight level 100 (10,000 feet) and continued to flight level 110. The solved the problem of icing, but the temperature dropped to –15 degrees. It was so cold the inside of the canopy was frosting up. I asked Don what the hell was I doing up here? His answer was simply “It was all your idea!”. We continued on above cloud occasionally entering an isolated tower, put there just to annoy us. Icing was a problem when in the cloud for too long and considered asking for a lower flight level but decided against it due to some very high mountains ahead which we would have to climb back up through the cloud to avoid. We were about 80 miles from Nice when the cloud began to break up and we could see the Alps to the East and the Mediterranean ahead. What a fantastic feeling – I could see the end of my longest flight yet! After reaching the coast we were told to descend to flight level 80 (8,000 ft) and steer 090, then 050 and to descent to flight level 60 (6,000 ft). We were then about 5 miles out over the Med; “steer 360 and descend to 3,000 ft and contact Nice approach on 120.25” was our next instruction. We knew we were finally there. We were instructed by Nice approach to steer 050 and pick up the ILS for runway 05 Right. We landed after 4 hours 50 minutes and 739 miles. By this time we had just started to thaw out. It took me about 2 hours.
Total miles to date 739
26th March – Day 2
11 am and we are now sitting in Genoa Airport after having to divert due to severe weather. The weather forecast for our run to Pisa, where we had decided to refuel, rather than Brindisi, was for isolated CB’s (thunderstorms, see last page) so we decided to leave VFR and go around any we saw. We saw one alright just past Genoa. It was too far out to sea to go round, but we could see a gap to the north into the mountains. We climbed from 700 ft to 2,500 ft but were then experiencing severe turbulence smashing our heads quite badly on the canopy roof. It was my decision to call it a day and we backtracked to Genoa. By this time the CB had closed in on us and the turbulence was intense. Bouncing up and down 30-40 ft, bearing in mind we were now back down to 700 ft over the sea, I admit to being more than a little concerned. A call to Genoa Approach advising our decision now to pay them a visit. “BL, you are cleared to Genoa – report finals Runway 29, wind 010 28 knots”. I said to Don “As I landed into Nice, it’s your turn now” and promptly handed the controls over. The approach and finals were hideous, more like riding an out of control roller-coaster. If my wife could have seen us I would never have been allowed to fly again.
Don managed to get us down ok. The time was 10.25. Never was I so grateful to get on the ground in my life.
We were guided to light aircraft parking to check in etc. We waited about an hour for the bus to take us to Customs and eventually decided to walk. Just as well – it was only about 100 yards! We had our landing forms stamped by the Police and Customs, which then had to be returned to the main office. We eventually found a taxi driver who spoke English and he recommended the Hotel Bristol Palace. After about 5 miles the weather towards Pisa looked good and we asked the taxi driver to take us back to the airport (I think he understood why). By the time we got back the weather was back to normal, but at least we had a tour of Genoa. The Met man advised us to wait until the next day. We had a very welcome cup of cappuccino and went to Tourist Information and got them to book us into the Hotel Bristol. This time we went by bus and didn’t look back at the weather!
My impression of the sunny Mediterranean is not printable. The hotel porter told us that there had been a drought in that part of the country with the sun shining for the last 6 months, but it changed the day we left England.
Total miles flown today 173. Total miles to date 912.
27th March – Day 3
Alarm call at 06.30 (body clock still at 04.30!). Quick look out of the window – not looking too bad – and into a taxi by 07.05. Arrived at the airport at 07.35. Round to the Met office – severe CB activity at Rome, so no chance of going down the West coast, so we looked at flying over the mountains to Acona. Freezing level 3,000 ft, cloud height 22,000 ft so no chance that way. It looked like another day in Genoa. The only option left was Pisa. No chance of that either as it is a military airport with prior permission only. The last choice Florence – en route weather not good, but possible. We decided to give it a try, as it was only 100 odd miles. Departure from runway 29, left turn flying to 3,000 ft, reported clear of Gerona zone and within five minutes had to descend to 1,500 ft to stay VMC. Then came the rain, wind and snow. We were heading out to sea 50 nautical miles to avoid a danger area. Contact was made with Pisa Approach and a very helpful Italian Air Traffic Controller had us on radar. Visibility was virtually zero in sleet. Pisa told us to steer 095, which would take us to the coast at Pisa. Asking what our intentions were once we reached the coast, we said our intention was to try to follow the valley to Florence, but if we had to turn back, could we land at Pisa? “Are your intentions to land at Pisa due to weather?” was the reply. “Only if we are unable to reach Florence” we replied. “GBL that is understood. You may land at Pisa if unable to continue to Florence.” By this time we were over Pisa airfield and back up to 3,000 ft with the weather a little better. I said to Don “Quick, grab the video in case we pass over the Leaning Tower”. We did and at that point all the aggro. Of the past two days seemed worthwhile. “GBL you can descend to 1,500 ft and hold IFR traffic out of Florence”. So back down we went. “BL level 1,500 ft”. “Ok BL hold that position for approximately 4 to 5 minutes”. Ten minutes later and getting giddy we got the all clear to proceed, following the motorway for the rest of the way. We sighted Florence over the top of a rather large hill. Up and over put us on long finals for 05. Wind 270 8 knots was advised by
Florence Air Traffic Control but to continue in on 05 and report 3 miles. “BL 3 miles”. “BL” came the reply “use runway 23 and report downwind”. “Wind calm”. “BL downwind”. “BL report finals 23”. It was a sharp left turn and a 2,000 ft mountain was dead ahead. On turning base we were hit by the worst turbulence from it I have ever encountered. (Of course, I didn’t know about the CB waiting for us over Burmah at this time – see page ) BL bounced up and down like a cork in a hurricane. If this is his idea of calm, I wouldn’t like landing here in a storm! I found it impossible to hold finals and called going round. “BL go round and use runway 05. Wind calm.” That’s what he said about 23! I think the Air Traffic Controller knew the problems on 23, but was just bored. We taxied and parked with a non-English speaking marshaller trying to find out where we came from and where we were going. With the weather as it was, we weren’t going anywhere. We pointed to the fuel and assumed he understood. After waiting 20 minutes, we decided perhaps he didn’t, so we locked up and started walking to the terminal when an English voice behind the tanker said “Do you require fuel?” “Are you English?” I asked. “Yes” he said “my name’s Dave”. He had apparently married an Italian girl and has lived in Florence 8 years. Our communication problems were now over! “You will have to taxi over to the pumps for fuel” said Dave, so over we went. We couldn’t believe our eyes – across the apron came Dave on a pushbike. I had to video that! We could only have fuel if we were departing within 24 hours. I asked why and what would happen if we stayed over our time. “Don’t know,” said Dave “never been able to find out, but it’s in the rules and I have to tell you. If you stay over perhaps you will let me know what happens.” A trip over to the Met Offices. Very well run, even for a small airfield. It puts ours to shame.
They confirmed our worst fears. We could be stuck here 2 to 3 days. Totally pissed off and tired we went to find a taxi. “Any hotel” I told the driver “as long as it’s a good one”. 30 minutes later we stopped outside the Savoy. A quick check at the prices (bearing in mind Don eats more than all my kids put together) and I decided to look for another hotel! Walking through Florence in the pouring rain and carrying a heavy suitcase, I was even more pissed off. Eventually we found a reasonable hotel; phone call to Pauline to update and went out for a walk. It was still raining.
A tour of the beautiful Cathedral for which Florence is famous and on to an old art gallery, trying to convince myself I was enjoying it. After an ice cream and 2 cappuccinos, we returned to the hotel and phoned Mike Gray (he’s the gent who’s arranging our flight clearances) to let him know we are well behind schedule. He really cheered us up by saying if we got another day behind he would need 3 to 4 days to get new clearances. We said we’d let him know as soon as we left Florence (if ever) and hopefully he could get them by the time we got to Crete.
Total miles today 115. Total miles to date 1,027.
March 28th – Day 4
No need for an early morning call as the weather forecast was just as bad but the local church bells had different ideas, waking us up at 7 am. We arrived at the airport at 09.30 and went straight to the Met Office. We needn’t have bothered; the forecast was again the same – freezing level 3,000 ft, isolated CB’s all the way down the West coast. It looked like another day in Florence. After half hour or so, the weather brightened up a little, so we decided to try for Rome as it would only be about 1 ¾ hours. Goodbyes were said to Dave and off we went.
The first 1 ½ hours were not too bad. We managed to dodge round several BC’s, but the approach to Rome Urbe was inland and we had to stay clear of the main Rome Airport. The last thing we needed was bad weather, but we got it. A large CB, poor visibility and high hills. The TMA was 1,000 ft and our route through valleys. Inevitably, we picked the wrong valley and were getting a little concerned, but help was at hand. “GBL this is Roma Approach. You are in the wrong area, turn 090”. We eventually picked up the NDB for Rome Urbe and landed at 12.50 with a sigh of relief. Trying to obtain Met proved to be a problem as the Met man could only say “yes” and “no” in English and my Italian went no further than “si” and “bongiorgno”. All was not lost as two young Italians who spoke English came to our rescue. The weather was the same as before; isolated CB’s all down the coast. Although the last part of our journey was quite scary, the actual trip down the coast was not that bad, so we decided to press on to Naples. Paid our landing fees – 2,000 Lire (about £1) – probably the cheapest we would have on the whole trip. As Naples Airport was on the coast, we had no problems until we found we had to turn inland again to go round a 3,500 ft mountain to arrive over Naples. We turned off one mountain too early and were soon lost. Naples were trying to find out where we were but our transmissions were stopped by the mountain. I was even more worried than when we were trying to find Rome as the weather by this time was twice as bad. We turned 90 degs round this rather hidden mountain and re-established contact with Naples, still lost. We continued on through quite a small valley with mountains either side of us. If we had come across a dead end, it would have definitely been the end as there was only about 300 ft clearance on each wing tip! Luckily, we came clear. We called Naples and said we were unsure of our position. They asked us to squalk 4410. A few minutes later – it seemed like hours – Naples replied “steer 156”. We only had to change heading by 10 degs. Out of the mist we could see the City and in the distance appeared Mound Vesuvius. Ten minutes later we were once again gratefully on the ground.
