Part One – Preparations and Arrival
It was a strange feeling I had on the 16th of May 2013 as we edged our way slowly across the Nile on The 6th October Bridge in Cairo, through the chaos which is the normal midday traffic in Africa’s largest city. The feeling was two-fold. Firstly, I had just returned to Egypt three weeks before after an enforced return to the UK for 11 months and this was going to be our latest arrival of another long distance flight. Not unusual as such but this time I was on my own, not counting the driver. Ahmed, my partner in G.A.S.E., was away doing some work in Tbilisi, Georgia, which meant I was in charge of all the hosting we had arranged for our soon to arrive pilot.
The second strange feeling was brought on by the fact that I was intently watching a small icon move across the screen of my smart phone; it showed the track of our pilot coming through via his onboard tracker and as I watched patiently I realized he was passing overhead at 2,500ft! I looked out the window but couldn’t see him for all the high rise buildings but for one second I thought I could hear something…but this was more than likely wishful thinking.
Normally I would have been panicking…the pilot was overhead and I was still 30 km away from the airport, stuck in slow moving traffic, but today I knew I still had plenty of time; the pilot had flown straight from Crete and would have to land first at Cairo International to clear customs and immigration. Still, 30km in Cairo’s traffic probably meant another hour before I could feel completely easy about meeting our pilot in person.
So, who was this pilot and why was he special for us. We had had a busy previous 12 months with pilots passing through but only 3 flights that had used our hosting service, none of which I had been in Egypt to help out with. But Ahmed and other G.A.S.E. volunteers had done a cracking job and all the pilots had gone away with great memories and massive smiles.
Although I had been in the UK I had carried on with many G.A.S.E. duties, including a promotional tour as well as the usual answering of emails and queries. This is why during January just gone, I received two separate messages. One came from a route planning company asking us if we could help with a flight coming to Egypt and also I received one from the actual pilot himself asking for assistance.
The pilot informed me that he was Jack Wiegand, a 20 year old American from Fresno, California and he was about to set out on a World record breaking flight which would see him attempting to become the youngest pilot ever to fly solo around the world in a single engined light aircraft!
He would be using as his mount a Mooney M20R Ovation, a great aircraft for this kind of flight and one we were used to handling following CarolAnn Garrett’s previous circumnavigation as well as a couple of through flights the year before. I replied to Jack and the handling company saying that we would be honoured to assist Jack whilst he was in Egypt but in those early days of discussion the actual itinerary was still to be finalized. In fact there was a good chance that Jack may not come to Cairo at all but use other airports in Egypt to pass through.
It took many days of emailing backwards and forwards between myself, Jack and Ahmed before we came up with the plan that was about to become reality…he would fly from Heraklion in Crete all the way non-stop to Cairo International Airport (HECA) where he would get all his documents sorted and then he would depart as soon as he could to continue on the 30 mile flight to October Airport (HEOC) which is our home GA airfield and where I, traffic allowing, would be there to meet him.
We then found out that he had changed his route planning company and hired a Canadian one called Skyplan. This worried us at first as they could easily change the plan and we would be left out in the cold but thanks to Jack, he was able to confirm with them that he would use G.A.S.E. for the Cairo part of his journey.
So it was that I had returned to Cairo and continued with the plans for Jack’s arrival, always with the long distance help of Ahmed, who amongst other things sent me some letters in Arabic that I would need to show at various locations at October airport. Whilst at home, my wife, Anthea and I started to get things ready for Jack’s stay with us; sorting out his room and stocking up the fridge but it was a sad day, just a few days before Jack was due to arrive, that Anthea got the worst news that her mother had passed away after a long illness. This meant of course that our efforts now had to go towards getting Anthea back to the UK to sort out funeral arrangements etc and it was decided that I should stay in Cairo and be there when Jack arrived.
