Thursday, May 14, 2015

I can't believe it's May already !!

I really can't believe where this year is going, we've had Easter already, it doesn't seem like five minutes ago I was packing my bags and getting out of Africa and heading home.

A lot has happened since then and now things have settled down a bit it's time to get my thoughts together and I suppose let everyone else in on where we are at.
Since back in November Roger has become a valued part of the team in Limoges and has taken to teaching in France like a duck to water, the students have enjoyed his teaching, professionalism and most importantly his love for flying, as things have gone so well and and the fact that Roger has done so much flying he became an unrestricted instructor in just 3 months and has now also has his first two students pass their PPL's with him.

 A huge well done from me to Roger with students Jason Bartner and Yury Stasyuk , Jason from the USA and o Yury from Russia. A proper international flavor.
Whilst Roger was teaching our international students I have been able to welcome back some of the more familiar faces of Herman and Barry , two former students who've been coming back to enjoy some more flying in Limoges post PPL.

It's always hugely satisfying to have pilots return here when they have gained their licenses with us.
With Roger doing so well in Limoges it's allowed me to pursue some of my personal flying ambitions over the passed few months, and it's with a lot of gratitude to two flying friends Julian and Karl who've helped and supported me over the passed couple of years that I've been able to take the next step in my flying.

With Julian's help I've been able to obtain my second incommand jet rating and have just completed my first flying along side him in a Cessna Citation 550 jet on some European flying. It's great flying along side Julian as there never seems to be a flight where I don't learn something new. 

Mind you everything goes so much faster in the Citation, it really takes some getting used to.

Karl is the deputy chief pilot at Capital Air based at Exeter airport. An air ambulance and VIP air taxi service and has brought me in to co-pilot on flights with them, which is something totally new. Ferrying sick, injured or critically ill passengers from across Europe to be repatriated back to the UK. 

So far I've done over a dozen flights with the pilots of Capital and once again it's a huge learning curve and something completely new, with very different considerations during the flights.

To be able to participate in the work with both Capital and some jet flying I've had to now base myself more in the UK and am now living with my partner Naomi in East Devon where I grew up and went to school.

 I will be working between East Devon and Limoges to be assisting Roger at the school as well as continuing with the other flying that I am doing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

I am lucky to have some really great students

I have been here over 3 years now and according to my log book I have over 1600 hours of flying time and over 1200 of those hours have been teaching English speaking students here in Limoges.
I get to reflect sometime on some of the different characters I have had come through the doors and also the new friends I have made. Some of them really good friends who will be friends for life. Aviation can be great like that.
People whom you would normally never meet in usual social groups getting together no matter what age or origin just because we love flying.
I am lucky enough now to have great friends in Belgium, Holland, Dubai, Scotland, Hong Kong, France, Switzerland as well as local friends here, all thanks to this little flying club in Limoges.
How much fun it would be to be able to get all of them together...... as most never get to meet each other.
I have a terrific chap here at the moment, Jason who lives in Italy with his lovely wife Ashely. Both originate in the US but have taken to European life.
Jason has been here for 4 weeks and has progressed really well with his flying and has endured some of the British humour of me and Roger and has also embraced club life like so many before him.
Ashley is very creative and made a lovely video this week after coming along for a flight with jason and also putting Go-Pro cameras in the cockpit as well which I will post below...... its really made me smile and it makes me feel privileged to get to pass a nice period of time with people who are so motivated and great to get along with.

Jason should be taking his test in the near future , he has solo cross country in the next day or so and he is ready to take his PPL.
Roger has been teaching him and has done a terrific job and they've worked well together as a team.
I will update when he gets his wings.....

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Man Flueeeey flu

I think I've lost count of the packets of tissues I've gone through this week,  the aches, pains, blocked ears & sleepless nights have been a bit tricky this week and thus far has me stuck on the ground doing ground school instead of in the air.
I am lucky to have Captain Roger Sprague here who is flying like a man possessed and doing a great job whilst I whimper in the classroom.
This week has carried on being busy in-between a few bad weather moments including a few very heavy isolated hail storms which passed through yesterday. (See the video below)

This week has been an adventurous one, also an up and down one in many ways.
I have a couple who have driven all of the way from the UK to spend 2 weeks here flying and unfortunately one of their parents has passed away yesterday so they will be heading back to the UK soon.
Lovely clear skies here with some cottonwool around
Our student Jason from the US is doing really well and we've had a set back with a  few bad weather days for him where he hasn't been able to do as much solo as we would have liked but he has caught up now and managed a flight to Poitiers and back solo yesterday.
Today is a gorgeous blue sky day and we are flying back to back flights with 3 students.
The weather is forecast is fabulous for the next week with even 18 degrees being forecast on Monday, so hopefully spring will have sprung soon, although we were greeted by -2 degrees on the morning doggie walk with Dobby today.