We were given taxi instructions that had us parked as far as possible from the terminal. Luckily a bus brought some passengers and crew for a twin parked next to us, so we cadged a lift, but not before an unwanted handling agent made himself known, making it quite clear that we probably wouldn’t get fuel or any other help without his assistance. (I bet we get conned!) We couldn’t find anybody in the Tourist Information Office, so we decided to grab a cab and ask the driver to take us to a reasonable hotel. 35 minutes later and I guess a ring-road around Naples, we arrived at the International, the meter showing 64,000 Lire (£32). As I only had 30,000 Lire, I decided to dispute the figure. I said I only had English money, gave him a fiver and booked into a different hotel!
The weather turned even worse in the evening: thunder, lightening and heavy rain. We had to eat out and the hotel didn’t do evening meals. The only place we could find in this ‘town from hell’ was a grotty little café. We had a small, cold pizza and coffee. We called it a day and went to bed, booking a wake-up call for 06.30.
Total miles today 376. Total miles to date 1,403.
29th March – Day 5
The phone rang at exactly 06.30. I was surprised that they could tell the time! A quick look out of the window and straight back to bed! We eventually got up at 9 o’clock, had breakfast and into a taxi to the airport. The weather was appalling. I don’t really know why we even bothered – wishful thinking perhaps!
The taxi was quite cheap this time, only 20,000 Lire. Trying to find somebody to help find the Met Office was like the proverbial ‘needle in a haystack’. Eventually we were given directions “Up the stairs and down the stairs”. We went up and down stairs, ending back where we had started, with no Met man. Wandering aimlessly around, we eventually found ourselves in the excuse for an airport restaurant. At the bar were two gents and a lady in airline uniform. Just the job – they must speak English. Not the men and the lady only a little! We eventually got her to understand what we wanted and directions were given. “Go to Gate 7” we were told. “Outside into the greenhouse”. That was the best lead so far. Off we went, but of course before we could get to Gate 7 we had to pass through Customs and Police. Trying to explain to then we were private pilots wanting to get to the Met Office wasn’t easy. Along came Sgt. Pitsuani, who spoke a little English. Our bags went through the x-ray machine, which was quite a relief to put them down for a moment and off we went to Gate 7. We were wondering where to go next when a transit bus driver asked us where we wanted to go and away we finally went. But what a waste of time. CB activity en route. A very helpful Met man suggested we stay the day and look round his lovely city. That was the best joke I’ve heard in years! Nevertheless, there was nowhere we were going today. Back to the grotty restaurant and two cups of cold coffee. We sat around for 8 hours hoping the weather would improve. It looked good at one point, even getting a glimpse of the base of Mt Vesuvius, but just as we were getting excited, thunder, lightening and the normal heavy rain.
Don suggested perhaps we should try to get fuel today to save time in the morning (if we get away). So off I went leaving Don in charge of the bags. We couldn’t leave them in left luggage as we had US$3,000 in small notes for Egypt and onwards. Trying to explain to Customs and Police what I wanted brought more problems but I eventually succeeded and was again directed to Gate 7. The same bus driver was there so I thought I was getting a ride to the fuel point, but no, we walked to the shed with a green roof (obviously the greenhouse the lady in the restaurant meant). This was the handling agent’s office. G-BRBL was on the board as full handling. All I wanted was fuel. “If you don’t use us for handling, you will have to arrange your own fuel”. “Ok, I give in. How much does it cost and what do I get for it?” Lots of page flapping and I was told 250,000 Lire (about £125). For this they would arrange fuel, arrange for us to walk through Customs and Police and take us to our plane – all for only £125! I
politely told them to get stuffed, which luckily they didn’t understand. We eventually settled on £20 for a lift to the plane. I asked where to go for fuel and was told I’d have to taxi the aircraft over to them. So much for £125 to arrange this. We agreed we would now do this in the morning before we left. A quick walk over to the flight office to fill in our aircraft arrival and departure details, which we were supposed to have done yesterday. I was told when we left that we must get the form stamped by both Police and Customs, so this means persuading them first to let us through, walk to the Met Office; if we decide to leave, walk back to the Police and Customs then back to flight planning, hand in our form, pay our handling fees (which I was told would be US$100) (I thought didn’t think we’d need them this early), plus parking by the hour. Totally fed up, we booked into the Hotel Agip as this was only 7 km from the airport and the taxi should be a little cheaper. It was - £15!
We are now sitting in the Motel with a raging thunderstorm outside.
Total miles unchanged, as we’ve been nowhere today!
30th March – Day 6
Alarm call at 06.30, breakfast 07.00 and in the taxi by 07.30. Another rip off! Arrived at the airport 08.05 after a journey never to be repeated. I had heard of the Italian way of driving and have now witnessed it first hand and hope never to again. The drivers are constantly on their horns, even driving on the pavement to try and get round traffic. The traffic was so heavy we had the same lad walk past our taxi 5 times. Don went straight to the Met Office and I went to arrange fuel. I thought I had the easy job – wrong! First to Gesac, the handling agent who I had paid to take us to the plane. The boss-man didn’t even want to honour this as we hadn’t wanted full handling. After a few heated words he agreed to the bus and would arrange fuel. So in the bus and over to pay the landing fees which I was told the previous day by a different man would be US$100.
Forms filled in and the bill presented for 40,000 Lire (£20) – no mention of the $100. Nearly caught again. I didn’t have enough Lire so off I went to the bank, miles away. He wouldn’t serve me for another 5 minutes as they weren’t officially open. 5 minutes later, back to Air Traffic Control, paid the 40,000 Lire and waited for the demand for the US$100. It didn’t come, so off I went to the bus and could see the fuel tanker leaving BL. The driver, the only man in Naples with any manners, rushed me round to the other side of the airport where BL was and stopped the tanker. The 2 of them jabbered away in Italian and the tanker drove off. As it went by I could see A1 jet fuel on the side. The man from Gesac was trying to have the last laugh. Good job for the friendly bus driver. He got on the radio and said in broken English “follow me”, so I started BL and followed the bus to the other side of the airport where he stopped me by the Avgas pumps right next door to the Gesac office. I could just imagine the boss-man in his office laughing. “Fill her up please”. No chance. “You must have a form signed by the manager” “So what do I have to do to get his signature?” “ Go to Gesac office” I was told. We should have paid that handling Agent in the first place and saved all of this hassle. So off I went to Gesac and found the miserable man and asked him for fuel again. “I’ve already arranged it” he said “I know, but you sent jet fuel” “Oh well” he said “if you’d had full handling we would have known that”. I
said to him “I’m very sorry that we didn’t use you this time, but I promise you that we will use you on our way back”. That made him very happy, so we got our fuel, but not before another trip to the bank. Don had returned from the Met Office. The weather was a bit better today, but CB’s forecast en route, but we decided to risk them rather than stay in this god-forsaken place any longer. Clearance for take off received, we departed from runway 24, never to return to Naples again.
The first hour of the flight went without hitch. A lot of haze but we could see the coast fro 4,000 ft. Our route took us inland at Lamenzie Terma over the airfield at 060, through a sort of valley to the East coast. The weather turned really bad – CB’s to the right and low cloud in front with 9,000 ft mountains to the left and a freezing level of 5,000 ft. We pressed on hoping it would clear, but of course it didn’t so I made the decision to turn back to Lamenzie Terma. A call to Air Traffic Control and we were given clearance to land whilst an Italian DC9 had to wait for us before he could take off. We booked into Traffic Control and cleared the Police. The Traffic Officer couldn’t speak a word of English, so trying to explain we wanted to go to the Met Office was a no no. Eventually a gent who went to school in Australia translated for us. He pointed to a building approximately half/three-quarters mile away and it was translated to us that that was the Met Office, stuck out at the end of the runway. “You will have to walk as we have no transport to take you”. The walk would do us good anyway, so off we went. We were about 20 yards from it when two policemen drew up in a car and asked us where we were going. “To the Met Office” we said. “It’s closed” they said. “No, we have just spoken to them on the phone”. They said “They are closed”. They drove, we walked. Sure enough, it was locked. Now what? The policeman pointed to the tower about a mile and a half away. That seemed to make more sense. We didn’t fancy the walk, so asked for a lift and got one. We were dropped off by the tower and walked in through the first door. Good news, there was the Met man. Bad news – an occluded front with CB’s but it ended about 40 miles away. After that, all clear to Crete.
It looked a little brighter the way we wanted to go to the other coast, which was only 15 miles. We decided to give it a try. More forms filled in, signed and away we went. Within 15 miles it was getting worse. No way did we want to stay in Italy another night. Don requested IFR on the radio and we were told to contact Rome Information. They told us they couldn’t accept us IFR at 4,000 ft. The lowest was flight level 100 (10,000 ft). Not wishing to go back to Italy, we accepted, hoping to climb above it all. All was fine until flight level 70 (7,000 ft) when we entered a CB and started to ice up – not too badly though. We continued to climb and hoped to break out, still keeping a careful eye on the ice. Flight level 100 was reached and still we were buried in this last nasty thing Italy had to throw at us. Don asked for permission to climb to flight level 130 (13,000 ft) which was granted and we broke out just as we reached our flight level. Not content with that, the Italians put an even larger CB in our way and we had to divert about 30 miles to get round it. A bit too close to Albania for our liking, as we were warned by Barry Davidson at NATS that any unauthorised aircraft would be shot down. If they shot at us, they missed! Once round this last obstacle we were into brilliant sunshine and no cloud. We had at last shaken the Italians off. Now I had time to relax I realised how cold I had got at 13,000 ft. The sheer joy of being
out of all that bad weather that had plagued us over the last 5 days made the suffering well worthwhile.