It was an emotional send off as I waved goodbye to Anthea at Cairo Airport at 1am in the morning as she headed back to the UK and I must admit I was starting to panic. There was still a lot to be done and I was on my own, if only I could get some volunteers to pitch in? It appears that my wishes were answered and the following morning I got an email from two separate sources. One was from a Mr. Waffik from the AeroClub of Egypt and the other was from a Dr Alaa Ibrahim from the American University in Cairo. They had seen the posts I had put onto our Facebook page and had contacted me offering their help!
I was soon in phone contact with them and mainly because Jack was American and a University student at Colorado, the American University in Cairo – AUC – offered to foot the bill for a hotel stay for Jack. This was a great load off my mind as I could now put the room preparations on hold and concentrate on the aviation side of things. Also, arranged by the AUC and AeroClub was a live TV interview on Jack’s day off from flying as well as a number of group meetings to be held at the GA airport. Finally, the AUC would organise a Nile River cruise with evening dinner and entertainment. I was over the moon and felt ready for the enjoyable tasks ahead.
So back to the 16th…Knowing that Jack might take another hour before arriving at HEOC after completing all the necessary tasks at Cairo International, made the rest of the road journey less stressful and even enjoyable. But I supposed at the back of my mind was the ever present knowledge that I had to get past the security gate first. Little did I know it would turn into a bit of a comedy show.
The tracker showed Jack still on the tarmac at Cairo when we arrived at the security gate, a solitary building on a mile long side road that ran through the desert to the perimeter fence that surrounded October Airport. As usual a number of plain clothed security guards came out to check our credentials, my passport and the mini-bus. I took this opportunity to hand over the first letter that Ahmed had sent me, written in Arabic. It said that I was there to meet a pilot arriving from Cairo and that we were working with the AeroClub. They read it, took my passport to make copies and then came out and said to me in English ‘Who are you’?
‘I am Eddie Gold, it says so on my passport’ I replied.
‘Thank you…who are you’? came the retort.
‘Eddie Gold’ I said back.
‘Of course…who are you’
This went on for a while and I could not make any headway with them and knew something was getting lost in translation so I decided to call Mr. Waffik from the AeroClub to see if he could talk to them.
Mr. Waffik, who it turned out was at the airport already, told me to wait there and that he would come down to the gate to see what was happening. He soon turned up in his car and after a quick greeting (it was the first time we had met personally) he went into the office. One minute later he came out with my passport, followed by a group of smiling security guards and told me that it was all OK and that we should follow him to the airfield. The confusion? It seems every time they said ‘who are you’, what they were trying to say was ‘which company are you with’…oh well, it made a half hour pass quickly.
Earlier in the week we had arranged with our long-time friend and fan, General Badran, to have the use of his hangar to park Jack’s Mooney in for two nights. He had enthusiastically agreed and as always, it would be free of charge, so I was kicking myself, as we followed Mr. Waffik up the long approach road to the hangars, that I hadn’t told him I needed to go to the airport offices first. But not to worry, we sailed quickly past the hangars and continued towards the Terminal where the offices were. I started to get ready the stash of translated letters I had to show to the officials when I noticed we weren’t slowing down and instead whizzed past the terminal and carried on towards the control tower…very strange!
We turned into the control tower area and pulled up at what could probably be described as a crash-gate, but it had a padlock and chain on it. I got out of our transport just as a policeman came running out of the bottom of the control tower. I started to fear the worst but then I suddenly recognised him. He was the very friendly and accommodating policeman who had helped us when Ross Edmondson had arrived here in the Maule, 2 years ago!
He had a quick word with Waffik and then realised who I was and came over, wearing a big grin, to shake my hand. He then started to unlock the padlock and Waffik told me to get back into the bus and follow him. Well, this was all new to me; we had never entered the airfield this way before and certainly not without passing through the terminal and getting the necessary permissions. But I wasn’t going to argue and dutifully we followed Waffik back towards the terminal…along a taxiway!
Arriving at the terminal we all alighted from our vehicles, including our driver, Hamada, and stood there in the baking sun as Waffik popped into the Terminal, after telling me to wait a minute and on returning we at last had a chance to talk and I needed to know what was going on.