Dobby walks are a great start to the day

Monday, March 2, 2015

A pretty crazy month of February......

It didn't take too long to get back in the saddle of PPL teaching here in Limoges.
February has gone by super fast and between Roger & myself we have managed over 84 hours of flying. Not bad for winter month here in Europe.

We have had some great fun and adventures as well with our American and Russian students.
Lost in translation had nothing on us, we ended up having games of Charades to get some of the explanations over.
Both students have done incredibly well and are both at the stage of solo cross country and should be able to go for their flight test during the next few flight hours.
2 new students have joined us today, a couple from England, a husband and wife team who both want to get their pilot licenses.

Its the first time they have been to the area and have decided to come for 2 weeks and do as much as they can......
For the moment we are just hoping the weather will keep on keeping on and keep us up in the air each day.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Into the Groove

Dawn flying this week
Sunday afternoon and sitting at the flying club here in Limoges. I have a working computer now so can sit and type to my heart's content.
Its been a busy week here at the school since my return, its great to see new students coming in and progressing and the international flavor of things here continues, today I have a student here from Toulouse doing his theory exams, a Russian student doing his solo flying and an American student who lives in Italy here on solo navigation.
Over the last 12 months I've had students from France, Spain, Belgium, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Abu Dhabi, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Ireland and Scotland, which is something I really like as it brings some great fun and variety to the flying club here. Infact with my Russian and American students here at the moment we are having some moments of pure hilarity......... We even watched Tom Cruise in TopGun last night.......
I am really pleased to say I have found a cracking assistant instructor working full-time here with me now, Roger and he's settled really quickly and has been holding the fort whilst I have been gallivanting off in Africa and I'm pleased to say he's even tackling the french language with similar enthusiasm to the flight instructing.
The first two months of the year have seen the club posting record numbers of flight hours with our students contributing well to that aswell.
In the passed week we've had 2 students go for their first solo and also a longer term student pass his solo navigation cross country, along side this we've had 6 theory exams passed with more to come in the coming week.
The weather has been a huge help so far this month and we've regularly been able to fly from 8am though to 6pm and its nice to see the sun going down a little later each day. (As i sit here writing this at 6pm on Sunday evening my student is doing a few solo circuits)
Me and Dobby dog.....
Most importantly dobby my faithful dog is keeping us all well amused in between flights and is such a happy chap, although totally spoilt by everyone here, I'm surprised he's not the size of a house with all of the treats he gets.
Yury from Moscow after his first solo
We've had a few treats ourselves this passed week aswell with the Airbus Beluga airplane come to visit and park up next to the office, which brought everyone out for a look.
I am going to do my best to keep the blog updated once or twice per week going forwards so will keep taking as many pictures as I can.

The Airbus Beluga

Jason after his first solo with Instructor Roger

Niort Airport

Jason from the US who lives in Italy

Roger celebrates a good week with 2 desserts 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Moonpath home