The rest of the journey to Crete was uneventful and totally enjoyable, especially when we caught sight of the first islands of Greece. We landed at Heraklion on Runway 27 at 17.45. We had been warned about Heraklion of severe wind sheer on the approach to the runway. All prepared, nothing happened and we landed 6 ½ hours after leaving Naples and that’s the last time I want to hear that name. We followed the marshaller and parked BL. Our crew bus was a 15 year old mini van. Don and the bags in the back and I got into the front. I didn’t feel too guilty about that as I had flown the 6 ½ hours. All Don had to do was look at the maps, and he had the sun on his side, so wasn’t as cold as I was.
Of course we had no Greek money, so I asked at the car hire desk where the bank was. “No bank at the airport sir, but I can change any money you want”. Why did I have the feeling I was going to get ripped off again? The exchange rate of 150 to the $ was agreed, being a very good rate, I was assured. Next we went to Tourist Information to book a hotel. They had a notice offering exchange at 160 to the $, so Don quickly exchanged $100 (he’s not a Scot for nothing). The hotel was booked at 10,250 Drachma. We had to pay the lady at the airport and of course her commission for the booking. As she explained, she had to pay the hotel the full amount. We booked into the Galaxy Hotel – quite a pleasant place, and phoned Mike Gray to organise our new flight clearances. He calmly told us it would take at least 4 days. I was ready to catch the next jet home, but after running up the wall, over the ceiling and down the other side, I realised we could have been stuck in Naples, so I had to grin and bear it. I went to the reception and asked if we could keep the room for 4 nights and the lady said “You are with an agent” pulling out the form we had bought from the airport. I noticed written on it by the hotel was 10% commission, plus the price was only 9,100. You live and learn!
Total miles today 812. Total miles to date 2,215.
31st March. Day 7
We were woken at 08.00 by a vicious thunderstorm. Probably the same low system that had plagued us all the way, so instead of our expected lying around on the beach, it looked like a day in the hotel. No point in getting up so we stayed put until 10.30. Too late for breakfast, but it had stopped raining and was quite warm, though no sun as yet. We decided to walk to the town, about 1 mile. Nice and warm, so just wearing T-shirts, off we went. We managed to get about half way before the inevitable. It chucked it down. We managed to get into a shop doorway before we got too wet; waited 10 minutes for a break – another 500 yards and down it came again, getting very cold with it. A quick run of 30 yards and we were in a grotty little café – no lights and very iffy, but at least it was dry. A cup of cappuccino and waited for it to stop raining. The rest of the morning stayed dry. We did the normal ‘tourist’ things like looking around shops (boring) and a local museum (still boring!). We stopped for lunch and Don realised we were one airad short, so back to the hotel and a frantic phone call to British Airways, but only an answer phone. Mike Gray was engaged, so I tried Barry Davidson. In luck this time (it’s great to have these two as our backups),
Barry said he would do what he could, but British Airways are closed until Monday. 10 minutes later the phone rang. It was Mike. He said he would arrange the airads as soon as possible and book a hotel for us in Luxor and have it couriered on. “By the way” he said “the vintage aircraft rally have arrived in Crete and booked into the same hotel”, so at least we can look forward to exchanging a few yarns tonight.
The next 2 days we spent sightseeing, wandering and the odd beer or two. We met up with an Australian chap called Antac and his companion, Don, flying a Bonanza, and their two friends, Faith and Sue, flying a Tripacer (there are two all-lady crews on the rally). There seemed to be a lot of disappointment with the rally crews due to doubts about flight clearances and join us. The idea was to fly to Luxor with us on the 3rd April. All was agreed: route, formation, fuel stops for the Tripacer and Bonanzer. We had enough range to go direct to Luxor.
We set off from Crete, clearance given to BL and the Tripacer. It was obvious within a few minutes that we were a lot faster that the Tripacer – although we circled twice to try and keep back with them, it was impossible. We lost sight of them after about 30 minutes. We had a pretty uneventful trip, although when we were over the water for 2 ½ hours and out of radio and VOR contact for a good hour, we managed to relay our position through an Air Canada 747. It was quite good to know somebody out there could speak for us. We knew we had left Europe when we eventually saw the Egyptian coast. We spent the next 5 hours over desert without seeing and towns or settlements, except on one occasion when we crossed the Nile Valley. A fantastic sight for us! After so much desert and water, suddenly a river and about 2 miles of green each side. We soon crossed it and went straight back into the desert. Now without any VOR or radio navigation aids, good old dead-reckoning came into force. When we eventually picked up Luxor VOR we were about 20 degs off track. We soon put that right and arrived Luxor without any hitches after 6 hours and 40 minutes and 756 miles over sea and desert. That was the longest non-stop flight Don or I had ever done outside a 747.
We were warned that Egypt would be the worst place we would visit for being ripped off and they weren’t exaggerating! No sooner had we stopped the engine than a fuel tanker was parked beside us. “Do you require fuel?” we were politely asked. Of course we do! I was supervising the refuelling when Don came and said he had been told by the man in charge we would have to give the fuel men a tip. The fuel came to US$148, half the price of Crete, so I didn’t mind giving them 100 Drachma from Crete (about £4). By this time we were surrounded by 5 policemen armed with sub-machine guns. This really brought home to me that we were finally out of civilisation – although they were very friendly. Next over came the handling agents. Was I ever prepared for them! “We don’t need handling, thank you”. “But if you don’t want handling you must pay me US$50”. What I said to him is not printable, but I don’t think he got the message because he didn’t go away. “You must pay $50 for your clearances”. I said to him “Mike Gray got my clearances for me”. He said “Yes, I know, but I got them for Mike Gray”. I could see I was not getting anywhere with this one, so I said “If you look after the aeroplane and make sure nothing happens, I will pay you $50 when we leave on Thursday 5th”. “But I won’t be here then” he said. I gave him $20 and said “If you want the rest, be here Thursday”. He went off babbling
on in Arabic (probably saying what a nice guy I was!). The police took us to the tower, which was almost derelict. Stepping over rubble and up a set of winding stairs, past 10 people standing on a mat with no shoes on blankly looking at a wall (at least I knew which way was East now!). Up a further flight of winding stairs and into the tower that looked like something from World War I that had just been bombed, there were 6 men. All shook our hands and said “Welcome”. “Here comes the next rip off” I thought to myself. How wrong I was! They turned out to be some of the nicest people I have ever met. They had got the police to bring us to the tower to warn us against a particular handling agent who would ask us for money and say it was compulsory to have a handling agent. They were very annoyed when I told them I had just paid the self-same man $20.
While we were in the tower the Bonanza came in on the radio. It was unable to find the airport. Directions were given for the VOR, which they didn’t know, was there. 10 minutes later, still unable to find the VOR or airport, he called again. The Air Traffic Controller was now getting a bit concerned as they had a Monarch 757 due to land. The Captain, listening to the conversation, gave the Bonanza a heading from the VOR, which didn’t help because he couldn’t find it in the first place. The 757 had to circle the airport because they didn’t know the whereabouts of the light aircraft. By a stroke of luck the 757 Captain saw the Bonanza below him and gave him directions on to finals. He came in too high and had to go round, eventually landing after holding up the 757 for 20 minutes. If is just as well they didn’t make him pay for the extra fuel. He parked next to BL and the Air Traffic Controller said to warn him about the handling agent. This I did and saw the agent disappearing with a funny look on his face. The refuellers arrived and noticed fuel running out of BL. They called me from the tower to check. I thought I had made the same mistake as the day before – that was to fill the ferry tank without turning the drain tank off, so the fuel ran from the ferry tank into the main tank and out of the overflow. If we hadn’t spotted by mistake in Crete we estimate we would have run out of fuel about 50 miles from the Egyptian coast, which could have been rather embarrassing as the Robin doesn’t land too well on water! However, when I got to the plane it had stopped. It was just the main tank overflowing.
Whilst I was there a young police sergeant came up to me and asked if the man from the handling agent had asked for money. I said “Yes, I had paid him $20”. He went running after him. We went to immigration, filled in forms, showed our Visas and went to the bank. Next stop was to a little room with a small greasy man and a big smile. This, we eventually realised, was the Health man! More forms and declarations that we were healthy (it probably won’t be the case when we get out of this fleapit office). Forms all filled in and signed, we got up to leave. He stood between Don and the door mumbling something about tap/trip – didn’t quite understand what he meant, but then realised he meant ‘tip’. $2 got rid of him. Next stop Customs – quite a nice gent, but insisted on looking in our bags. I was a little nervous at this as I had the US$3,000 in the bottom of bag and if this lot knew I had it, we probably wouldn’t leave Egypt. Luckily the part containing the money he looked into last. As he opened it and put his hands inside to feel around I said “That’s only my dirty washing”. He soon pulled his hand out quickly and didn’t look any further! We thought we were finally free to leave when the young police sergeant came up to me and said I must go
to the Captain’s office to sort out the problem with the handling agent. Apparently they had arrested him and wanted to throw him in jail for the night. It wasn’t worth the hassle, so I said I didn’t want to take it any further and they let him go. Still asking for the balance of $30, he eventually disappeared with assistance from the police! The Captain asked “Would you like a guard on your aeroplane overnight?” I thought in view of the problems he was taking no chances. Wrong again – he wanted 40 Egyptian Pounds per night. What choice did I have? If I had refused the Captain I’m sure BL wouldn’t have escaped Egypt unscathed – ‘Hobson’s Choice!’
Finally we got into a taxi – an Estate car – and it was in a state! Bags in the back with the young police sergeant in the front. We thought we were getting personal protection. Wrong again – his house was on the way to the hotel so he was getting a free lift home! 200 yards from the airport, the back door flies open and our luggage is left strewn across Egypt. Don and I both jumped out, ran back, grabbed the baggage before the taxi driver reversed over it, reloaded it and this time made sure the door was locked. We dropped off the sergeant but not before going round a corner at about 60 mph and finding the road blocked by 2 on-coming lorries. I thought this was the end of our trip to Australia. Somehow we managed to miss them and also the children playing on the pavement and we arrived at the Hilton – high fences and armed guards – but it was sanctuary. Of course we had to be ripped off once more by the taxi driver. We were told by the police that the fare would be 8 Egyptian Pounds. The driver wanted 10 – he got 9! The hotel was magnificent – built right on the Nile and surrounded by palm trees. I wished then Pauline had been with me – Don was certainly no substitute!