Apparently, the Aeroclub had taken it upon their selves to ease all the procedures and because I had forwarded them the relevant documents the day before, there was no reason for me to visit the offices to hand my letters in. That was a great help and made it so that we could now relax and wait for Jack’s arrival…luckily I had brought plenty of cold water.
A quick word with Waffik about taking photos and he confirmed that it was OK and should be fine in the future…we shall see, but this was today a great piece of news. We have had some problems in the past when trying to take photos of our arrivals.
There were now half a dozen people outside waiting for Jack. His fame had spread and everyone wanted to see this young pilot. I know some of the airport officials were there as well as more members of the AeroClub. Mr. Waffik had a hand held transceiver and we were all listening to it intently when all of a sudden the sound of an American accent came through…
“432 Bravo Golf…Join overhead for downwind runway zero one”
We all looked up and there he was, overhead and turning to enter the downwind leg for a landing on October’s only runway.
I was fully expecting that our ‘welcome’ committee would greet Jack as he arrived at the terminal but out of nowhere a black and yellow ‘Follow Me’ car screeched to a halt in front of us! Waffik shouted to me to get in the back of the car (which was a small hatchback) and he jumped in the front as we drove off straight away, heading towards the runway.
Well, this was all new to me and to be honest, I had never seen a ‘Follow Me’ car at October before. I had decided now that filming Jack’s touchdown would be better than a few photos, so I reset the camera for movie mode and positioned myself to see out the back window.
Coming Soon – The Video of Jack’s landing taken from the Follow Me car.
Then, as we joined a parallel taxiway to the runway, I saw the Mooney touching down. We started moving a quite a rate of knots to keep up with the fast landing run of the aircraft but as we neared the far end of the runway we turned to face away from the aircraft and slowed as jack turned onto the taxiway and started to follow us. Little did he know that the little car was full with guys who had been waiting for just this minute. It was a shame that the video I took left a lot to be desired as I was tossed about in the back seat because of the uneven taxiway and the many turns we had to negotiate. But the Mooney can be seen here and there.
I have to admit, I was a bit lost by now, I had never been on this taxiway before, so I wasn’t sure where we were headed until I saw the unmistakable sight of October’s own little Desert Boneyard, with its collection of aircraft left out in the baking Saharan sun to dream about better days.
Yes, we had arrived at General Badran’s hangar and as the Follow Me car slowed to a halt we all jumped out, camera’s clicking away (I had gone back to photo mode) as the driver put on his Marshallers ‘hat’ and proceeded to direct Jack towards the hangar’s apron.
The gleaming Mooney turned onto the apron approach to the hangar and came to a stop. I moved towards the plane and patiently waited as Jack prepared to exit the aircraft. General Badran appeared out of the hangar, Mr. Waffik stood by and then the small door opened and out stepped the young pilot onto the wing root.
Rather selfishly I shouted to Jack to stay there a moment, as I took the all important arrival photos and then I was at the wing trailing edge as Jack stepped off the wing to shake hands with me…but this didn’t happen straight away, probably because of my look of horror as I saw that the aircraft was starting to move backwards all on its own!
The approach to the hangar is deceptively steep and in a flash Jack was back in the cockpit, putting the parking brakes on full to halt the aircraft’s need to go wandering around Egypt under its own steam.
So, panic over, Jack stepped off the wing and we shook hands. He looked amazingly fresh following his previous days flights and seemed very happy to see us all there.
The first job in hand was to get the plane into the hangar and slotted into its own previously prepared space. As usual, our driver Hamada, who I had forgot about when I jumped into the Follow Me Car, was first at the rear wing root, ready to help give a push…he had done this before with CarolAnn’s Mooney, and with Waffik and General Badran helping Jack do the maneuvering, the plane was in place in no time at all.
So Jack had arrived, the plane was safely tucked away and it was time for a well earned drink in the shape of ice cold drinks from the general’s fridge as we all made ourselves at home in the hangar’s office ready to chat about Jack’s flight as well as let him know of the things we had planned for him
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