The Rain in Spain was Never on the Plane

Almost  year after my trip back through Africa, another customer phoned up asking about permissions etc for a flight to Azerbaijan. This was a flight in a few weeks so nothing major to worry about. It was also on a lovely large aircraft,a Falcon 900.

I asked the pilot what they were doing in the meantime? He replied he had a flight to Madrid in a couple of days time. He did have an issue, despite flying a single pilot rated Cessna CitationJet, the passengers would like to see 2 people up front. He therefore had no one to ‘right seat’ down to Madrid. I subtly dropped into the conversation about my FAA licence. The aircraft was registered with a country that accepted US licences.

‘Really!’ replied the pilot, ‘do you think you’d be able to come?’

‘Let me ask my boss, I can’t see a problem but will call you back in 10minutes’.I said

Sure enough, asking my boss, a fabulous chap with an encyclopedic memory on most things aviation related I got the go ahead. He jokingly asked ‘Where we going then?’

I kept my promise and phoned back the pilot and made arrangement on where he wanted to meet. I had to be at the airport by 7:30am.

The day came for me to have my first front seat ride in a private jet, let alone a private corporate aircraft. I was introduced to the pilot and shown the aircraft. I put my flight bag in the baggage compartment in the nose. I then helped get the coffee and tea facilities filled up, including a flask of hot water. The aircraft is smaller in cabin size compared to the King Air I came back from Africa in. It seats 4 persons and like the King Air has  an ’emergency use’  toilet/potty at the back of the cabin.

Cockpit

Me in Cockpit

In truth it is like many small corporate aircraft. Orne has to be quite nimble and supple to get into the crew seat. It was a marvelous feeling. I couldn’t wait to get going. I was told to sit in the seat and wait for the passengers we were taking down to Spain. You see a corporate pilot, especially on small aircraft is a jack of all trades and master of none. They have to be baggage handler and flight attendant (in some cases).

Cabin

CitationJet

We departed south, climbed to cruise level of around Fl370 (37000feet), and I listened and took in the actions of the pilot. I learned a lot on this trip. Two and a half hours later we landed at the secondary airport in Madrid – Torrejon. A part military/civil airport, dedicated to corporate aircraft on the civilian side. taxiing along we trundled over arrester wires stretched across the runway. Proof of military use.

Water bombers

When we were parked on the apron, the handling agent, turned up in a minibus to take the passengers to the terminal. It then returned to us as we were locking up the aircraft and ensuring it was safe. We got taken to the agents building, and was then taken to a shopping centre for lunch. We were not overnighting so it was a brief trip! After lunch we were taken back to the airport, sat around for a couple of hours and then heard our passengers were on their way.

As crew we made our way out to the aircraft and unlocked it, ensured the cabin was tidied and I sat in my seat whilst the Captain waited the arrival of the passengers. This time we had 2 passengers, 1 less than the trip out.

So it was not a reverse route on the taxiway, and departure to the north-east. A different perspective of the world at FL360 (36000ft). Fabulous. Two and half hours later we were back in England. I had taken my passport but had never actually been asked for it at all. Afer landing, we unloaded the aircraft and assisted the passenger ‘s chauffeur to pack the bags into the car. Oh how the other half live.

Over flying Spain

That is possibly the only drawback to being a corporate pilot – being baggage handler et al. A little pride sacrificed for an otherwise fabulous skill to have – controlling a fast-moving aluminium tube through the sky at height!

Well I have 5 hours jet time. Not to be sniffed at but if only it was more!!

Thank you to all concerned:

My boss for being so understanding, the pilot, for putting up with me, the handlers in Madrid (who were people I had spoken to over my time in flight operations. It was good to faces to names).

Thank you for a fabulous experience!

Out of Africa By Beechcraft KingAir

I have always had a fascination with flying and aviation since the ubiquitous term ‘knee-high to a grasshopper’ was appropriate.