A couple of beers and up to the room. The phone rang and it was Mike Gray with our clearances. That sorted, I told him about the handling agent wanting $50 for clearances. Mike confirmed that it was to be all in order. Humble pie would have to be eaten tomorrow. Good job I hadn’t pushed it and had the poor man thrown in jail for the night.
Antac and his friend Don, had booked into another hotel. We met up with then that evening and they told us they had gone back to the tower at Luxor to see if there was any news of the two girls. They had phoned Cairo where they were supposed to stop for fuel but there was no sigh. Another call was made to Alexandria in case they had decided to rejoin the main rally, but they weren’t there either. They were apparently becoming quite worried, fearing the worst, as the navigational aids they had were probably as old as the aircraft itself. Eventually after several more calls they found them in Alexandria – they had obviously joined the others.
Later that evening there was a message to ring them in Alexandria. Antac phoned them and the call sent a chill down our spines. Because Antac was delayed taking off from Crete, they had tried to stay with us but by using full power, were using excessive fuel. They eventually lost us and made an error in heading and ended up heading 090 instead of 160. After 3 hours and not finding the coast and getting very low on fuel, panic set in and they decided to steer 180. 30 minutes later and still no coast, they called Cairo to ask if they could see them on radar. The answer was no and Cairo radar covered 160 miles. The fuel situation was now critical so they asked for assistance. A rescue aircraft with radar was sent out but before they were located they
found the coast. The rescue aircraft escorted them on to Alexandria where they landed with 30 minutes of fuel. The rescue aircraft had to apparently look for another rally plane. The girls then decided to stick with the main rally and we didn’t see them again.
Total miles today 953. Total miles to date 3,168.
4th April. Day 11
We had a welcome lay-in today. After breakfast we took the hotel bus to the ferry across the Nile; negotiated for a taxi to take us 7km to the Valley of the Kings. Total price 40 Egyptian Pounds (about £10) to take us there, wait 1 ½ hours and take us back to the ferry. I thought the Italians were bad drivers, but they are no match for these boys. They drive on any side of the road they feel like and curse anybody who happens to be in their way, even if the other driver is in the right
Our first stop was the Tomb of Tutankhamun, which was quite disappointing as it was very small and of course all the spectacular treasures are in the Cairo Museum. Some of the other tombs were incredibly large and the wall paintings and carvings as good as the day they were made. In one particular tomb one of the guards took Don and me to a small room out of bounds to the public. It was nothing special, but of course he expected a tip. I gave him 10 Egyptian Pounds (about £2.50). It must have been as good as a week’s wages. He followed us all the way, showing me the 10 Pounds and saying “No problems, no problems”. I gather if they get caught the penalty is quite stiff. I kept his secret. We looked round the rest - which was exhausting in 30 degs - down long tunnels to the tombs and then the long climb back out again. Back to the taxi and the ferry. We had missed the bus back to the hotel so got a ride with a horse and cart. We stopped off at the ruins of the Temple Karnak in Luxor – don’t miss it – it’s quite mind boggling to think this was built thousands of years ago without a JCB! The horse and cart waited for us and took us back to the Hilton. We paid the driver 15 Egyptian Pounds and he went away with a big smile on his face. The rest of the day was spent lazing around and in the pool.
5th April. Day 12
Early morning call at 05.30, breakfast at 06.00. Taxi to the airport – overcharged by the driver as usual. As soon as we arrived we were pounced on by a gentleman who was obviously after more of my money. He offered to take us around the various points of form filling. Remembering the hassles coming in I thought it might be a good idea. First stop, Immigration. 3 forms and 2 Gen. Decs. Next stop, Customs. There was nobody around, so this was the first chance for our guide to earn his money and he did. He opened a cupboard and fast asleep on the floor was our Customs man. We would never have found him in there. A quick kick from our guide, our forms were stamped and the Customs man crawled back into his cupboard. Next stop, Health Officer. I’m not sure whether his job is so stop you bringing disease in or stealing some of theirs! No problems at this one. Next stop, Customs again, this time at the other end of the Terminal. They checked our bags and through we went. On to the police, paid 40 Egyptian Pounds for our Guard and finally we were free.
The guide was certainly well worth it on this day and we were escorted to the plane by a friendly policeman who helped carry the bags. Once at the plane Don went back to the tower to file the flight plan whilst I checked the plane over. I was approached by a policeman I hadn’t seen before who asked for a tip. Feeling rather fed up at giving my money to anybody who wanted some, I asked him if he understood English. He told me he did a little, so I told him to “**** off”. He must have understood pretty well, as he departed smartly! The policeman who had helped with the bags returned with two others and introduced them as the officers who had guarded the plane all night. It was obvious why he had brought them along, so out came my money again. One of them also wanted a pen – for his children he said. I went to join Don in the tower and as I walked in he said “Just in time to pay the landing fees!”. As soon as the fees were paid I was asked “What about the staff?” I was just about to give him the same answer as the policeman when I realised if I did, we would probably be sitting on the ground for about 3 hours, so out came my money again. They weren’t very happy with the amount I gave them, but I insisted it was all I had left as I had paid off nearly everybody else in Egypt.
Don asked if we could have a right turn out to photograph the Karnak Temple and the Valley of the Kings. One of them said yes. The other looked at the money I’d just given his and said it was a restricted area. I think he got the message from the way I looked back at him because he added “but I suppose it will be OK”. I said to Don “Quick, lets get airborne before I run out of cash”. We took off, flew over the Valley of the Kings and the Karnak Temple, took our photos and headed for Saudi.
This ended up quite an uneventful trip. 1,109 miles, 100 miles of which was over water and 1,009 over desert without seeing any towns at all. Flying time 7 hours 20 minutes without a stop – it was the most boring of our journey so far. It was very difficult to concentrate for such a long period, especially as it was all instrument flying due to the layer of dust haze. The heat at this time was quite intense and after a few hours our arms had been burnt through the perspex. Don covered his arms with a map; I used a couple of tea towels, which made flying a bit more difficult.
We drank quite a lot of water on this leg and landed in Bahrain at 15.00. The wind was 20 knots, 70 degs to the runway. Don suggested I landed without flaps. I shouldn’t have listened to him; it was the worst landing I’ve ever made. We parked up and the fuel man asked us if we wanted any. After 1,109 miles we wanted lots. 30 minutes later he arrived with a 45 gallon drum – even Luxor had a bowser! Eventually we were filled up – 53 US gallons at a cost of US$233 – the most expensive yet and they produce the stuff here!
Our airport guide whisked us through all the officials in minutes and into a taxi for the Gulf Hotel. We were wearing our uniforms and the receptionist asked if we were with Caledonian! I had to say no as two of their pilots were standing next to us. We said we were a private airline, showed her my PPL and got a 50% reduction. We spent a very, very pleasant evening there; it was excellent – especially after Egypt.
Total miles today 1,109. Total miles to date 4,277.
6th April. Day 13
Up at 07.00, through with the airport formalities with no problems. If only they were all the same, this trip would be a doddle! Weather CAVOK all the way. Departed 09.20, picked up the first VOR and settled at flight level 110 (11,000 ft). I said to Don “Wasn’t it nice to be treated so well without having to dip into your pockets?”. It should be the same in Oman (wrong again – more about that later). We were tracking along the Gulf, 11 miles from the Iranian FIR. No problems until we lost the VOR, but we were still in contact with Bahrain radar. They gave us a heading of 110. we steered 120 just in case. The next hour or so was normal until the United Arab Emirates Controller called up “G-BRBL there is an unidentified aircraft at about your 9 o’clock believed to be an Iranian C130. No squalk, height or any other information”. I thought, “Great, not even half way there yet and we’re about to be shot down by an Iranian”. We eventually saw him – a bright yellow aircraft-heading straight for us but well below. UAE radar called us “G-BL Iranian aircraft one mile on the same heading”. We told him we were in contact and he asked us if we could identify it. Don confirmed it was a Hercules. He passed under us and we live another day.
We passed between Sharjah and Dubai, which was quite exciting because the Dubai dry dock and Port Rashid extension, was what started me off in business about 10 years ago.
We continued across more uninteresting desert and landed at Seeb, Muscat at 13.05. The temperature was 30 degs centigrade. The marshaller parked us right in front of the main hanger with Muscat International Airport on top of it. Don thought it would make a good picture, so out he jumped. He took a picture. Within a minute he was surrounded by police, ranting and raving something which we translated as “No photographs allowed” and insisted on us giving them the film. I was very reluctant as our film contained all our snaps of Egypt, Bahrain and Crete. But he was an evil little bas***d and gave us no choice. He gave the film to one of his officers and made him pull the whole film out while we watched. Moral: If in Muscat, don’t take photographs!
We refuelled and went through the normal formalities, which are so much simpler with our uniforms on.
