African Skies

Part seven: Once safely fer­ried over from the UK, the mod­i­fi­ca­tions we made to our sec­ond Golden Ea­gle got the lo­cal CAA into yet an­other lather

Pilot - - CONTENTS - Words & Pho­tos Tim Cooper

Part seven: We gain a sec­ond Golden Ea­gle and, even with­out try­ing, fox the lo­cal CAA – again!

We were on fi­nal for Run­way 09 and had just been switched to Tower. “Dji­bouti Tower, Golf Mike Uni­form Vic­tor Golf is with you, Cessna 421 in­bound from Jed­dah at three thou­sand feet and six miles out for Run­way zero nine.”

“Vic­tor Golf you are num­ber one, QNH one zero zero five.” The con­troller sounded a lit­tle testy, and his Arab-english was a lit­tle quick and ac­cented for our ears; per­haps he’d had a long day. “QNH one zero zero five, num­ber one for zero nine, thank you, Vic­tor Golf.”

We had heard a lot of Dji­bouti traf­fic on our in­bound jour­ney, but it had dwin­dled in the last twenty min­utes as dusk set in. With the sun at our back, the rugged, bar­ren moon­scape that is Dji­bouti was bur­nished glo­ri­ous shades of gold. We’d had a long day and were look­ing for­ward to a ho­tel, a beer and a shower, in that or­der.

Sud­denly, a su­pe­rior English voice out of the blue: “Dji­bouti Tower, Ex­pe­d­i­tor Three One is on fi­nal. I think we are num­ber one, ac­tu­ally”. Jolted from our rev­erie, ferry pi­lot Steve and I peered down our cre­pus­cu­lar path to the thresh­old of the three thou­sand me­tre run­way and saw nothing. We craned our necks and looked be­hind as best we could, Steve to the left, me to the right. Nothing. We looked be­low. Still nothing. A mil­i­tary call sign. Did we have a fast jet on our tail?

Steve shrugged his shoul­ders and nod­ded at me, “Dji­bouti Tower, Vic­tor Golf has no traf­fic in sight. Please ad­vise,” I re­quested. “Golf Vic­tor Golf, you are num­ber one. Pro­ceed!” came Tower’s re­ply, now iras­ci­ble and as­sertive.

The la­conic English voice again, cu­cum­ber cool, “Dji­bouti Tower, Ex­pe­d­i­tor Three One is num­ber one; we have the other traf­fic in sight.”

“No, no, Ex­pe­d­i­tor. Vic­tor Golf is num­ber one, you are num­ber two!” Tower was clearly and em­phat­i­cally in no mood for this. “Vic­tor Golf, you are cleared to land Run­way zero nine!” Not far from the thresh­old now, with no traf­fic in sight, and with a clear in­struc­tion from ATC, I keyed the mike, “Cleared to land zero nine, Vic­tor Golf”.

Steve con­cen­trated on land­ing our Golden Ea­gle close to the num­bers. We turned onto the first taxi­way at speed, un­sure of what was fol­low­ing us, but re­al­is­ing that va­cat­ing the run­way pronto was prob­a­bly A Good Thing. “Tower, Vic­tor Golf has va­cated the run­way,” I said as soon as we were off it.

Did we have a fast jet on our tail? We craned our necks and looked...

Steve steered Vic­tor Golf along the taxi­way, re­cip­ro­cal to Run­way 09, to­wards the ter­mi­nal build­ing. We squinted into the sun wait­ing for Ex­pe­d­i­tor Three One, what­ever that mighty fly­ing ma­chine may be, to ap­pear. The sun was bi­sected by the hori­zon; it was im­pos­si­ble to see for the glare. Re­cal­i­brat­ing our sight, so to speak, we watched amazed as a large, armed drone went sail­ing down the run­way in a high speed roll­out. The pi­lot, we re­alised, was prob­a­bly sit­ting in an air con­di­tioned con­tainer at Creech AFB in Ne­vada. Steve and I looked at each other. “What a prat,” we said in uni­son.

I have since dis­cov­ered that there is a his­tory of is­sues with drones at Dji­bouti.

Our small ad­ven­ture was just the very tip of the ice­berg. A small coun­try, sit­ting just across the Red Sea from Ye­men, Dji­bouti’s gov­ern­ment agreed to an Amer­i­can air­base to be co-lo­cated at its in­ter­na­tional air­port in re­turn for cash and pro­tec­tion. Rather than tell the story here I urge you to Google ‘crashes Dji­bouti’ and click on the Wash­ing­ton Post ar­ti­cle that you will see. I as­sure you that your eyes will open wide, and that never ever again will you com­plain about ATC in Europe. You will also read in the Post that at least five drone crashes, in­clud­ing one into a res­i­den­tial area, hap­pened there. It cer­tainly makes one ques­tion the pro­mo­tion of pi­lot­less air­lin­ers.

Madam had fer­ried over our first Golden Ea­gle from Good­wood with a ferry pi­lot who held a UK li­cence some months ear­lier. She had FAA and African li­cences that didn’t match the Uk-reg­is­tered aero­plane’s tail num­ber so we needed a UK pi­lot whose li­cence did. That C421 was now in ser­vice in a Mede­vac con­tract and was mak­ing a good, steady profit for our com­pany.