I joined the Air Training Corps (ATC) as I hated Cubs and a school friend introduced to the RAF cadets. I never looked back. Why should I There was:

  • Flying on weekends in DeHavillandCanada Chipmunks from RAF Abingdon or wherever annual camp was held (except if abroad).
  • Gliding in Slingsby Sedburghs and Kirby Cadets from the old airfield at Kenley.
  • Even a course to obtain your gliding wings – even if you did cheat in flying a motor glider – a Venture T2, maybe but you still experienced going solo.
  • Summer camps to RAF stations in UK and abroad
  • Shooting, camping and competitions against other squadrons, plus camaraderie amongst the cadets
  • There were also aircraft recognition competitions. I even won one at RAF Cranwell against 110 other cadets from around the country whilst on a Summer camp.              (I am not a plane spotter by any means- I know my aircraft but do not take down registration numbers)

 I never got to pass selection for RAF scholarship for a Private Pilot’s Licence due to my eyesight so I had to wait some time before I could achieve it myself. What an achievement! Now the desire to go flying at any opportunity providing money was available. Ok so I have expensive tastes.

 A few years after obtaining my PPL, I went to train for the US FAA Commercial Pilot’s Licence. I spent 18months in Texas and had a tremendous time. Alas the attacks on the World Trade Centre put paid to the relative ease of flying in the US, being a ‘foreigner’. Still I achieved it. That can’t be taken away from me.

 I had been working in flight operations near to Gatwick Airport, Sussex, southern England. An ideal job for me, short of actually flying the aircraft we were working with. We were responsible for flight planning, obtaining permits (over flight and landing) and arranging ground handling services as requested by the aircraft operator.

It was here that an unforgettable opportunity arose. A pilot for an aircraft we had arranged services for to South Africa, rang and asked if I’d like to ‘possibly’ fly back in the aircraft, depending on what the owner was doing. It would be OK if he went back on a commercial flight which was extremely likely.

I jumped at the chance, booked 10 days off from work and booked a return ticket on Virgin Atlantic Airlines to Johannesburg. I had never been to Africa before.

August

Day 1 (Saturday)

Landing in South Africa in August was actually not as cold as expected. It was mild, however the nights were cold. I had booked a bed and breakfast from the UK. On arrival at Johannesburg, I was greeted by a car, arranged by work’s agent in South Africa. A lovely surprise. More to were to come!

I was driven to my B&B by the chauffeured car, dropped off to sign in and unpack. I then phoned my contacts at  the agents we used in South Africa. Being a weekend there was no one in the office but one of them came over took me out to a nature reserve – Reitvlei.  Fascinating. The car was almost threatened by a rhino! There was in addition, ostriches, zebra, weaver birds, and antelope. Then back to my new friend’s hoses for a Braii. Very civilised. The next shock came in. They had arranged a hire car for me. I was driven back to Lanseria to pick up my hire car. Still in shock at this treatment.

White Rhino. A bit close

I drove back to the B&B, for dinner and to plan my next day’s activity.

Day 2 (Sunday)

This was down to me. I went to the Rhino & Lion reserve. This has the lions and rhinos, ostriches, oryx, crocodiles, white lion cubs. There were compounds for the lions, cheetahs, wild dogs and hyenas. A lovely view into the wildlife of Africa

Day 3

I was asked to help our agent, now friend at Pilansbeurg Aiport, where the aircraft we had arranged services for was landing. It was about a 2 hour journey. An early start too. But a pleasant surprise greeted us as we arrived, when had been booked on a game drive through a local reserve. It was absolutely fabulous. There were elephants, giraffes, wildebeest, and zebra, white and black rhinos, wildebeest, and zebra. What else could there be, waiting to shock me again? Well perhaps a night at the Cabanas Hotel! Oh yes – precisely what was arranged.