We took a taxi to the hotel – this was the only time Mike Gray got it wrong! It was a real fleapit. Don pulled back the covers on his bed and could see the mattress through the holes in the sheet. “Oh well, never mind” I said, “it’s only for one night”. We went for a walk to find the beach, stopping at a small shop on the way for a packet of biscuits and a drink. We decided to eat them and have the drink on the beach rather than eating in the fleapit of a hotel. I was so hot I decided to drink my coke on the way to the beach. The shopkeeper looked horrified. He called us back into the shop and said if we drank the cokes on the street the police would arrest us. I had to wonder what sort of place this was. I said to the shopkeeper “Never mind, we’ll stay here and drink it”. He said, “That’s not allowed either”. He looked out the door, up the road, down the road, closed the curtains and said “Quick, you can drink them in here”. We
drank them in record time, left the cans and carried on down towards the beach. We never actually found it, but did find quite a nice harbour and sat on the sea wall for about ten minutes. I looked at Don and said “There’s no way I’m sleeping in that fleapit hotel tonight”. We jumped in a taxi, asked him to wait outside the hotel and told the owner we had just phoned our airline and we had to make an emergency flight tonight, so we wouldn’t be able to stay in his lovely hotel (another good reason for wearing a uniform). We rushed upstairs, collected our things, returned to reception and paid for the phone call. He said he would only charge us for a single room as we weren’t staying – the price about £40. I argued about this, as we hadn’t even sat in the room. He still kept insisting on the £40 so I gave him US$10 and jumped in the taxi. The driver took us to the Holiday Inn – quite a difference!
Total miles today 552 (480 of them over water). Total miles to date 4,829.
7th April. Day 14
07.30 call and off to the airport. Expecting the worst, we were met by a handling agent and whisked through all the formalities, until we met up with the pig who had destroyed our film. He would only let one of us through to the Met Office. Don went and I stayed in the departure lounge with the ‘pig’ staring at me. I kept a low profile as I knew he was just looking for any excuse to cause more trouble. A few minutes later they pushed an Irishman from inside an office. It was obvious he had been strip-searched and I thought, “That’s just what he’s waiting for. As soon as Don comes back, in we go” and I can tell you, I was getting a little concerned because he didn’t take his eyes off me the whole time. Don eventually returned with the handling agent. I stood up and started walking away and could feel the eyes of the pig on the back of my neck, but we escaped.
We were taken out to the plane. I was keen to get airborne as soon as possible. It must have been the quickest BL has ever been checked out. We sat in the cockpit with outside temperature of +40 degs centigrade. We asked for start-up clearance and had to wait for our flight plan to be checked. Clearance was given after about 5 minutes.
Just as we were about to start, a police Land Rover drew up with the pig and another officer. Stares were exchanged. He dropped the other officer off and drove away. He was obviously there to ensure no more photographs were taken. What he didn’t know was that I had taken a video when we had landed – luckily I had left the video on the plane!
Taxi Instructions were asked for and given, but the pig had to have one last drive past. More stares exchanged. We took off and never had I felt so glad to leave a place in my like. I was still expecting to be called back from about 100 miles out over the Indian Ocean. What a great sight to see the Iranian and Pakistan coast.
The inland leg over Pakistan was over the nastiest range of mountains I’ve yet seen – an engine failure here and that would be the end of our little adventure! There wasn’t even room to land a parachute there. Luckily the good old Lycoming kept going. We had about 120 without any VOR coverage but there was an NDB, but of course it wasn’t working. We turned due East and held that heading until we picked up Karachi VOR at 98 miles. Quite a relief. We had also been out of radio contact for 200 miles.
An HF set would have been a good investment. We landed at Karachi with the temperature +35 degs centigrade, pulled up and waited for the onslaught we had been warned about. As it turned out it was the best reception we had through the whole trip. Now we were waiting for the paperwork, which we had been told to expect to take 3 hours. The fuel man couldn’t take US Dollars, so he took us to the bank, but first we had to fill in temporary immigration permit forms and a Gen Dec. That took 5 minutes. We went through Customs, of course wearing our uniforms and they didn’t even want to see our passports. We were out after only 10 minutes, after expecting a 3 hour wait. Off we went to the bank – if you can call it a bank – it was a box with a safe in it. Exchange was requested but he said he couldn’t do it and sent us to the one next door (the next box), shouting something to the other banker in Hindu; he said “No” without us even asking. We agreed with the fuel man that we would pay him in the morning. We were just about to walk out past the first man when he decided he would now help us. He changed our money. We paid the fuel man and asked why he had changed his mind. He simply said he didn’t want to work as he got no commission. There was no answer to that. We went off to find a taxi. The fuel man said “Stay here and I’ll find one for you. If you go yourself and they see a foreigner, they’ll overcharge you.” We were well used to that by now anyway. The fuel man came back with a driver “Don’t pay him more that 100 Rupees” (about US$5). The taxi was the worst car I have ever been in – broken rear springs and I suspect not much of an exhaust system left. The journey to the hotel was another scary ride. Luckily the old jalopy couldn’t go any faster than about 30 mph or it would have disintegrated. It was the best value per mile I have had on this trip. Equal distance in Naples had cost me £30. My impressions of Pakistan and the people are all good ones but I haven’t been out for a walk yet or tried to get back to the aeroplane.
We went out for a walk round Karachi and so far Pakistan’s reputation is not justified. We were only approached by one beggar with a small child, but she was too well dressed to be poor, so she got nothing. The funniest thing we had seen that day and in fact so far on this trip – and was totally unexpected in the middle of Karachi – was a cart, pulled by a camel with massive great feet, which came trotting through the mass of traffic. Unfortunately we didn’t have a camera of video with us – it would have been a lovely picture.
The hotel was a bit iffy and we were afraid to eat, so we settled for a bowl of tomato soup and a piece of bread. There was butter but it was soft and smelt rank. That ensured we wouldn’t bother with breakfast.
I weighed myself in Bahrain and I had lost 7 kilos. We had weighed ourselves before we left as part of the weight calculations for the aeroplane. I was 85 kilos and am now 78 kilos. Don had also lost about the same. By the time we get to Australia we will have wasted away.
Total miles today 643. Total miles to date 5,472.
8th April. Day 15
We left the hotel for Karachi airport. We arrived at 08.00. We decided not to leave too early as we thought it would be a doddle to get through all the formalities, as we now knew our way. How can one person be so wrong?
With our uniforms on we managed to get through to the aircraft without and problems. Don went to file the flight plan while I changed to air filter as we had been over 2,000 miles of desert and it was a bit dusty at times. It took me about 20 minutes to discover how to get the old one out. When I eventually did and went to replace it, we had been given the wrong ones, so that was half an hour wasted. A quick blow and a tap on the ground and back in it went, hoping it would last through to Australia. Don returned, flight plan filed, weather conditions CAVOK, but just one more thing – that’s to pay the landing fee. I said to Don “I can’t see what all the fuss is about”. We had been told to expect at least one to two hours to clear and here we are ready to go within 45 minutes of arriving. Into the office, landing fee $4. They were not allowed to accept the money – it had to be paid into the bank. A guide was allowed to show us the way to the bank: no problems, just next door. In I went, showed the form and went to hand over the money. “We cannot accept it here. You must go to the Habib Bank”. So off we set again with our guide. After about a mile we arrived at the Habib only to get the same answer. The temperature was 35 degs and the air very blue – and I don’t mean the sky! We were told to go to another bank back at the airport, so off we went again. Back over the same mile through the same 35 degs. We ditched the guide when we realised it must be the same bank we had that hassles with yesterday. We asked at the first bank but he sent us to the next one and “yippee” back to the office with our receipt expecting to hand it over and go. No chance. We weren’t escaping that easily. “We don’t seem to have your General Declaration with three stamps on it” we were told. We knew we hadn’t filled one in but thought we had got away with it. We came clean and acted dumb (that was quite easy). The officer threw his hands up in the air, mumbled something – it didn’t take a lot of working out what he said. He made several phone calls and marched us off to another office. Lots of yapping – told us to sit and wait, and wait and wait… We eventually realised we had been dumped in the office of the handling agent who we had turned away the day before. Eventually three men arrived. They couldn’t understand how we had been able to get out of the airport without filling in the Gen Dec, and having it signed, as this was our entry permit. More hands thrown up, forms filled in and presented with a blank flight plan. When we told them we had already filed a flight plan and been out to the aircraft, more hands were thrown up. We were marched off through Customs and put on a bus, taken out to the plane and told to wait, and wait, and wait… I checked the temperature gauge in the aircraft and it was well off the scale – the scale went up to 40 degs C. We were absolutely baked and parched. Eventually after about ¾ hour our clearance form arrived. This was given to us but not before I had paid US$100 handling.
We eventually took off 3 hours after arrival at the airport. That taught us a valuable lesson – don’t try and dodge the system. We took off, tracked the VOR out on a radial of 110 for 110 miles before we lost it. We were 60 miles from Ahmadabad, India, before we picked up the next one. It’s always nice to see that little white flag pop up, even if you are 10-20 degs off track.
We landed at Ahmadabad only to clear Customs and refuel. We hadn’t stopped 2 minutes when we were surrounded by no less that 17 people, all staring as though they had never seen a white man before. Nevertheless they were extremely friendly, shaking hands and introducing themselves. Police, Immigration, the Custom man’s brother, auntie, granny and most of the local inhabitants. Now the fun started; we wanted to be away within one hour so we didn’t have to fly in the dark to Nagpur. First we loaded fuel, then we had to unload all our baggage and have it searched (apparently a lot of gold smuggling goes on between Pakistan and India). Satisfied with that, we then had to fill in no less than 8 different forms stating how much fuel we had when we arrived, how much we had purchased, how much we now had and another form for how many watches, rings, cameras; then another for how much foreign currency we had imported. I had to count it all out in front of them – US$1,974, £120 and various amounts of Egyptian, Omani and Pakistani – all had to be declared. Another form for our personal clothes and some other forms for God alone knows what! This was all done in the Customs office and after about 1 ½ hours and a very welcomed cup of tea, we had finished – we thought. Just one more form: Declaration of Health to be filled in at the tower and the tower was about ½ mile away. Off we went. The temperature was over 40 degs again and the walk was tortuous. On the way I saw some children carrying a large bale of cotton or something similar. One small girl tripped and dropped her end and was beaten by the others. There was nothing really I could be. I just had to look and realise how lucky we are in Europe.
