Dick Poole remembers an adventure from his time in Flight Test at Dunsfold…
The Indonesian Air Force had ordered a substantial number of Hawk Mk 53 jet trainer aircraft and it was decided that they should be flight tested and accepted by the customer at Dunsfold aerodrome.
Once the property of the IAF they were to be ferried to Yogyakarta by aircrew supplied by British Aerospace. The aircraft were normally ferried in pairs for logistic and safety reasons and I was asked to take part in the ferrying of the 4th pair leaving the UK on 6th January 1981. The expedition was to be led by Dunsfold test pilot Chris Roberts and Jerry Crumbie, an instructor contracted to train Indonesian pilots in England. I accompanied Chris in aircraft LL5307 and Jerry flew LL5308.
The ferry route was Dunsfold to Malta, Luxor, Bahrain, Bombay, Calcutta, Bangkok and Butterworth in Malaysia to Yogyakarta and was flown with 100 gallon drop tanks on the inboard pylons of each aircraft. Each aircraft also carried an empty under-fuselage gun-pod with the ammunition tank loaded with ground locks, covers other supporting equipment and personal kit wrapped in polythene bags for protection from vented hydraulic fluid and engine oil.
The route was planned with some two-leg days and with rest days at Bahrain and Bangkok. Ferrying these military aircraft across each country required a diplomatic clearance that was valid for three days only so the rest days were built into the plan to provide buffers to enable minor unservicabilities to be sorted out without the risk of overrunning the validity of the clearances. Communication difficulties would be expected to make negotiating extensions of the clearances down the route to be very difficult.
At each refuelling stop the ferry leader had to satisfy the requirements of the local bureaucracy, pay bills, check the weather and file a flight plan, usually some distance from the aircraft. This left the second pilot to turn around both aircraft so a flight test observer was provided to share this task, especially important on the two-leg days in the demanding ambient conditions of Africa, India and Asia.
We made a formation take off from Dunsfold on runway 25 at about 10 am with Chris leading. We then returned for a pass along the runway before heading off to the south until cleared by air traffic to climb to join the airway system for the flight to Malta. This involved cruising above 35,000 ft at a ground speed of approximately 7.5 nm per minute. For air-traffic control we were identified as 'Hotel Alpha Whiskey Kilo formation' and we communicated with them on VHF. Inter aircraft communication was on UHF and we met the radio redundancy requirements as a formation.
On arrival at Malta we set about what was to become the standard
routine for overnight stops. This consisted of refuelling, oxygen
replenishment, fitting of undercarriage ground locks, attaching intake
covers, making a quick inspection of sight glasses, tyres and the
airframe in general and removal of personal gear, in its essential
plastic bags, from the under-fuselage gun pods. Having prepared the
aircraft for the next leg of the journey we took a taxi to our hotel,
showered, went to dinner in a fish restaurant in Slima and then to bed.
After an early breakfast we did the aircraft Daily Inspections, loaded equipment and personal kit, filed our flight plan and checked the weather reports for what was to be our first two-leg day. Luqa airport was relatively chilly and we were glad to board the aircraft and reach the comfort of the ECS system.
We made a formation take off on runway 140 and climbed steadily to 41,000 ft heading out over the Mediterranean in an easterly direction until we were south of Sicily. Here we altered course to a south easterly heading aiming to cross the North African coast at El Daba and then traverse the desert until we reached the Nile, which we followed to Luxor. The course of the Nile was emphasised by its bordering vegetation as a result of irrigation and which terminated in dun coloured desert.
Whilst Luxor is a civil airport supporting the tourist trade visiting the valley of the Kings it also incorporates a number of concrete hardened aircraft shelters covered in rock and sand. A number of anti-aircraft gun sites could be seen around its perimeter.
We landed and taxied to a hard standing away from the airliner apron and Chris set off to meet the operations staff to file our flight plan, clear customs, check the weather and pay an extortionate fee to the Egyptian authorities.
Our parking area was almost deserted but not far away was a collection of stray dogs that padded around apparently aimlessly in the midday heat. One, which from a distance could have passed as a pedigree black Labrador, selected a patch of black asphalt taxiway to lie down on and when a B737 approached rose at the last possible moment, shook itself and ambled out of the way. As soon as the aircraft had passed it shuffled back to its resting place and stretched out as before.
Once Chris returned we quickly retreated to our cockpits looking forward to the comfort supplied by the CAU from engine start. On receipt of clearance to taxy we headed out to the runway for a pairs take off lead by Chris.