What's seemed like a long 24 hours has passed and I am nearly back to England.
The route home is Bangui - Camaroon (5 hours lay over)- Paris (4 hours layover )- Amsterdam (2 hours lay over- Bristol where my gorgeous Naomi will be . 
Well I had a little drama on the night before returning as I went for dinner at a place next door to the hotel and stayed for half an hour after to watch one of the African football games and ended up being pick pocketed and lost my wallet. Totally daft of me to take it with me really, but all the cards are now cancelled and 50 quid lost.
A good night sleep after and time to get up and pack the last of my things and wait for Freddy the driver to come. The arrangement is quite good as there is an air France office in he city and you can check in there and give in all of the luggage rather than stand in crazy long queues at the airport in 36 degrees.
I get my bags checked in and a little forward planning grab some food now at my favorite little café and then I don't need to worry later.
The route to the airport is still quite a problem so the UN have organized convoys with the soldiers a long the route securing it.
It felt strange arriving at the airport after a few days away and this time for the last time. It's not off to see the weather guys or flight planning. It's homeward bound.
There's a little lounge at Bangui airport for about 15 people for you can pay $10 and get free drinks , air con and wifi. That's the option for me as there's 3 hours to wait.
I enjoy people watching and the lounge soon filled up with a wide variety of passengers . A Korean/A erican guy who was incredibly loud on his phone, then 2 minutes later was snoring like a thunderstorm.
Two American Vietnam vets, who must have been nearly 70 but they had both been hunting somewhere and were telling stories of their stalking .
Then the place fills up with military and fellow aid workers making their way home to where ever that is.
I'm not feeling very talkative so I put my headphones on with my audiobook and focus on my own personal voyage .
Now I'm checked in I allow my mind to wonderamd look forward to seeing Naomi and catching up on all of the things I've missed over the last 4 weeks.
I'm looking forward to seeing a few friends and also starting to get our longer term planning under way.
I think this trip has been good for me for starting to realize where I want things to go professionally in the near future and also it's given me time to reaffirm what I want and hope for in my personal life.
With a huge whoosh the Air France 777-200 lands in front of the window and its time to shake a leg.
This is it. Not exactly the time or the flight that I expected to be leaving Africa on but aviation has its own twists and turns and if you don't want to go nuts you just have to roll with them.
The boarding starts well but doesn't exactly go as planned as we are all lined up on the apron I can see a huge storm from about 5 miles out to the south heading in at a rate of knots, it's swallows up the refugee camp then shortly after we are getting sand blasted from the sand and dust, then it's closely followed by the heavy rain.we manage to scurry up the steps and as we are climbing them I see the captain doing his inspection under the belly of the plane and pointing the one of the tyres, from his sign language it looks like there's an issue.
I keep climbing up on to the plane and get guided to my seat. Disappointingly it's one of the worst in the cabin being next to the toilet, so not too much sleep for me, as I'm sure each flush is going to wake me up. 
It turns out I'm right about the captain and the tyre and there is an announcement over the PA system that we are going to be delayed for 45 mins as there's a tyre change to be done as something has stuck in the tyre on landing that's been left on the runway.
I end up having a nice chat with some of the cabin crew. Two guys, one of whom has worked with aviation sans Frontieres in the passed by looking after children on flights. They are intrigued as to life on the ground in Bangui and are quite surprised when I point out the kids football pitch 50 yards from us next to the runway .
The tyre gets repaired and we are underway, I have to say I was slightly concerned as night had fallen and usually there were no night operations in Bangui.
But we are rolling.
The first flight is scheduled as a short one only an hour and a half to Camaroon, where we have to land and wait for around 5 hours until midnight as we cannot land in Paris in the middle of the night and also there has to be a change of crew.
I couldn't stand sitting by the loo so I had a stroll once airborne and the flight was going quickly. As I was going back to my seat one of the flight crew pulled me aside and said he really admired what the pilots and worker for aviation sans Frontieres and aviation without borders do and he would let the incoming crew know there is an ASF pilot onboard for the next flight to Paris . He said there might be an extra slice of cake for me with dinner.......
I'm certainly a cake lover.......
It was time to strap in and land in Camaroon, we all have to get off the plane and sit in the transit lounge and wait, although they do lay on sandwiches and drinks, it's a long wait and I'm restless. 
I listen to my audio book and start to fidget and need a stroll and just keep repeating the process until it's time to reboard the aircraft and head to Europe . 
As everyone know where they were sitting the boarding seems to go quickly and I find my toilet and sit down. A quiet friendly voice of one of the cabin crew whispers in my ear as I grab my book, 
"Are you Mr Morton, the pilot with ASF" ?
"yes" I reply.
"Would you like to get your bag and follow me please?"
Slightly worried of an immigration issue a grabbed my bag and followed. 
I was introduced to the Captain in the forward galley who shook my hand and asked me how the work in Bangui had been. So I explained a few of the things we had been up to.
He put an arm on my shoulder and said " well done, I admire that"
"let's find somewhere comfortable for you to sleep " he says next. 
That'll be business class then....... As he shows me to a seat with a wink.
I can't believe my luck. It's like a little space age pod, seat 5E is to be my home for the night with big TV, a moving seat that turns into a bed and even a duvet. Not a flushing toilet in sight.
I settle into my seat and a glass of champagne is handed to me, and decide it's not time for pictures of myself sitting here, I just sat, took a huge deep breath and melted into the seat taking in my surroundings.
I had my eyes closed and felt a wave of relief wash over me.
I'm jolted from my reverie by a hand on my shoulder. The captain again. 
"Want to come and join me up front for departure?"
Looking slightly confused with glass of champagne in Hand he tells me to bring it with me.
So I follow him through the cockpit door and he gets me to strap into the jump seat between the pilots and I'm introduced to Thibault the co pilot in the right seat.
Sitting on the flight deck at midnight , glass of champagne in hand and watching the two Pilots go to work in between chatter about bush flying in the Central African Republic .
Pinching myself.
We are pushed back from the stand ,the lights are dimmed and we back track runway 01 for a 180 turn at the end on a tight turning padto line up for runway 19.
The captain briefs the departure, first turn, altitude and the co pilot gets take clearance.
The throttles go to full power and we are soon moving !!!
Air speed is alive, 
80 knots, check,
We are very quickly passing 150knots and starting our right turn.
As we turn onto heading and continue the climb we blast through a cloud layer and moon lights up the cockpit.
An amazing sight only gets better as I can see a distant lightening storm flashing away below us lighting up the clouds.
I have to remind myself I'm actually a pilot not an 8 year old.
The departure is pretty much complete as we reach our initial altitude and we have a really good chat about the plane I was flying in the bush and I can see a wry smile forming on the aging captain's face.
"It must have been amazing " he says almost to to himself.
"It certainly was Captain, I reply , almost to myself , as we climb away from Africa with the moon lighting our way.

