Friday's Fabulous Flyer!
We have another Aviation Author in our midst. And... just in time to be Friday's Fabulous Flyer! When pilots write, they save the day for those busy bloggers. I'm home. I'm alive. And I will update more often. But for today... Please welcome Kevin.
"Blame it on Biggles? I suppose I must. When I was ten someone lent me a copy of Biggles and the Cruise of the Condor, and after reading it there was no doubt in my mind about what I was going to do with my life, I was going to be a pilot, and that was that.
I did an Air Cadet gliding course when I was seventeen and soloed in a Kirby Cadet, which is a pretty basic, open cockpit glider. When I was nineteen I got my Private license and worked my way up, over a few years, to an Airline Transport Pilot License.
I flew De Havilland Doves, for a large company involved in map making. The Dove was a lovely airplane to fly. I would describe it as a Chipmunk with two engines. Not long after joining the company I was sent off to Cyprus to do a complete mapping survey of the island, which took a month. I had a great time, flying in the morning, beach in the afternoon. The perfect holiday, and they were paying me rather well for doing it.
However, I had other plans for the longer term, though strange as it may sound I had no desire to be an airline pilot. The idea of big jets left me cold. No, what I saw myself doing was working abroad, preferably in hot climates, flying light aircraft into interesting places. So that was what I did, for eleven years.
My first overseas job was in Africa with the Zambia Flying Doctor Service, based in a little mining town called Ndola. We flew Brittan-Norman Islanders out to remote bush airstrips, with doctors and nurses, for routine clinics and responded to emergency calls to bring in the sick or injured to be treated in Ndola’s general hospital. Zambia is about three times the size of the UK, or just a bit bigger than Texas. When I was there during the mid-1970’s in the whole country there were only two functioning VOR’s, one airport with radar, and a handful of low-power NDB’s. Virtually all our navigation was by map-reading and dead-reckoning, interesting because the only maps available were pretty out of date. They even contained blank strips and occasionally told outright lies.
On one occasion I was dispatched to a distant airstrip to pick up a seriously ill patient. The map showed the strip as being to the south-east of a large village. However, when I got there I found myself circling over some scrubby fields with no sign of a runway. I decide to credit the map makers with the biggest possible error and shifted my search to the north-west of the town. And lo, my cynicism was rewarded. There was the airstrip.
On my return to the UK I worked for a while in the Orkney Islands, off the north coast of Scotland, again flying Islanders. That operation was essential to the local community. We linked the outlying islands to the main island and from there to the mainland. As well as doing scheduled services we also provided air ambulance cover. I remember landing one night, by the flickering light of goose-neck flares, to pick up a sick person from an island. The flight, over a fog laden sea, had been oddly surreal. By the light of a car’s headlights the doctor shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you for coming.’ A typical island airstrip was an undulating cow pasture with runway markings in the grass and a windsock. It was about the nearest thing you could get to bush flying in the UK. At the end of the day our clothes smelled of cow poo and the aircraft had to be hosed down.
My next overseas job was in the Malaysian State of Sarawak, on the island of Borneo.
We mainly flew Twin Otters, though we had a Bandeirante for a while. It was a mixed helicopter and airplane operation serving the offshore oil industry. I signed up for two years and stayed for eight. For about half my time there I was an instructor on the Twin Otter, carrying out the pilots’ periodic checks and training new pilots. Life was good, we lived near the sea in permanent summer.
On our return to the UK I decided that it was time to give my family some stability, so it had to be an airline next.
The idea of living near a big city like London or Manchester held no appeal for any of us, so I accepted a job as a Captain with a little airline called Brymon Airways, based in Plymouth, Devon, flying another great De Havilland airplane, the Dash 7.
Like the Dove the Dash 7 handled like a Chipmunk, albeit one with four engine, and there was always a temptation to show off the airplane’s fantastic STOL performance. Even at places like Heathrow it could come handy, to make a quick exit from a runway. However, we operated into a number of airports where we needed it for real. Unst was one, London City Airport was another. Originally LCA had a 7.5 degree glidepath and almost the only aircraft of any size that could manage that was the Dash 7. You had to get the interception exactly right with full flap coming down as the glideslope needle hit the center. After that it was almost a glide approach with everything nicely stable.
Brymon Airways eventually taken over by British Airways and later became part of BA CitiExpress/ BA Connect. Dash 7’s were replaced by Dash 8 300’s, which in turn, in my case, gave way to Embraer 145’s.
After several years the company handed over to Flybe, and the Embraer 145 was phased out. I had a number of options but the one that fitted in best with my family commitments was the Dash 8 Q400 based at Exeter. That took care of the last five years of my career.
I retired in 2012 at age sixty-five. However, I could not just walk away. I took a course to get my Flight Instructor Rating back, also I have a share in an Aeronca Chief, so I keep flying."
Kevin The Author:
have always enjoyed writing and over the years I wrote several articles for
aviation magazines. The idea for Marshall’s Family came to me while I was in
Malaysia and I started writing notes for it then. It was originally going to be
set in a Europe that was being invaded by Russia. When the Cold War ended I
decided that setting was no longer appropriate so I shifted the action to
Africa, which turned out to be a far better location. I was able to weave into
the story a good deal of my own African experience and the novel almost wrote
man at the center of the story is Richard Marshall, an American pilot working
in an unnamed African country. His personal life is a mess, he has an English
wife who despises him, a daughter who brings
home problems and a lover who wants him all to herself. A violent military coup
in the country throws Marshall’s life into further chaos, as he struggles to
protect a number of people who are being hunted by the new regime.
Marshall is a man who instinctively avoids responsibility whenever he can, the
responsibilities just keep piling up, until perhaps the fate of the entire
nation rests on his shoulders. Two dramatic flights lead him into ever greater
danger and he becomes the custodian of knowledge that can lead to torture and
death. Can he save himself, his family and his lover. Nothing is certain."
Enjoy the Journey!!