On arriving at the tower we were shown to the lift. We stood in it, pushed the button and nothing happened. The man who had shown us into it said “It doesn’t work”. There was no suitable answer to that. He showed us the stairs; no less than 82 of them in 40 degs! We were rather puffed to put it quite mildly when we reached the top and couldn’t speak for a few moments. I filled in the health form while Don filled in the flight plan. I tried to give the health form back to the man who had given it to me. He said he couldn’t accept it until it had been stamped by Immigration who were in the building we had just come form. The 82 steps weren’t quite as bad going down, but I was dreading the walk back over to the other side across the apron in this terrible heat. I walked through the main gate and heard a shout from the tower and saw a man pointing to a jeep. The chap in the jeep gave me a lift and waited while everybody in India examined the form. All signed and back to the tower. 82 steps felt like 10,000. This time the chappie accepted out form. We left back down the 82 steps; looked for the jeep driver – no chance – he had done all the work he was going to do today, so we had to walk back to BL. When we arrived we were nearly on our knees. A final few signatures at the plane, handshakes all round and off we went.
We drank no less than 5 litres of water within 30 minutes of takeoff! We were told we would have to fill in the same forms and go through the same rigmarole in Nagpur and Calcutta, but we had been warned about this before we even left the UK and it really wasn’t a surprise.
The flight to Nagpur was quite tedious as there was a thick layer of dust haze and it was instrument flying all the way. Again we were without VOR or radio for 1 ¼ hours. We picked up the DME only at 27 miles and tracked the VOR on to the ILS and landed at 19.15, one hour after dark. We parked up and were greeted with the
normal handshakes by two security officers. Out came the first form: name of aircraft, type, call sign, where from? Where to? Then to the office where we expected to be for at least 2 hours; but no, a few quick questions and we were in a taxi to the Centre Point Hotel. I thought we had seen the worst drivers in the world, but these came first. The drive to the hotel was quite frightening, but when we arrived the hotel was very pleasant. It was the first time we had eaten since leaving Oman, other than the bowl of soup in Karachi. We had a traditional Indian meal and very nice it was too! We are now at the point of no return – over half way.
Total miles today 804. Total miles to date 6,276.
9th April. Day 16.
On arrival at the airport, the usual forms to fill in. Met report on route: weather at Calcutta 2 octas of cumulus; possibility of an isolated CB. We refuelled the plane under the watchful eye of the 4 guards who had slept under the plane all night, fully armed with rifles. We left Nagpur and were still flying over desert and spent 1 ½ hours without VOR or radio contact. When we picked up the next VOR we were dead on track – not bad after 150 miles. We were flying at flight level 115 (11,500 ft) and it was quite turbulent at times, but all in all it was quite a boring leg. The scenery started to change about 80 miles from Calcutta. It made a pleasant change to see some green after 4,267 miles of sea and desert. Up to now we had covered 2,400 miles of desert and 1,867 miles over sea.
We landed at Calcutta with the temperature at 35 degs C. We parked up and jumped straight out. It felt a lot hotter because it was much more humid here. For the first time since we left home we were wet through. I put a bottle of mineral water into the flight bag in preparation for the 3 hours form filling. The refuelling man kindly gave us a lift to the terminal, straight to Immigration. We explained where we had come from, gave them a Gen Dec. and on to Passport Control. The good old uniforms worked again! We went straight through without them even looking. Next on to Customs, listed down our foreign currency, cameras and clothes and we were free! We couldn’t believe it – less than half an hour.
The taxi ride to the hotel was only 5 minutes and straight into our beautifully air conditioned room. That evening we hired a taxi for 3 hours sight seeing at a cost of £7. Again the driving was terrible. They seem to get worse the further East we go. I have some quite good video of this one. We drove through some of the worst slums I have ever seen in my life. The conditions these poor people live in are worse than a Council tip. They would probably think they were in luxury to live on a British tip!
We drove for about an hour with appalling conditions all the way. When we stopped in the middle of Calcutta we were passed on to another guide who showed us around the indoor market. Not like any indoor market you can imagine: the meat section was full of crows, dogs and God knows what else and the smell was horrendous. I am glad we missed out on the fish section! We were besieged by beggars: no legs, no arms, a lady with paralysed hands. I must admit to feeling for them. I’m glad we took some cash, but that only temporarily helped three out of millions. The journey back to the hotel took us past a local rubbish tip. The smell there was a million times worse than
anything I’ve ever come across and there were people living on this mass of oozing mud, raking away trying to find something to eat or sell. There were even some little huts built there. It was just unbelievable.
The taxi journey back to the hotel was so bad I had to shout at the driver, who got the message to slow down – it was quite pleasant after that. I wish I’d shouted at a few more of them a bit earlier.
Total miles today 620. Total miles to date 6,896.
10th April. Day 17.
We were trying now to make up time, so had a 05.00 call as we had over 1,000 miles to go today and we anticipated drawn-out form filling at the airport. We jumped into the taxi outside the hotel and disturbed about 10,000 mosquitos that had been spending the night there. We opened the windows and tried to get most of them out, but I think there were probably about half of them still there when we arrived. We got there in good time and started looking for the appropriate offices when we were approached by a young lad who offered to show us around; just as well as we would never have found them on our own. It went surprisingly easily – Met report cumulus and isolated CBs. We were just walking out to the aeroplane when disaster struck – I had lost the keys to the plane! The thought of having to stay in Calcutta for 2 or 3 days while we had new keys sent out was horrifying. I had my bag unpacked and spread all over the airport looking for the keys. I was just about to return to the hotel when a man walked over and said “Are you looking for these?” They had apparently found them on the apron. The chances of them being found, let alone handed in and again us being in that particular area looking for them, must have been quite long odds. We walked out to the plane and the luggage door was open. Whoever had found the keys had had a good look inside before handing the keys in. Luckily I had taken our supply of £3,000 out of the locker. A quick call to Air Traffic Control for start up clearance, back came the reply “You want to start up 2 hours before departure?”. “We had filed for 01.55 Zulu” was our reply. Air Traffic Control said our flight plan had been submitted for 04.00… “Negative, we filed 01.55, please recheck”. The temperature was up to 40 degs again and it was not very pleasant sitting in BL. Air Traffic Control “We have checked with flight planning and they confirm 04.00 Zulu. Please check your copy of the flight plan”. We checked our copy and sure enough, it showed 04.00. Call to Air Traffic Control “We have checked our flight plan and it does show 04.00, but we did ask for 01.55”. Air Traffic Control replied “Sorry, you will have to go to flight planning and refile”. Their office was about half a mile from where we were parked, in 40 degs – not a nice walk!
A closer examination of the flight plan showed it was in fact filled in correctly for 01.55, but the 1 had been written over a line and looked like a 4. I called Air Traffic Control and asked them to look closely at the flight plan and they would see the error. They replied “Negative. We don’t have a copy, it was phoned through by flight planning, you will have to go to them”. I jumped out of the plane to let flight planning know what I thought, but Don said perhaps it would be better if he went. If I upset them now we could be here for hours. He went and I cleaned the windows! Half an hour later Don returned. All cleared up and new flight plan submitted with profuse
apologies from the Flight Planning Officer. You can’t be angry with them for too long if they are such nice people, even in 40 degs C.
Permission to start and taxi was given and we were off. The weather was CAVOK until we were about one hour out over Bangladesh when we encountered building cumulus at flight level 110 (11,000 ft). We asked to climb to flight level 130 (13,000 ft), which put us just on top of most of it. We had to go through a few, but the turbulence wasn’t too bad. We continued on keeping a good lookout for those isolated CBs. We didn’t see any and over Burmah we encountered quite a large formation of cumulus too wide to go around, so we decided to go through it. After a few minutes it turned black and there was severe turbulence. We had unwittingly entered a CB. The centre was horrendous: like a peanut being smashed about in an empty tin can. I throttled back, carb. Heat on, pitot heat on and brought back the air speed. It didn’t help much. We asked for and were granted a descent to flight level 110 (11,000 ft) to try and find a way out. By this time I didn’t think we were ever going to get out. The strength of the aircraft must be incredible as the beating we were getting was now intense. We eventually broke out the side and I was still shaking 20 minutes later. When we looked back, it was the only one in sight and it was not really that large. I thought to myself “If that can throw us around like it did, what could his big brother do to us?” Anyone who’s been through a tropical CB, or any other CB come to that, will have lots of sympathy for us. It was my first visit to the centre of Hell and I hope the last. We saw one more much larger one a little later and if I had had to go 100 miles off course to miss it, I would have done so.
The scenery over Burmah was beautiful; deep green jungle. It made a real change, as since leaving Italy it had been nothing but water and desert. We had approximately 200 miles without radio or VOR contact, but were on one occasion able to talk to Bangkok via an Aeroflot 541, which was quite a novelty. Our descent into Bangkok was radar vector on to the ILS as the visibility was less than 3 kms into thick haze.
Clearing Customs and Immigration took about an hour. Bangkok Airport must be one of the largest and most beautiful in the world. A hotel was booked by the hotel reservations and we jumped into a taxi, desperately needing a shower and a change of clothes after 7 hours flying. That wasn’t to be: the journey took 1 ½ hours. It was even worse than Naples and Calcutta! When we did arrive at the hotel the air-conditioned room was the best thing since sliced bread. We showered, changed, phoned home and went out for dinner. We had a couple of beers in Patpong Street in the tourist part of Bangkok. We palled up with an English chap and his wife. They came from Shoreham and he happens to fly a Cessna 142, so we had quite a lot to talk about whilst watching the world go by. The next day we decided not to fly and have a rest day, as we were both exhausted with early mornings and long flights. We arranged to meet Mick and his wife the next morning and take a river trip.