The purser came into the cockpit to get the food order for the pilots dinner and the captain suggests I should go back with him as my dinner will be served shortly. 
Thanking both of them i retreat to my armchair like seat.
The food followed shortly after........
Fois Gras with smoked salmon
Followed by
Duck breast and vegetables.....
Followed by
Fondant Chocolate 
All accompanied by a chilled glass of white wine.

Quite a contrast the past few weeks.
As I sit and write this I am sitting in the airport after arriving into Paris. 
I have a few hours to wait, well I should be in Bristol in about 9 hours time.......

Monday, January 26, 2015

A mini post....

I wanted to write a quick Thankyou ,whilst I have some internet here to make a post, to my friends, family and also some strangers who have read my bog whilst I am out here in Africa flying for aviation without borders.
In the 4 weeks that I've been here there have been nearly 2000 views of my blog, which astounds me from all over the world . I have no idea how some people in Russia or Brazil, Indonesia or Ukraine have come across my ramblings. I have enclosed below some of the stats, on the list of countries it only lists the top 10 of the moment but there have been some very random places where people have been taking a peek at what I'm up to.
Thankyou for the kind messages of support both privately and publicly, it's really something that helps when on an adventure like this .

For the moment I am waiting to hear when my flight back to Europe will be as there are not too many flights out of here.
Thankyou once again. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Slowly slowly day by day

With security high on the list of priorities and what looks like 2 days until the next flight out of Bangui I'm kinda stuck at the hotel here at The Hotel du Centre. 
Like any budding tourist I grab my sunscreen , my glasses and my hat and I head for the pool........ mmmmmmm

What do I find ?
Well as for the water you can't see the bottom of the pool and it's only 1.5m deep and there's kind of a lot of floaty stuff on the top. 
The pool furniture could be described as a little tired and needing some care and attention.
The Mosquitos are buzzing around looking upon me as lunch. Maybe a tactical retreat to the bar is a better idea. 

Maybe I won't be spending my afternoon by the pool.
For me today seems to have been more about questions than answers.
When will I be heading back ?
What's next ?
Will they actually clean the pool ?  
Do I have enough winter clothes ? 
Will ASF have a need for me flying again?

(As I write that I get an alert on my phone that there has been another kidnapping , this time a government minister, here in the city.)

 It seems the kidnapping and armed hijackings continue here. 
Time to pop the news on and see what's happening. 