The area is famous as the location of Sun City, the gambling mecca in South Africa. Well the two of us visited it briefly after the game drive and before checking in to the hotel. The next day, work beckoned at Pilansberg Airport
 

Day 4

The private aircraft had just landed as we made our way through the terminal building. The passengers had turned up as well. We introduced ourselves to them and I helped load the luggage and that was it but it was interesting. Speaking to the pilot, I was to be at Johannesburg by 7am the next day. The owner was going back commercial has had been expected (and hoped!).

For the evening it was decided to go to Montecasino. A huge leisure complex in the decent suburb of Santon. The interior has lights that change depicting dawn, daylight, sunset and night. It has numerous restaurants and cinemas plus bowling and many other activities.

It had been a great but all to brief visit. Great to meet and make new friends from the agent and of course to meet the crew who were to fly me home the next day.

Day 5

An early start if I was t be at the airport by 7am. It would have made sense to depart from Lanseria Airport, where our agents are based and its the equivalent type of airfield to Farnborough and Biggin Hill. It was also just a 5 min drive from my B&B. Johannesburg was at least 1hour depending if I was to hit the rush hour.

I was feeling fine despite a lovely evening in Santon. Drink, food and good company. Not too late back because of the early start!

I drove to Johannesburg, dropped the car off and made my way to security. I was met by a friend from the agent who assisted with my path through the airport. Security looked perplexed due to lack of boarding card but flying back privately of course there is no requirement.

It was a blue and warming morning as I stepped on to the Private Aviation apron and reacquainted myself with the crew and of course the aircraft – a Beechcraft King Air 350. A more modern version of the ubiquitous twin turbo prop.

Once luggage was loaded, we said our goodbyes and then boarded ourselves and made ready for the flight ahead. For entertainment, each of the 8 seats had a DVD player and there was a good selection of DVDs.

Engines started, clearance obtained, we then started the taxied for the departure  runway. Weird sensation passing the big commercial airliners seating 100s of passengers and the aircraft I was on capable of seating 8!

On departure, we headed north east to cross the border with Mozambique and a land to refuel in Lilongwe, Malawi. I would have liked to see more of the countries we over flew of landed at, but time was not permitting that. The King Air has endurance of at least 6 hours but Africa does not have the amount of airports that had Jet Fuel that would be required. It worked out if each sector was around 4 hours, this would be sufficient.

There is no actual hot catering facility on the King Air. There is a hot water boiler and draws to store bottled drinks and other food stuffs. Other draws abound in the cabin, between the seats. So coffee and tea is available anytime. We had to buy lunch at Lilongwe. Chicken and chips was bought and devoured.

On departure we headed for Kenya. Enroute we passed to the west of the tallest peak in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro. Located in Tanzania, to the south of Kenya it appears to stand out on its own. A popular mountain for charity fund raisers to climb – taking over 5 days to reach the summit.

The main airport, in Kenya’s capital, Jomo Kenyatta is a huge expansive international airport. I therefore obtained permission to fly into Nairobi Wilson. A much smaller airport than Jomo, but in the image of Biggin Hill. More for general aviation. It did not have instrument facilities. One of the many companies set up around the perimeter was our agent in Kenya. They were a handling agent and they also looked after the flying Doctor Services.

At worked we did work for them and so had a good contacts and so I decided to have the aircraft handled by our agents at Wilson. Again a good opportunity to meet people I had been speaking to.

On arrival, the King Air had to follow a 4 seat single engine Cessna C172 in the circuit. It was fun although in some respects bizarre.

For the night I was taken to the house of one of the guys I had become friends with over the years we had worked together, albeit at a distance. The pilot and co-pilot were taken to a local decent hotel.

The house my friends lived in had a gardener who doubled as a security guard. That was strange but as with South Africa; you heard various stories about the crime rates being very high. My friends, once I was unpacked and refreshed from the 8 hours flying, drove me to a lovely restaurant.

It had an element of colonialism but was fabulous. The atmosphere was great, people friendly and the food marvellous. I met a couple of guys who ran their own Safari Company. Oh how I’d love to do some bush flying out here!

