First a word or twelve about the hospitality of the DHL Air Cargo folks at the Bahrain airport. As briefly mentioned previously, they had extended the invitation to hangar the aircraft due to high winds on the day of arrival at Bahrain. It would have made my visit very uncomfortable if the Red Rockette had to sit in that wind with no tie downs available. The chaps also helped me a great deal with minor maintenance items that were easy to deal with because of their great attitude about keeping such a vintage treasure in first class order. I cannot thank them enough for their assistance and hospitality. The manager of this facility is from Scotland, where this aircraft was first flown as a British Royal Navy “Traveller” in 1944. He was pleased to hear of the old girls history in his home country during WWII. As some of you know, in the future I plan to stop at that airfield where she was first based, todays Glasgow Airport, in order to give her a homecoming party. So a BIG THANKS to the DHL chaps of the Bahrain facility.
I first went to the airfield on Monday, 3 Jan with plans to depart for Amman, Jordan that day. However, I found a broken inner landing gear door retract spring broken. The aircraft engineers of DHL soon found the appropriate spring but by the time it was replaced it was too late to depart for Amman, some 920 or so nautical miles away. Having anticipated headwinds, I had planned the flight for 7 hours 20 minutes or so, the longest leg of the entire journey so far. With numerous little projects tended to, I returned to a hotel and prepared for the next mornings departure. A nice Italian dinner with my local hostess near the US Navy facility in Bahrain was a nice way to complete my visit to Bahrain.
A short taxi ride to the airport early on Tuesday, 4 Jan 2011, easy formality procedures due to the special assistance agent/handler and shortly I was at the aircraft. This time all went well with the preflight and the ATC and taxi clearance was quickly received. With the luxury of a 13,000 ft. runway I was fairly certain that the Red Rockette and I could somehow manage getting into the air together even though heavy with fuel. The tail lifted by itself in the 15 knot wind down the runway, then after what I though was a fairly short roll she lifted off with no hint of heaviness. What a wonderful aircraft Mr. Walter Beech and Ted Wells had designed! And what a great job of restoring her to even better than new condition by the Croydon Aircraft Company of Mandeville, New Zealand. I often thank them all silently for this wonderful red magic carpet.
The route to the west was overflying Al Khobar port in Saudi Arabia, then over Dahran and Dammam (HQ of Aramco oil company with it’s American compound) and onwards into the barren desert on a nearly direct course to Hail, in the northern center of Saudi Arabia. There was an early challenge to this part of the journey. My original clearance was to cruise at 8,000 feet. I was then requested to climb to 12,000 feet. This was a great deal to ask of a very heavy aircraft even with a great 450 horsepower engine up front There was a military exercise taking place to the west of my position and if I wanted to continue I either had to climb to a higher altitude or go around the area…a VERY long way around and not really feasible. Or return to Bahrain. That was not really even considered. So climb we did, the old girl and I. Slowly but surely we climbed. A compromise was reached with ATC to cruise at 11,000 feet. We reached that altitude in good order, she felt comfortable and did not complain about being up there at the current weight. What a good old girl. After several hundred miles I was past the military exercise area and recleared to 8000 feet. The winds were nearly the same at both altitudes…amazingly on the tail most of the way.
There were long stretches of nothingness on the eastern half of the journey. But along the way my course was quite often within sight of the highway that crosses this part of the country. There have been times in our partnership…the Red Rockette and I…that it seemed I was racing the trucks on highways when flying into a strong headwind. Not so today. We were zipping right along. The time out here in the middle did not seem to drag on at all. There were many, many checkpoints along the airway that needed attention in the GPS, the logging of same, trying to keep upright in turbulence, maintaining altitude, heading, etc, etc. It was actually a busy trip that just passed quickly. Every now and then a few buildings in a remote village would appear. One has to imagine what life would be like way out there in the middle.
Approaching Hail, an interesting sight appeared. Irrigated areas with wells in the center of giant circles with some type of crop growing. I’ve not had time to research the area on the net but it was a welcome relief to endless sand dunes. Hail is quite large but very brown from the air. Looked like a place where everything one owned would be dusty before long. Then came the mountains to the north and west of Hail. They are rugged and a most beautiful sight from the air with numerous shades of color from various minerals. It appears that they had been exposed for a very, very long time. They also provided lift to form a line of cumulus clouds that actually produced a little rain. I doubt that any of it ever reached the ground. A glider pilot would have enjoyed the day here until the decision about where to land came up. So no gliders were in the area.
This is getting too long. The rest of the journey into Jordan was in the clear until reaching the area about 50 miles to the southeast of Amman. Then clouds created by the lifting for the mountains again appeared but this time with more haze than out in the middle. A vector from the airway to avoid the Queen Alia Int’l airport was given and soon I was talking to Marka airport tower. I had been kept at relatively high altitude so a few turns in order to descend into the valley where the airport and Amman sit. Nice long runway and welcoming faces with big smiles greeted me in the civil area of the Royal Wings hangar. I was finally in Amman, having been planning this, the longest leg of the journey, for a long time.
Off to Paphos, Cyprus next Monday, 10 Jan 2011. The low altitude routing will be south around the bottom of Israel, then north through Egypt and into the Med to Cyprus. There I look forward to a visit with old friends from Europe who live much of the year in Paphos, on the southwest coast of Cyprus. I can taste the German fried potatoes now.
And so it goes.