This afternoon I am here perusing through social networks, Twitter and facebook . 
There's not really any news about what happens here in Africa at all. It gets me wondering what the 24hr news channels would be like if a European Government minister rather than an African one was kidnapped at gunpoint. I imagine there would be "breaking news" on every channel.
I'm not sure if that's down to racism, lethargy or infact I have no idea why what happens on this massive continent doesn't seem to be globally important. 
I find that pretty sad. 
I wonder if I or one of my colleagues here were taken hostage whether it would be the same. Or would Sky news and Fox News be reporting it. 
It's a strange old situation and one that saddens me a little, this is a country here that is wealthy enough that it should be able to stand on its own two feet, infact it's probably too wealthy and that seems to be the cause of a lot of the issues, the diamond mining and gold and therefore fighting over who controls that under the guise of religious fighting. 
The one thing I do know for sure is that due to this there are thousands of displaced people, children and families who are refugees because of the violence . A generation of people who will grow up knowing nothing but conflict. 
Now as the tensions increase each day here ever so slightly day by day the first thing that happens is the NGO's here to help those displaced gradually scale down their work as its deemed unsafe. That then leads to desperate times for the families, villages and groups. 
That desperation then leads to more conflict and the cycle goes on again. 

I'm guessing not so many smiles today on the faces of those children whom I've met over the passed month.
I suspect they will be looking to the skies wondering if our airplanes coming to help bringing people and aid.
But no plane today, and probably not tomorrow. 
I hope they manage to keep smiling I really do

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Heavy heart

I received word here today, not that I am too surprised, but it's still really disappointing that due to the ongoing deterioration in security close to us and in the area that we will be suspending operations for the time being and that I will be put on the next flight home leaving here for safety reasons. 

It's become quite apparent over the last few days since the hijackings and kidnappings that these weren't isolated incidents but a seemingly growing campaign. 
It's been made clear to me from the start that Aviation sans Frontieres/ Aviation without Borders puts our safety at the top of the list. It's one of the reasons why I agreed to come over. 
These guys have been doing this kind of work for many many years so when they say it's time to move I just ask where to . 
I only found this news out about an hour  so still digesting it at the moment and looking around my hotel room and looking at all of my stuff and realising I will have to pack. 
I'm sure I will write a few bits over the coming days before I manage to get on a flight back and will try to get some pictures of the city here before I head back to winter.....

Thought for the day:
1. I can't believe I am going to leave before the xmas decorations are down
2. Refer to number 1.

Friday, January 23, 2015

A non flying day is never a good day but there are some smiling faces

Last night I received a heads up that today's flying has had to be cancelled due to uncertainties on the ground here at the moment. There are reports and rumors of issues along various routes out of the city. The various NGO's (Non governmental Organizations) including ours are working on a convoy arrangement with the UN to keep things flowing so hopefully we'll be back in the air tomorrow. 
Spending time just sitting on the ground here isn't too much fun. Most of the NGO's who operate here do so from compounds where there is a house and kitchen and things to do and people to see, a small community. Unfortunately we don't work like that and are based in a small hotel, so when we aren't flying there is only a hotel room keep one amused or a short walk to the cafe along the road, we can't venture too far.
 I've read 6 books in the 23 days that I've been here thus far. 
So today I won't be writing a post about flying to one of the outposts that usually do each day maybe I'll just write what I can see here.