We had set­tled on the C421 Golden Ea­gle be­cause it was re­li­able, bril­liant to fly, fast, pres­surised, air con­di­tioned, well built, had ex­cel­lent cabin com­fort for up­mar­ket sa­fari clients, and−did I men­tion−was loved by our pi­lots. Com­pared to tur­bine air­craft, the rock

Our speedy Golden Ea­gle left us with a greater profit mar­gin...

bot­tom ac­qui­si­tion costs of pis­ton twins off­set their higher op­er­at­ing costs per mile, es­pe­cially when the monthly hours to be flown were rel­a­tively low. Al­though a lit­tle more ex­pen­sive to run per hour, our speedy Golden Ea­gle left us with a greater profit mar­gin than the slow-and-steady B-N Is­lan­der run by our com­peti­tor on the same routes. The C421 isn’t too bad as a bush plane and could land and, more im­por­tantly, de­part from any­where we needed to go.

We had as­sem­bled a syn­di­cate of high rolling lo­cal busi­ness­men to buy a sec­ond, Shore­ham-based, Golden Ea­gle. The con­sor­tium jointly pos­sessed an ego the size of a small planet so we had cun­ningly bagged the ul­ti­mate reg­is­tra­tion for them: 5X-VIP. Since nei­ther Madam nor any of our other pi­lots had the req­ui­site UK li­cence, I de­cided I would bag the ferry flight of the sec­ond C421, rea­son­ing that my non-li­cence was ev­ery bit as valid as their non-com­pli­ant li­cences. Seemed rea­son­able to me.

So we hired Steve, who is a proper, sen­si­ble UK pi­lot, for the ferry trip, with me along to lend a hand once we’d left Europe and had de­scended south into the mad­ness. Al­though it sounds like a great ad­ven­ture, a ferry trip to Africa in a well-equipped twin is a breeze in terms of the ac­tual fly­ing. Our route was, Shore­ham, Cannes, Naples, Rhodes, Luxor, Jed­dah, Dji­bouti and home. The real chal­lenge was av­gas avail­abil­ity once out of Europe. Un­like the first Golden Ea­gle, our new one did not have lon­grange tanks, so we loaded a flex­i­ble blad­der tank into the cabin, filled it up in Luxor (at great ex­pense), landed in Jed­dah (where there is no av­gas) and pumped the fuel from the blad­der into the tanks. Hot and sweaty work with an out­side tem­per­a­ture to ri­val Hades.

Once home, our comedic CAA soon man­aged to dis­tin­guish them­selves with the Golden Ea­gles. Look­ing for an ad­van­tage, I had re­searched the ben­e­fits of vor­tex gen­er­a­tors. Dozens of cen­time­tre-

high, shark-fin-shaped plas­tic mould­ings are su­per­glued to the lead­ing edge of the main and tailplanes at slight an­gles to the lon­gi­tu­di­nal axis. The idea is to keep air­flow at­tached at higher an­gles of at­tack. The ben­e­fits are higher gross weight, slower land­ing and take­off speeds, and no dis­cern­able loss of speed in the cruise. It’s a sim­ple con­cept and it re­ally works: Boe­ing and Air­bus both use them. The Vg-equipped Golden Ea­gles slashed a se­ri­ously im­pres­sive 200 me­tres from their take­off runs and, sig­nif­i­cantly, were much eas­ier to land, be­ing con­trol­lable to lower speeds. VG kits are avail­able off the shelf in the States, and they come with STCS (sup­ple­men­tal type cer­tifi­cate). It takes less than a day to fit a full kit.

Our CAA ac­cepted STCS from other com­pe­tent avi­a­tion au­thor­i­ties. So it seemed a sim­ple mat­ter to go-ahead, sub­mit the FAA STC pa­per­work to our CAA, and then glue on the VG kits. So that is what we did.

Some days later we dis­cov­ered an Air­wor­thi­ness In­spec­tor prowl­ing around one of the C421s. He had some pa­per­work in his hand and he was look­ing furtive. In­trigued, our won­der­ful Kenyan en­gi­neer­ing ap­pren­tice went over to him to see what he was do­ing. She came back gig­gling. The in­spec­tor said he had out­wit­ted us at last. He told her he was go­ing to write up his re­port and sub­mit his find­ings and then we would be in big trou­ble: we had in­stalled all of these gen­er­a­tors all over the aero­plane and yet there was no wiring di­a­gram. Would I bore you if I said, once again, “only in Africa”?