This again was another world with the river people living in huts all the way along. The condition of the river to say the least was bad and there were kids swimming in it everywhere we went. The afternoon we spent in a motor rickshaw sightseeing and shopping. As Pauline had lost her engagement ring a few months previously, I decided to buy her a new one whilst I was here. I found a really nice 18 ct gold ring,
bartered with the shopkeeper and eventually agreed on a price which I mentally converted to £375. I thought it was the least I could do after leaving her for 5-6 weeks. I handed over my American Express and the lady said she would have to get clearance. I thought that was strange for £375 but said I would wait in the meantime. Don had chosen a ring for his wife and converted it to about £125. He handed his credit card over. No need for a phone call on his visa, but she would like to see his passport, which he didn’t have with him. A call came through from American Express, Bangkok. They asked my company name, address, telephone number, home address, how I spelt my name. I gave all the right answers and the gent said as I didn’t have my passport with me, he would have to check with London, so down I sat again. Don walked up to me looking quite worried. He said “What rate did you convert at?” I said “4 to the £” and realised as I said it, it should have been 40 to the £, making Don’s ring £1,250 and mine £3,750! We were now in an embarrassing situation having bartered and getting what we thought was a good price, we were now faced with having to get our cards back and escape. American Express hadn’t phoned back, so I said to the lady “The best thing is for us to return to our hotel and get our passports and come back”. She agreed. We retrieved our cards and made a hasty retreat. I might add that it’s not that our wives aren’t worth it; just that I’m sure they could find something better to do with the money! We had an early night that night as we had another 05.00 start and a 900 mile flight.
12th April. Day 19.
Alarm call 05.00. It was too early for breakfast, so straight into a taxi. We took 2 hours to clear Customs etc. Met report for Singapore was not good so we decided to try for Penang as nobody would believe us if we stayed in Bangkok for another day, no matter how bad the weather. The en route weather was for broken cumulus and isolated CBs. I wasn’t too keen after our encounter over Burmah, but we managed to dodge around them. Other than that the trip was quite normal. The highlight of the day was flying over the rubber plantations in Malaysia. We landed and refuelled and caused quite a bit of excitement with the airport staff. We learnt later that we were the first British light aircraft ever to have landed at Penang.
Friday 13th April. Day 20
It’s a good job we didn’t realise before we left that it was Friday the 13th. We decided to have a lie in today so we didn’t get up until 05.30. Too early again for breakfast so straight into a taxi. I think, once past France it must be compulsory for taxi drivers to have their brains removed at birth! This was the second one I had to shout at for trying to kill us. He slowed down a bit, but not enough and I was glad when we arrived at the airport.
The staff were very helpful and we were soon in the Met Room. We had decided to go as far as Singapore today. The Met report was for three octas of CB over the Singapore Strait, so it didn’t look good. We decided to file for Singapore and stop at Kuala Lumpur if the weather got too bad.
We left Penang and were soon into low cloud. Eventually, at flight level 115 (11,500 ft) we were between two layers of cloud; cumulus below and stratas above. About one hour out it worsened and we asked to descend to flight level 90 (9,000 ft). It was an
improvement, but not good. We called Kuala Lumpur and asked for Singapore weather. The reply was that it was not too bad: no CB activity as yet. It was only 2 hours from Kuala Lumpur; we decided to give it a go. About one hour out of Kuala Lumpur the weather improved a bit. We then started thinking about continuing on to Jakarta. With hearts fluttering at the thought of a further 4 hours on top of the three to Singapore, we decided to have a go. The only problem was that we had a head wind. Quick calculations – we should arrive in Jakarta with 1 ½ hours of fuel. The flight plan was filed over the radio and on we went.
The first 100 odd miles over water we lost contact with Singapore and could not reach Jakarta. We tried for a relay, but no joy. It was a good feeling when we eventually spoke to Jakarta. We were about 100 miles out from Jakarta when suddenly the engine misfired quite badly. Don and I both sat up and looked at each other. A quick check of the mags but all was ok. We happened to be right above an airport at the time and both agreed if the engine was going to stop, it couldn’t be in a better place. It was obviously just one of those little hiccups and wasn’t a problem again. The next couple of hours were spent listening to jets asking Air Traffic Control for permission to alter course to avoid CBs. We were just hoping that they weren’t in our area. About 1 ½ hours out of Jakarta we started to get a little concerned as to whether we would have enough fuel to complete the journey as we were encountering quite a strong head wind and weren’t making the speed expected. A few calculations by Don and he assured me we would land with about one hour’s fuel. He didn’t sound too convincing and as we were over to sea, I wasn’t too happy. When we did land we had about half an hour’s fuel left.
It took the fuel man about 30 minutes to arrive and when he did he said we would have to taxi over to stand F.4 where the fuel truck was waiting (why it couldn’t come to us I never did find out). So back in the plane – temperature 45 deg c., humidity 70%. We taxied over to stand F.4 only to find the fuel was Jet A1. Lots of sign language and we eventually realised they had no Avgas. “Sorry, you will have to fly over to Halim for Avgas.” “How far is that?” we asked as we were nearly out of fuel. “Only 20 miles” we were told. “But first you must park the aircraft on this mark.” So I got back in, started, turned 180 degs and parked it on the spot they wanted. A quick call to ground to ask for clearance to Halim only to be told we would have to file a flight plan and no amount of protesting made any difference. So our friendly fuel man said he would act as our agent and would show us around and that we would have to clear Customs and Immigration. If he showed us, it would be cheaper than the handling Agent. It was just as well as everything was miles away. All formalities over and back out to the plane where Customs were waiting. Everything was taken out of the plane and examined. They found the first aid kit quite interesting, as we had everything needed for major heart surgery. I showed the Customs man a letter written by my doctor and he was quite happy. By this time about 15 people had gathered round looking and touching the aeroplane. We were getting quite used to this type of reception. Everything was put back in the plane, we asked ground for start up and received it. We called the tower and asked for taxiing instructions for Halim. Whilst we taxied out, took off and climbed the fuel light stayed on. We levelled out at 2,500 ft and were told to call Jakarta approach. A reply came back “BL, where have you come from?” To which Don replied sarcastically “From your airfield sir”. “Steer 065 to Halim VOR”. We tuned in 065 and the needle went right out with the DME showing all sorts of strange things. We were told to contact Halim tower and it was
clear something was wrong. The fuel light was now permanently on. Visibility was nil. “Halim tower “G-BL we are having problems with the VOR. Can you please give us a radar approach?” “Steer 065” came the reply. As we were already steering 065, we held the heading. Still the VOR was way out. At least we were going the right way (well we thought we were). After a few minutes radar called us and asked us to check our heading. “065” we repeated. “According to our radar you are heading 145 straight towards some rather large mountains”. At that moment Don noticed in the haste and aggravation of trying to get away from Jakarta, I hadn’t set the DI. Apologies to radar and set onto 065. By this time 30 minutes had gone by and the red light seemed to be getting brighter. The DME showed 8 minutes to the airfield – it was the longest 8 minutes of my life. I don’t know how much fuel there was when we landed, but I doubt whether it was more than 5 minutes. A very valuable lesson learnt today – no matter how rushed or aggravated, be sure to do your checks correctly.
When we turned off the runway, we were attacked by a pack of wild dogs, which was all we needed. Had we hit one of them with the propeller, we would have been stuck there for probably 2 to 3 weeks. We put on power and managed to outrun them. It was probably just as well we had got mixed up with the VOR. When we landed it must have been about 3 minutes after a torrential downpour. If we had not been delayed we would probably have landed at Halim in the middle of a thunderstorm. We refuelled and it was the most we had put into the aircraft on the whole trip, and the cheapest at 50 cents a litre! Another friendly gent gave us a lift to the terminal where we paid our landing fees etc. We asked where to get a taxi and he said he would drop us off just outside the airfield, as the taxis would be cheaper there.
He dropped us off at a rank, but before we could leave, we had to bump start the taxi. We got underway and the driver put on the air conditioning. Immediately smoke came pouring out of the vents. Luckily it wasn’t anything serious, just the cold air vaporising in the heat and humidity.
14th April. Day 21
Alarm call again at 05.00, taxi to the airport at 05.45. Outside the hotel were about 40 children playing football. I guess they get up early in these parts to play before it gets too hot. We arrived at the airport at 06.10 and the good old uniforms worked again. We were waived straight through by Customs, Immigration and Security. The Met report was for good weather all the way through to Bali.
We took off at 07.00. It was a little cloudy at first but it soon cleared. It was about time we had some nice weather. No problems en route, the most exciting thing we saw was a volcano erupting. Our descent into Bali was fantastic; blue sky, blue water and green covered mountains. The approach to Bali airport was from the sea and it was a fantastic sight. We parked up and refuelled. We were then driven to the terminal by a man who introduced himself as Air Traffic Control, but we later found out he was the handling agent! We had been well and truly caught. When I asked him the cost it was US$185 and all we were getting for that was a lift from the aircraft to the terminal (about 200 yards). He booked the hotel and gave us a lift to it. Something else to put down to experience. Mind you, he booked a fabulous hotel, right on the beach called the Bali Tropic and the uniforms worked again. We got a 50% discount, so we decided to have an extra day in Bali.
15th April. Day 22
We have just spent one and a half days in Paradise! Bali is the most beautiful country I have ever been to and I have visited over 50 countries so far, including Fiji and Hawaii. Anybody planning a similar trip should allow plenty of time to stay here. I promised Pauline that I would bring her back here as soon as possible.
16th April. Day 23
05.30 call. The phone rang. I got up first. When Don was in the shower I looked at my watch and it was 04.45. I was not too pleased as we now had 1 ¼ hours to wait before our handling agent picked us up at 06.00. There was a knock on the door, which Don answered. It was the handling agent, just to let us know he was ready. There was obviously a conspiracy to get us away early for some reason. Anyway we decided it could be an idea to go early and possibly refuel at Kupang and on to Darwin. At the reception I asked why he had called us at 04.30 instead of 05.30. Slight communication problems as he didn’t seem to understand, so I showed him my watch and said “It is only 5 o’clock and we wanted a call at 5.30”. He seemed quite puzzled. I had almost given up when he showed me his watch. It was 6 am. We had been so confused with putting our watches forward and on occasions back, that we had got it completely wrong and that explained why, the day before, we had arranged with the hotel to be picked up in the town at 2 pm and why we sat there waiting and it didn’t arrive!