I am sat here in the cafe enjoying a yoghurt and lemon tea, as I look around me there are half a dozen European soldiers lining up for a coffee and a coissant, armed to the teeth with automatic rifles and also a group of French Gendarmes (French Police), similarly suited in body armor with rifles strapped to their chests and side arms attached to their belts.
 At the same time there are locals going about their business having morning meetings over their coffee chatting over the coming working day. Next to me a Chinese man is busying himself with his computer. It's a calm and relaxed place yet when I think about it, utterly surreal. The serving waitresses here in their bright pink shirts serve each and every one of us in the relaxed African way. 
The thing that ties everyone together is everyone stops to watch the tv in the corner to see if there's any news of what's happening at the moment. The gendarmes have their breakfasts and leave really politely saying good morning to everyone and they mount their armoured personnel carrier mounted on the pavement being guarded by their colleagues. It must be seriously hot in there as its over 30 degrees already and heading for 39 today. 
As I'm looking out of the window the visibility with the fog isn't too great this morning and the dust is being thrown up from the passing of vehicles is just making it worse. The roads here are a kind of sandy red mud, pitted and potholed which limits the speed which you can move around. 
Maybe I'll have another tea.
The world of the cafe gets more surreal as a group of nuns now arrive for their morning coissant. 
The nuns are a classy bunch of girls though as they've gone for lemon tea like me. 
The irony of it all. 
A few people have written to me via facebook this week and asked why I'm doing this and don't I think it's too risky. 
My response is what we are doing here is vital for helping the Aid organizations keeping their operations moving. Without us they would have to drive usually for 12-15 hours to most of the places I can fly to in 2 hours. Plus their convoy probably wouldn't arrive as they drive through areas of severe turmoil. When I get to see the smile on the faces of the kids I saw yesterday the smile that shows relief, the smile of gratitude of their parents and the villagers that there are people there willing to help, the answer is Yes it is certainly worth it. 
Just because we can sit at home in Europe with the comfort blanket of security that we take for granted and we don't know who these people are or even where their country is, does that mean we should just leave them to it ? For me no. The risks are managed and monitored and I would never put myself in harms way.
I have a skill that can help out, it might only be a drop in the ocean as far as the help is concerned but that drop in the ocean has a ripple effect. 
Yes it might be hot and dusty . Yes there are Mosquitos and very little internet. 
Yes I miss my girlfriend and I miss my kids. 
But it's six weeks. In six weeks a lot can be done. 
In six weeks I get to see a lot of those smiling faces. 
That's the currency here. 

Two weeks today I will be on a flight home to my girlfriend and my family and when they ask me how it went. 

I will tell them I made people smile. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Turbulent time & one HUGE plane

Up before dawn this morning. 
It's seems the one and only dog I have seen in Bangui has decided to start barking outside my window at 5am. I'm determined not to go and see him or it will be the same each day.
So a slow wake up and time to take advantage of some hot water before heading for a stroll up the road for breakfast. 
A quick yoghurt and Freddie is there to take me off to the airport for today's flight to Carnot not too far from where I was yesterday, but certainly not going to be taking extra baggage !! 
Today's NGO is NRC and they work with children. I'm taking a new group of aid workers in to the village there. 
When I have filed my plan and got the weather I came out of the office to see the biggest plane I have ever seen in my life and it's parked in the middle of the apron and causing a nightmare for movement of all of the aircraft. 
I watched them loading some of the cargo onboard and it was incredible how much they can put in there. 
My passengers arrive on time and I pack them on it with their baggage and call for start up . 
I get the plane running and get told I'm number 5 for departure....
It's going to take a little while, time to open the windows and have a chat with the passengers .
I finally get called to taxi behind a LETT and he in turn is behind a 737.
Patiently I'm tapping my fingers on the dash and the call comes through the back track and line up on the runway. 
We taxi passed the kids playing football next to the runway, turn to line up on runway 35, push the throttle and wait for 65kts and away we head off in to the morning mist. I turn to head due West and climb up to 9000'. 
Up into the cruise and a nice cool drink and it's time to plan the arrival once again. 
There is runways 35/17 to choose from. I hear on the open frequency that my friend with the Dash8 that I seem to cross quite often Lin already there and he briefs me on the situation down there and we organize my arrival and his departure.
It's time to descend and start looking for the strip. The one thing here , the approach plates are very detailed and we've spent a lot of time programming the 2 gps's onboard and usually we can drop straight over the dusty strip if we follow the guide lines.
As per the plan, mr dash8 has taken off and I join over head for an inspection of the runway which seems clear, so it's flaps down power back and line up. 
I'm pleased to say the landing is better than yesterday's .

Upon taxiing to the clearing I can see lots people waiting , including dozens of children. What a greeting, it's like school fayre with Z list celebrity arriving. They've obviously been looking forward to my passengers arriving. Everyone is waving. Quite a sight. 
Also lovely relief from some of the stress that's built up over the passed few days with the security issues. 
It's nice to get to have a chat with the Aid workers and see what they are doing for 10 minutes and high 5 a few of the kids. I wonder what this must seem like to them. Here they live, in one of the most secluded areas of this country and here pops in an airplane in what can really be described as the dirt track infront of their village. 
The above photo is the runway.