Mount Kilimanjaro

Day 6

Another early start to the day but it was a warm dry start. The aircraft was being prepared by the crew and I just had to load my luggage on board and say my goodbyes. We all said goodbye to the fabulous hospitality we had experienced.

Departing north, we headed over the next tallest peak in Africa, Mount Kenya. In some ways it looks familiar to Kilimanjaro but is somewhat shorter.

The DVDs I watched include a box set of the great British comedy Fawlty Towers and Rock School with Jack Black, which I couldn’t warm to. But it passed the time. I also acted as ‘flight attendant’ to the crew passing fruit and coffee etc to them.

The King Air, like other small corporate aircraft does not have a flushing lavatory. Instead its more of an ‘emergency use’ only type. A glorified camping porta loo in essence! The other thing about the King Air is the head room – or lack of it! I am nearly 6 feet tall and I had to bend nearly 1 foot in order to move up the cabin or visit the loo. Otherwise I sidled up the cabin on my knees. For men – there is a ‘pee tube’ that goes straight out of the aircraft. Warning – there is a strong suction force on the tube!

Our tech stop on this sector was Khartoum capital of the vast country called Sudan. It sat astride the River Nile with fertile irrigated land on either side.

The airport is just a sandy expanse of land with a long runway and a few buildings. It had a plane spotter’s dream of aircraft variety dotted around the apron.

The co-pilot was a lovely blonde lady so it was going to be interesting as to the reaction of this mainly Muslim country to this English rose! The formalities done, no problems with the men of the airport, but they were intrigued to say the least.

Photos were not permitted apparently here. I thought it was only American registered aircraft and companies!

We departed and continued north, the Sahara spreading out below only broken by the great River Nile in its North – South routing.

We now headed to Egypt and the ancient city of Luxor for our next overnight stop. We landed at this seemingly empty airport. Only one other aircraft was visible on the apron. We were met by our agents who saw us whisked through customs and out to our hotel. It was the Movenpick- Crocodile Island. What a setting – on the banks of the River Nile.

Luxor is a fascinating city. If only I had more time to look around.

Mount Kenya and Rift valley

Day 7

Well I got my wish , albeit a small part of it – a very early trip to the Valley of the Kings. I basically had my own tour guide for the time I was there. Most interesting.

Now back to the hotel and pack for the next sector. Again on arrival at the airport, we were ushered through customs. Must be associated with flight crew more often!!

We departed ad headed for the Greek Islands. En route, the captain asked permission to circle the Pyramids and Giza. We were above them at 27000. Permission granted and what a photo opportunity!

Next stop the Island of Thira and the town of Santorini. A volcanic island in the Aegean spattered with white walled houses. It has donkeys to go up and down the mountainside to and from the beach and marina but there was also a fairly new cable car in operation. The donkey operators were not happy!MovenPick hotel – on the Nile

Valley of The Kings

Nile sunset

Overhead teh Pyramids – off the wing tip

Day 8

We had 2 nights on this island before the home stretch

Day 9

Down the airport. E loaded up again and got strapped in. A German A320 arrived and parked in front of us. The only other private aircraft was a Bombardier Challenger 604 which seemed to have been there for a few days at least. Santorini airport is a joint military base as well so pictures are not encouraged. I had stupidly left my camera on the aircraft so no pictures of the island were taken by me until we were in the plane.

We then stopped in Bologna in Italy. Having left Greece in sun, Italy had showers. On being refuelled we left and headed home to the UK. As we crossed Alps into France, the rain became heavier. We landed in Blackbushe, Surrey in pouring rain. No taxis around but I rang a friend who kindly picked me up. It was a weekend after all.

A fabulous experience. Ok no actual flying to be logged but there is in some ways more then just the flying. everything assosciated with it. The handlers, flight plans and teh countries concerned. I can’t thank those who assisted enough to show how it all comes together. Flight plans, handling, fuel, hotels etc

Thank you to all concerned to make this an experience to remember for a very long time

Leaving Santorini 

Santorini airport terminal

 

My transport – Beechcraft King Air 350