Weeks later, an hour be­fore sun­set, the aero­drome is quiet, just bird­song and the whine of in­sects in the late heat. A CAA Op­er­a­tions In­spec­tor sits with me on a bench out­side our small ter­mi­nal build­ing on the edge of the grass run­way. A yellow Fuji starts up, en­ters the run­way and back­tracks. Canopy slid back, I see Flash­heart, bound by parachute har­ness, un­smil­ing, grim de­ter­mi­na­tion etched on his face. Our Tele­com client, MTN, had a pro­gramme of road­shows all over the coun­try. With a spe­cially con­verted disco truck loaded with mer­chan­dise and am­pli­fiers, they sa­faried up­coun­try for a cou­ple of weeks at a time. They would go to a town and an­nounce them­selves on the lo­cal FM sta­tion. Come the day, they would of­fer free so­das, hats and T-shirts, and tele­phone air­time of­fers, and play un­pleas­antly loud, coarse pop­u­lar tunes to the ex­cited pop­u­lace.

We had promised MTN that we would fly our yellow Fuji aer­o­bat­i­cally and en­er­get­i­cally above these road shows, thereby mas­sively in­creas­ing their sub­scriber base. When I had made this of­fer I hadn’t known any­thing at all about avi­a­tion. Bliss­ful ig­no­rance. In­deed, we didn’t have an aer­o­batic pi­lot un­til Flash­heart joined us.

Read­ing the reg­u­la­tions I saw that to fly aer­o­bat­ics over an as­sem­bly we’d need the pi­lot to have a Dis­play Autho­ri­sa­tion. I con­tacted our CAA. They had never heard of such a thing. I showed them the reg­u­la­tion. ‘Ah’, they said, ‘that is for Amer­ica’. I closed the book and showed them the cover−this was their reg­u­la­tion. Weeks later, us­ing UK CAPS and a bar­rage of let­ters I had fi­nally per­suaded them that we had a right to have a pi­lot is­sued with a DA. I even pro­duced the tem­plate for the cer­tifi­cate.

The reg­u­la­tion stated that the au­thor­ity had to ob­serve a flight be­fore is­su­ing a DA, and the DA would con­tain the re­stric­tions placed on the pi­lot. Flash­heart said he’d

had a UK DA, but couldn’t pro­duce it. No mat­ter, it wasn’t rel­e­vant. For weeks he’d prac­tised a rou­tine for the ob­ser­va­tion flight. Each dis­play edged ever closer to mother Earth. He was re­ally quite good; a Fuji used aer­o­bat­i­cally in hot and high con­di­tions re­quires very care­ful en­ergy man­age­ment in­deed.

The yellow Fuji trun­dled down the run­way and climbed away. Flash­heart’s ap­pli­ca­tion to the CAA stated that he wanted per­mis­sion to dis­play to zero feet. This was go­ing to be in­ter­est­ing.

The CAA in­spec­tor, an agree­able, avun­cu­lar char­ac­ter, was not the sharpest blade in the drawer. He had been a ca­reer co-pi­lot in big jets be­fore age over­took him. He be­gan to rem­i­nisce. Be­tween sips of tea from the mug we had prof­fered he told me how he too had flown light air­craft at Prest­wick when train­ing in the ’60s. He had en­joyed Scot­land.

While we talked we kept our eyes on the Fuji, slowly climb­ing in cir­cles in the late af­ter­noon heat. The Fuji straight­ened out, wag­gled its wings and started trail­ing smoke. The next five min­utes was a vir­tu­oso ex­am­ple of what could be done in a mod­estly pow­ered trainer. The Fuji started drift­ing down, all the while rolling and loop­ing and stall turn­ing. Fi­nally, from a stall turn, Flash­heart came screech­ing down to the tops of the ad­join­ing pa­pyrus swamp and pulled up− i saw he was go­ing for a fi­nal loop. My heart stood still. If he hadn’t hit 150 knots on that last run in then it would be im­pos­si­ble to com­plete the loop above the ground.

The Fuji was at the top of its loop and started down again. He was go­ing to make it. And he did, skim­ming the pa­pyrus tops. Smoke off, he climbed away into the cir­cuit. I turned to see the re­ac­tion from the In­spec­tor.

He had gone into the of­fice to add sugar to his tea and had missed the whole dis­play. “I re­mem­ber,” he said, com­ing back out­side to our bench, “they used to make us bank even as much as sixty de­grees at Prest­wick. Very dan­ger­ous, you know.” He nod­ded rue­fully and sipped at his tea.

A week later we re­ceived a let­ter from the CAA. I read it once, then once again, very care­fully this time. I showed the let­ter to Madam. Our en­tire com­pany had been is­sued a Dis­play Autho­ri­sa­tion with no re­stric­tion on height.

From a stall turn Flash­heart came screech­ing down... go­ing for a fi­nal loop

Trans­fer­ring fuel at Jed­dah from the flex­i­ble fuel blad­der was very hot work

ASOLE — an in­ter­est­ingly-named way­point

Our small fleet of C421s

Re­fu­elling at Dji­bouti, with the US base in the back­ground

A suit­able reg­is­tra­tion for our big-ego syn­di­cate

Be­low: the sec­ond Golden Ea­gle ar­rives at its new home after a long ferry flight from Shore­ham

Right: our two Golden Ea­gles lined up and ready to roll

Danc­ing Fuji: Flash­heart prac­tised his Dis­play Autho­ri­sa­tion aer­o­batic se­quence for weeks

A pen­sive Flash­heart strap­ping on his parachute

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