As I keep an eye on the time I see it's time to board the 2 aid workers who need to head back to the big city. 
The wind is calm so I take the 17 runway to head off. The lighter plane springs Into the air with ease and it's time head east and back Bangui. 
I chose 7000' for the return as the winds were lower for the way back. As I reach the Bangui the area and in radio contact with Bangui tower I manage to request the arrival I want and after 1hour 20 in the cruise it's time to start the descent. 
No sooner had I put the nose forward and trimmed for 500' per minute descent and the plane was being bounced around all over the place. A little midday turbulence was rearing its head. No scrap that. A lot of midday turbulence was grabbing ahold of my plane and rattling it like a kids toy. 
It's the first time since I've been in Africa that I've really had any. I had allowed one of the passengers to sit next to me up front and was starting pray he wouldn't get stressed or throw up. Funnily enough I take a look over and he's loving it. Like he's on a fair ground ride, and then takes out his iPhone and starts to video himself. Whatever next ?
Fortunately I was able to descend straight down to 3000' and it's virtually cleared by then, but I realised my palms were sweating. 
I get called in number one to land and I follow the GPS approach into runway 17 at Bangui and with 4000metres visibility I see the runway a few miles out and we are down on the Tarmac. 
To my surprise the enormous Russian cargo plane is still there and it's engines are running. Once the aid workers and their bags are safely back in the terminal I ask Freddie to take a fun picture with me and the plane..... 
It's an early finsh here due to an early start so I thinking about some Humus for lunch and my favourite Lebanese restaurant.

Thoughts for the day:

1. Ok so they say pictures speak louder than words!!

2. I agree, pictures do........

3. It's just wrong.

4. I hope no one else is reading this and is going to tell me there is a special law in the Central African Republic regarding decorations. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Healthy, flying & gun running

I deliberately didn't write a post yesterday. 

There was quite a bit going on security wise here in Bangui and I decided it would be far better to find out the reality of what's going on rather than seeing the news here and mentioning heresay and rumor. 
So 24 hours after the event yesterday morning a friend of mine and fellow pilot Leo who flies for the UN was traveling to the airport along the main airport road when there was an attempted hijacking & kidnapping by guys on motorbikes with AK47 assault rifles of him and his fellow pilots who were all traveling together In aUN marked 4x4.They had a good driver who managed to get them out of the situation swiftly and to a place of safety. A short while after a second kidnap attempt was made and on UN staff and this one was successful and as reported on the news a UN worker was kidnapped. This comes after 2 hostages were also taken the night before. My friend Leo informed me that there was a second attempt on flight crew in uniform in the same area later in the morning once again unsuccessful. Which lead to a theory that pilots were being targeted. 
The best part of the news is the kidnapped worker was freed late last night, although the ambiance here does seem have changed dramatically . The situation seems to have arrisen from one of the rebel leaders was arrested by the UN on Sunday night and the rebels have decided to take hostages to organize a swap. 

For once I feel happy that I was ill yesterday. And wasn't going to the airport at the same time as normal.
Today there have been a lot of French forces on the roads with helicopters in the sky, the route to the airport couldn't have been any safer if we were traveling with Barack Obama. 
So I'm happy to say my illness has passed and I was able to go and see the friendly chaps in the flight planning room and get the weather for a return trip to Bayanga in the far west of the country. Bayanga as I've said before is the home to a massive nature reserve and today's flight was for the WWF project based there. I had cargo and the head of mission to transport. 
Flight plan filed and luggage/cargo weighed stowed onboard it's time to fire up my 6 cylinders and get airborne.
Departure clearance received and I'm off racing down runway 17.
It wasn't long before we were up in the cruise and I was discussing with my passenger that he knows Devon where I'm from and also Dorset...... Such a small world sometimes. 
There wasn't great visibility at all today which is a shame when flying over a nature reserve I'd really like to be able to get some good aerial photos whilst I'm here. At 32 nm out I started my descent after a good look at the approach plate and planned my arrival from the East to fly over head and then proceed for runway 02 landing over the river. 
As I joined overhead I saw a lot of people on the ground but not the security cars that I was looking for. 
I decided to orbit over head as per our standard operating procedures as we can't land unless the strip is secured. As I completed my second orbit I saw the tell tale dust spewing up from behind 2 4x4s enroute to the strip so I made one more orbit until all was good and set up the approach from 1000` above. 
As I lined up the final approach things got a little bumpy with a bit or thermals and sinkers off of the river.
If I'm totally honest it wasn't my best landing I've made since I've been here but my passenger seemed happy enough. 
I taxied over to the waiting crowd and the fun began........
I disembarked my passenger and all of his cargo with the help of his colleagues then met the two aid workers that I was to take back to Bangui with me. I was happy to see they only had light hand luggage with them. As I was chatting to them I noticed a local guy trying to open the cargo door of my plane trying to put a suitcase in there, he didn't realise that the cargo door opens from the inside. I presumed he was loading the suitcase for my passenger so I checked with each passenger and they said they didn't have anything so I went with the head of mission there to ask what he was doing. 

