We're in Arar in the middle of the Saudi desert.
Quite a lot has happened in the last few days. I met up with Brian in Rhodes on Tuesday evening. Because of the terrible weather and bureaucratic trouble Miles and Brian had encountered on the way down Europe they were running late for the first scheduled 'stop over' in Amman where Miles was due to speak to the great and good of Jordan. The decision was made (much to Miles' chagrin) that he should fly from Athens to Jordan, do his thing, and then fly back to meet up with me in Cyprus. In the meantime there was the small matter of the 500 miles or so of sea between Athens and Cyprus to make up.
Brian therefore flew the Athens-Rhodes leg solo and then we set off together for the second 300 mile leg to Cyprus.
300 miles of sea with Brian? That's 12 channel crossings in one go; Madness or what? Well we managed it with a great tail wind, we were usually showing more than 100 mph ground speed but as we got nearer to Cyprus Nicosia Radar started suggesting we diverted to Pafos on the western tip because of 'weather' over the island. We couldn't see anything to worry us so initially we though they were being a bit wimpish over a bit of rain on the last bit of our route through to Larnaca on the south coast, but when we heard Airbuses and things were diverting to Pafos too, and it was getting a bit blacker, we thought we should perhaps go there too. They made us hold for ages as a whole series of large aircraft landed but eventually we got down in a 25 Kt wind and taxied up to the aero club.
There to meet us were none other than our very own microlighters Allen Carter and Steve Moncton who fortunately had quite a good understanding of the mysteries of Cypriot bureaucracy and most importantly had a car inside the airport perimeter because these airports always seem to spread the offices you must visit a mile apart and each one must be visited at least twice.
This is actually a cunning scheme to raise revenue for the airport; the weather cleared almost as soon as we had landed so we decided to press on the last 60 miles or so to Larnaca. We refuelled and then, after a short delay as a shower went through we were started and ready to taxi when the call came that we must visit operations again to pay a further 12 Cyprus pounds for 'parking' as we had just exceeded the 2 hour period inclusive to our landing fee. Steve came to our rescue and shot over to their office to pay it and shortly we were off.
Miles was waiting for us at Larnaca, furious because somehow his bag containing his adapted computer, cameras and other expensive stuff had somehow got swapped in Amman for one containing baby food, sweets and a computer training manual in Arabic.
We were taken out for a very pleasant dinner by Russell English and his wife Helen who are behind On Risk aviation insurance; I know some people have been worried about these people being based in Northern Cyprus, but I have to say they have been very good to this expedition and having met them all I can say is: Don't be.
If Pafos was a bit of a nightmare, Larnaca was a real one. The guys from Hermes who own the airport were incredibly nice but determined to do everything absolutely correctly even if they didn't know what that was. This was complicated by the AIS office having moved to the far end of the airport only the day before so they didn't have any blank forms to hand. Eventually they came by FAX from somewhere.
With a last bout of instructions as to how I should proceed, Brian left for home on Cyprus airways and Miles and I were on our own.
Our next stop, or rather my first flight with Miles was one of the more technical flights of this trip. It's about 80 miles across the Med to Lebanon, then a range of 10,000 ft mountains a mere 20 miles inland, the Bekaa valley, Hezbollah country, and then another large range of mountains, into Syria, 90 deg right turn south, over Damascus and finally into Jordan, turn right again for the last 50 miles to Amman. About 300 Nm in all, and a lot of pressure to proceed because it was the last day of the hard earned permissions required for such a flight, but with a rather unpromising forecast; snow on high ground and embedded cB.
It was nice in Larnaca though, so having finally got the last stamp on our forms we set off thinking we had plenty of endurance to turn round and come back if needs be, but hoping we wouldn't have to, if only to save the World from having another forest cut down to print the required forms on. They've not heard of the paperless World there.
Beirut radar were absolutely insistent we had to climb to 13,000 ft, we did, eventually, and it was a perishing -12c, it wouldn't have been so bad if we were properly prepared but one always thinks it's warm in these parts - I can tell you it isn't. From what I could see there was plenty of snow on the ground above 7 or 8,000 ft. But to tell the truth I didn't see a lot of it and it was probably best that Miles couldn't see what we were flying through..
At one stage we picked up several millimetres of ice in a way I've never quite seen on a microlight before.
At least we didn't have any trouble with Syrian ATC despite Brian's dire warnings since he was chased by a Mig last time he flew this route, in fact they were most helpful. The worst bit of the flight was the last bit of Syria into Jordan with very poor visibility and fairly high ground below. Amman Markka airport were also giving us warnings about heavy snow.
We did see a bit of that, but it miraculously cleared as we got within about 10 miles of our destination and we got safely down after a flight of 4 hours 26 minutes.
We just got the machine into a cathedral like hangar when the heavens re-opened and it didn't stop pouring down until midnight.
Amazingly, Miles' bag turned up in the night so he's got all his kit back.
Today we flew the 300 Nm from Amman to Arar in Saudi Arabia. When Brian did this leg on his round the World flight 9 years ago it's where he had lots of overheating problems and ended up having to get a replacement engine sent out because he cooked the original one.
No chance of that today, the whole region was still in the grip of the cold spell and it was barely above freezing for most of the flight, rather strange in a real desert, but I remember reading of similar or perhaps even worse conditions not a million miles away from here which afflicted the ill fated Bravo two zero operation in the first Gulf War. In fact the Iraqi border is only 60 Km away from here.
The chaps in the fire station have been more than generous hosts which is just as well as our clearance allows us to fly over Saudi Arabia but not enter into it as we don't have visas. The machine is safely in their fire station, they have put us up in the VIP guest house attached to the airport and have just treated us to a very special meal Saudi style which was incredibly generous of them.
Tomorrow we have a flight of another 300 dead-straight miles down the Iraqi border to Quaysumah. The day after tomorrow we should be on the Gulf in Qatar.
They promise us it should be warmer there.