After take off we headed east and climbed to 37,000 ft to cross Saudi Arabia and on to Bahrain International Airport and a slip day. The early part of the flight included the crossing of the Red Sea that appeared to be a deep blue colour with what looked like white sandy beaches which contrasted with the dun coloured surface with some black rock or tar we had got used to seeing. Periodically whilst flying over Saudi airspace we observed some large airfields but were much too high to identify any aircraft that might have been on them.
Chris decided to hand over the lead to Jerry on this leg and we formed up on his starboard side for our pairs take off. On past delivery flights the aircraft had flown to Karachi on the way to India but a strong tailwind was forecast so it was decided that the formation could make Bombay in one go with the option of diverting to Karachi if tailwind did not materialize. In the event the tailwind was around 60 kts and we were able to fly above 40,000 ft so we had adequate fuel reserves
This leg of the flight was almost entirely over the water of the Arabian Sea and because of the need to stay out of Iranian airspace was almost out of sight of land for some time. We took a great interest in spotting the wakes of ships 41,000 ft below in case some engine problem might result in the need to eject over the sea. We were also out of VHF range of air traffic control and had to request nearby airliners equipped with HF radios to relay to them our reporting point arrival times and ETAs at the next one. Half way across we sensed a momentary change in the note from the CAU that caught our attention for a few seconds before it died away not to recur again on our journey.
After about 2 hours 30 minutes in the air we sighted the coast of India and on crossing the coast headed north to Bombay International Airport . The atmosphere was very hazy and we over-flew the city that looked hot, dry and dusty with sprawling slums intermingled with areas of more affluent dwellings. Once on the ground Chris asked control if we could park on the apron outside the terminal, as past ferries had done, and we were directed there and shut down to face the battle with Indian bureaucracy.
We climbed down from the aircraft in the hot sun and carried out the normal turnaround tasks, put the covers on the intakes and ground locks in and then found that the airport had changed dramatically since the last ferry went through. The adjacent terminal had been demoted to domestic flights only as the brand new international terminal was now operational. This accounted for the lack of large aircraft in the vicinity of our parking slot and meant that all flight planning, customs and immigration activities were located some distance away in the new buildings.
Our refuelling activities attracted a large number of spotters who asked lots of questions about the Hawks and held heated debates amongst themselves as to its performance. I supervised the refuelling and at the end the Indian bowser driver presented me with a small bottle containing fuel and a number of particles to examine. I was horrified thinking that he had filled the aircraft with contaminated fuel and very relieved that the particles had been added to the bottle to indicate that it did not contain any water. To prove his point he poured out some of the particles onto his palm and spat on them, whereupon they immediately turned blue.
Part of the documentation necessary to obtain entry and exit from each country is the provision of a General Customs Declaration and it became apparent that minor officials would cease to be obstructive once given a copy. Chris feely distributed these and eventually a customs officer dressed in a white naval type uniform cleared the paperwork and accompanied us back to the aircraft in order to seal it until departure. This process consisted of removing a ball of used masking tape strips from his pocket and using two to stick a piece of printed paper across the canopy to fuselage gap adjacent to the opening handle. He had also been useful in that he appeared to have the authority to flag down airport traffic to drive us to the aircraft. He was not too pleased when he heard that we needed to have the aircraft unsealed at 05:30 on the following day.
With the aircraft put to bed we took a short taxi ride to the Airport Centaur Hotel, a large oval shaped building with gardens and a pool in the centre and rooms with noisy, yet welcome air conditioning. The following morning we breakfasted on tropical fruits such as mangoes and papayas and met our customs man by the aircraft and observed him retrieving his masking tape and returning it to the ball from his pocket.
This leg of the journey was a bit disappointing as the haze to the north of us obscured the Himalayas and Everest was invisible. The terrain below was sandy brown and not very interesting but we were entertained by the air traffic exchanges between Indian air traffic and a Luxemburger flying some form of air freighter. It appeared that neither could fully understand the other but eventually tiring of these exchanges Chris interjected a few words that seemed to solve the problem.
We arrived at Calcutta before lunchtime and set about the usual turn round tasks and encountered an unwanted unserviceability. On refuelling the port drop tank on Chris's aircraft it failed to fill so we were left with an 800lb fuel asymmetry and had an interesting debate on what course of action to take. The piloting view was that we should use the gravity fuelling facility (drop tank filler cap) to fill the tank and hope that the pressure changes encountered in flight would cause fuel to begin transferring again. This had the advantage in that we would be symmetrically loaded for take off. The length of the next leg to Bangkok and remaining legs did not require any drop tank fuel and this option was adopted.(To be continued)