He told me he had some Fish that needs to go to Bangui. I said to him I would need to look inside any bag before its allowed on the plane if it's traveling for the charity without someone accompanying it, so I pick the suitcase up. Ummmmm I said to him, this isn't fish as fish doesn't sound like bits of metal jingling around when you pick it up. I dont work for WWF the man said, he then made a rushed and panicstriken phone call, virtually unable to pick up his metal/fish filled suitcase. It looked like a scene from Mr Bean. It seemed quite obvious that this was a crude attempt at moving some guns and ammunition . After what had happened to my friend Leo yesterday the hairs went up on the back of my neck and I politely asked the gentleman to use another aircraft. The look of anger on his face was intense and one of the other WWF workers came to inform me that someone had been caught attempting gun running in recent weeks with another plane that flies in too. The reason I write about this is not to glorify gun running or make it sound adventurous out here, I mention it in the hope that any other pilots working in this environment might take note. As it's very easy to get distracted as a single pilot operating here and for people to slip things onto the plane. I for one will be more aware at each site now. 
I loaded my 2 aid workers onboard and taxied back down the track, and when I say track I really mean track instead of runway. I really like this one as you set full power, then release the brakes it kind of launches you off and you are airborne and 300ft over a huge river in no time at all. Very picturesque. 
We climb out to the east with a direct track for Bangui and my passengers seem really excited. Two French guys taking dozens of pictures. They apparently work with the Local elephants and track them and from the air they tell me they can see the tracks. Proper French crocodile dundees I think to myself .
We head up again into the murky stuff. Unfortunately it's not an easy arrival back to Bangui today with a lot of traffic around coming in from everywhere and Mr Controller is a bit frought. I finally get called out of my hold and slot in behind the Dash8 I seem to encounter quite a lot  and approach over the city of Bangui for runway 35.

Touch down and taxi in. 
I then realise that my non gun running adventure isn't quite over.  
As soon as I park the plane and my 2 French crocodile dundees are off to the terminal a chap approaches in a fluorescent jacket asking me for the suitcase from Bayanga. "Hmmmm" I say.
"I don't have any suitcases from Bayanga just two guys who know a lot about elephants. "
Oh he says and looks very unhappy indeed as he looks around the outside of the plane. 
He shakes his head and heads off.
My ever helpful Freddie turns up to help me close up the plane and refuel and as I am checking the fuel levels a heavy set Police Woman marches along the apron and demands to know where the suitcase from Bayanga is. With a face like thunder.
I explain that someone asked me to take a suitcase on the plane without showing me the contents and not being from an NGO or on my flight manifest so it would not be allowed on the aircraft and so the suitcase full of metal fish is still with the gentleman there. 
The way she looked at me was as though I had just accused her of being Welsh. Non too amused. She muttered something rude , shaking her head and marched off to where she had come from. Freddie and I shared a smile packed the last of the plane off in the 36 degrees and headed for home. 
I feel an ice cold can of coke waiting for me. 

Thoughts for the day:
1. I've been away from home for 3 weeks. It's gone incredibly fast 

2. The hotel still has its xmas decorations up and it bothers me

3. I can see their point, they are getting 2 months use out of their decorations but it still bothers me

4. A guy tried to stash a suitcase of guns in my plane today. That doesn't happen too often in ones flying career

5. Two weeks tomorrow and I will be heading back home 

A pretty big week of flying with some centreline hopscotch.....

Hours flown this month(FEB): 33 Landings: 8 Countries visited: 5  Continents visited: 3  Quick iron of the shirt and in th...