The agent filled in our flight plan and other forms, which took 5 minutes, then presented me with the bill for $185. It was a good job he didn’t understand what I said. I refused to pay, as I said the cost was too high for the work he had done. All he had really done was give us a lift to the hotel and back again – I could have taken a taxi for $20 – and he filled in one or two forms. We agreed to go to the airport and sort it out there.
When we arrived he asked how much I was prepared to pay. I offered $50, which he was not too please about – he wanted at least $130. I refused; put $100 on the table “That’s all you’re getting and it’s also to include the $27 landing fee”. Very reluctantly, he agreed, but I was sure we would get a long delay taking off.
When we were ready to go, a quick call to the tower asking for start up – no answer. Two other jets called up and got instant replies. I was convinced we were going to be here for another hour or so, but the next call brought an instant reply and away we went. I was very sad to leave this paradise island, but one thing is for sure, I will be back.
The flight to Kupang was no problem, all over water with good visibility. When we landed we were met by another handling agent. I thought it would be a good idea to have one here as we had to clear Immigration and Customs, file a flight plan and check the weather in Darwin, plus refuel, all in one hour.
We arranged for the aircraft to be refuelled and he took us to an office where three young ladies and two lads were working. They were extremely friendly and wanted to know all about us: where we had come from and where we were going. They offered us a bag of popcorn and we chatted to them for about half an hour while the agent did
his bit. When we went back out to the plane two of the girls and one lad wanted to come and see it. They were extremely interested and one of the girls even invited Pauline and myself to her wedding in July, which is a very tempting excuse to get back to Indonesia.
The Customs men wanted to search the plane and asked if he could have a pack of cards he found in Don’s bag. I gave them to him and told Don later. At least he was happy and didn’t bother searching any more. Not that we had anything to hide anyway, but it’s very inconvenient pulling everything out when it’s all packed nicely away. We tried in vain to get the weather forecast for Darwin and en route but without any luck. We decided to leave it and if it got bad, return to Kupang. Also we could try and get a passing jet to relay to Darwin for us.
We took off into quite a large build up of cumulus. I wasn’t too happy as we had over 400 miles of open water to cross and we had already seen a large shark on the surface an we approached Kupang – I’m sure it had my name tattooed on its back. We carried on, dodging round CBs and large formations of cumulus. We asked Kupang Air Traffic Control if they could get Darwin weather and to confirm they had sent our flight plan on, but all we could get from them was “Roger” so we gave up and pressed on. We lost contact with Kupang after about 80 miles. So there we were, 420 odd miles to go over the Timor Sea, not knowing what the weather was like in Darwin and in the back of my mind were my mother’s comments when I spoke to her a couple of days ago that she had seen on TV that Darwin had been having some severe storms (we found out later that a couple of days before we arrived they had a mini cyclone with winds of 117 mph which had moved a DC3 right across the apron, smashed it into another one and badly damaged both). We were about two hours out when we heard a Britannia Airways jet talking to Darwin and asked him to relay our position to them. It was only a guess as we had lost all radio aids miles back except for a radio station which we picked up on the NDB and we listened to some music for a couple of hours. It was a good feeling after speaking to the Britannia – at least Darwin knew roughly where we were. He also gave us Darwin’s weather, which came as a great relief. Nothing of any significance, so at least we knew the weather was going to get better rather that worse.
The Britannia captain asked us if we had HF radio in case we got into trouble. When we told him we didn’t, he replied “Well at least the sea is warm in these parts!”
We dodged a rather nasty looking CB and could then see better weather ahead. After a few more messages from Darwin, we finally made contact ourselves and picked up the VOR at about 100 miles. It was a fantastic feeling when we could see the Australian coast from about 80 miles. It seemed forever before we landed at Darwin. WE HAD MADE IT! One year and two days since my first flying lesson.
We were met by two Customs officers who gave us an insect spray, which we had to spray inside the cockpit. When they realised we were flying for charity they couldn’t be more helpful. One of them even made sure we didn’t have to pay any landing fees of airport fees. It was so nice to be back in civilisation!
We checked into a motel close to the airport and couldn’t wait to phone home and my mother in Perth. I just couldn’t believe we’d made it. I was convinced we wouldn’t make it over the Timor Sea, but we did. We still have 2,500 miles to go, but the worst is over. At least no more sea, no more mountains – plenty of desert, but no mountains and no sea.
17th April. Day 24
We got up at 06.45 after a sleepless night. I couldn’t get over the excitement of actually arriving in Australia and was now really looking forward to arriving in Perth and eventually back home again.
No problems leaving as all flights are now internal. Met report showed some nasty weather over Tennant Creek but Alice Springs was CAVOK, so we decided to give it a try. The first 200 miles were very nice, then we disappeared into cloud and didn’t come out again for 2 hours. We climbed to flight level 135 (13,500 ft) to try and get above, but without any luck, so we sat it out until we started to ice up and requested to descend to flight level 115 (11,500 ft). At 12,000 ft we popped out the bottom, so we had been sitting up there trying to get above it all when we should have stayed at flight level 115 where we would only have been in cloud for half an hour or so. Another lesson was learnt.
The approach and landing to Alice Springs was in good weather. We had a visit from a flying instructor and his pupil, just interested in our trip and the aeroplane. Apparently Robins are a rare sight in Australia.
We checked into the Territory Motor Inn. It was very nice. We were given the key to room 201. The porter showed us the way. When we got there, there was already somebody occupying the room. The porter called reception on his radio. The receptionist apologised and asked him to take us to room 206. Off we went, found room 206 and found that it was also occupied. I started looking round for Basil Fawlty – he must be here somewhere! On the radio again – try room 301 we were told. So off we went again and off we went again and this time we were in luck, but the TV didn’t work, so that was fixed and we looked forward to a pleasant night. We went out for dinner and returned to the motel at 8 o’clock to be met by the porter. He said “I am very sorry. I have just put a message from Mr John Roberts in your room and my key broke off in the lock. Would you mind moving to another room?” I couldn’t face moving and said not to worry, we would stay without a lock – “as long as you keep Basil away!” I don’t think he understood. We returned to the room and I thought we must be finished with all the problems and went to the bathroom. I turned on the cold tap to clean my teeth and – you guessed it – out came hot water. I was scared stiff to try the shower!
18th April. Day 25
Call at 05.30, taxi to the airport. Weather report CAVOK all the way but there was a warm front due to hit Perth on the 19th, the final day of our trip. We didn’t fancy ending in the middle of a thunderstorm, so decided to go for it and finish today. We wanted to visit Ayres Rock and decided to refuel there. It was only 1 ½ hours, but it was another sight not to be forgotten. We flew right round it and then landed, refuelled and set off for Perth.
Ten minutes out and the engine spluttered again – just what we didn’t want on the last leg. Check the mags, mixture and any other button or lever that would move, but again I think it was just one of those splutters that engines occasionally have. We continued our climb to 8,000 ft. The engine spluttered again and then started to run a little better, but not perfect. We had to make a decision whether to go on or return to Ayres Rock. If we returned there were no service facilities, so we would be stuck. We decided it was probably a dirty air filter, as we hadn’t changed one since we left. The engine picked up after a few minutes again and we had no real problems except that we were using a lot more fuel; another sign that the air filter might be blocked.
This leg was 1,000 miles of Australian bush with the odd airstrip in the middle of nowhere. Don was eager to spot a kangaroo, but it was not to be. The visibility at this point was the best we had had since leaving England. We could see for well in excess of 100 miles in all directions. It became clear we were using too much fuel to make it to Perth, so we decided to stop off at Kalgoorlie and top up. We were now only 2 ½ hours from our final destination. I was secretly praying we wouldn’t have any problems with the engine now that we were this close. We took off and climbed out. It missed a couple of beats, but cleared, although still running a bit rough. Our first contact with Perth approach was quite exciting. 38 miles on the DME, we were given radar vectors to runway 03, although we could see it from 30 odd miles out.
It seemed forever before we touched down. Perth International had been absolutely marvellous. They had arranged for my family to be on the main apron and we parked in Bay 56. I shook Don’s hand and simply said “We made it!”. 13,124 miles. 99 hours and 55 minutes flying. 3,532 miles over water; 3,215 over desert; 1,016 over jungle; the balance over mountains and other nasty looking terrain. I jumped out the aircraft and gave my mother a big hug and kiss. The same for all the rest of the family and we opened a bottle of champagne which my mother had been saving for the last 3 weeks.
Perth allowed us to park BL next to a Quantas 747 for photographs and that was it – suddenly it was all over. As I am writing this, it still hasn’t sunk in – is this Australia or the Isle of Wight? Is it real or just a dream? Maybe when I wake up I will know the answer.
We certainly made the right decision to carry on yesterday. The weather is atrocious – 40 knot winds and torrential rain. I wouldn’t have been too happy landing in this lot. We spent the morning at the travel agents trying to get a flight home without a lot of luck. The only seats available in Economy weren’t until 9th May. There was only one First Class on Quantas on the 25th but the price was $4,000. It’s absolutely amazing that there is a flight out of Perth every day and they are fully booked 3 weeks in advance. Don was put on the waiting list for 4 flights. I managed to find a seat on British Airways, buy had to pay Business Class and that wasn’t until 27th April. Don eventually found a flight on a Garuda Indonesian leaving at 11.15 on the 24th, arriving home one month to the day that we left. He also had to book Business Class.
Today was the highlight of the whole trip. We took the aeroplane from Perth International to Jandakot Airfield where it was to be crated up for the return to England. We were given an official welcome to Australia by the Royal Perth Flying Club. We were escorted in formation by three Cessnas out over Freemantle to Rottnest Island and then back inland for two orbits around the Alan Bond skyscraper and over the City of Perth, at the same time being filmed by Channel 7 Television. I find it very difficult to explain just how I felt at that moment – it was probably one of the nicest feelings I have ever experienced and a fantastic conclusion to something of which, no matter what happens, nobody can ever take away the memory.