Muscat, Oman. Our first opportunity to stop and take a bit of a breather. The bank organized a reception the night before last at the Hyatt, an extraordinary sumptuous 5 star confection in town. Miles did his thing and very impressive it was too, I am beginning to understand why he is such a successful corporate speaker. An auction raised a satisfactory sum of money for Seeing is Believing, the charity we are trying to raise money for, but I felt that a bat signed by Andrew Flintoff in a big display case would perhaps have done better than it did in a country where they've heard of cricket…
My last news was from Arar in Saudi Arabia. The firemen there, led by fire chief Abdullah Al-Sehayaan were extraordinarily friendly and helpful and sorted out fuel, accommodation and everything else we might have needed. Next morning we set off down the road and pipeline which runs parallel with the Iraqi border to Quaisumah. As with the day before, a decent tailwind speeded us on our way but it was still a four and a half hour flight.
The terrain was pure desert all the way, dead flat golden sand without much variation. Miles was in control for part of the flight, but in anything more than medium turbulence he struggles to maintain anything like a reasonable course as his computer seems to be rather slow to respond. I tended to intervene when we were more than 90 deg off track, but less when we were at our closest to the Iraqi border about 15 miles away; the last thing I wanted was some trigger happy jock from Alabama in an A10 using us as target practice... The locals really hammer down this road and were regularly passing us at our 80 Kt ground speed. At one point I dropped down and flew alongside a car for a few minutes which got them wildly excited, but on the whole we were at 1000 ft or so.
Quaisumah is a big but underutilized airport rather like Arar. I understand all these airports in the north of Saudi Arabia were much improved after the 1st Gulf war. Four years ago they told me there were 4000 or more American troops in each of these airports; no sign of them now though and there are just two or three flights to Riad or Jeddah each day. We flew over several unmarked airstrips on the way too, plus some vast areas of tarmac in the middle of nowhere; helicopter landing areas I supposed.
The firemen in Qaisumah were as hospitable as their colleagues at Arar, in fact the chaps in Arar had phoned ahead to warn of our arrival and we were installed in the fire station shortly after we arrived.
I tried to get some video on this flight, but without much success. The installation on the machine is rubbish and I've had no time at all to do anything about it yet.
Next stop Doha, Qatar, by my estimation a bit beyond our range, some big airports to pass and the last bit is sea. I put Dhahran and Bahrain as alternates in the flight plan. We left the road and headed out into the desert. Occasionally we passed vast areas of those giant circular irrigation machines turning the desert an incongruous green, but mostly it was just rocks and dunes. Again we had a reasonable tailwind, but coming up to King Fahd airport ATC made us hold for ten or fifteen minutes whilst a series of Jumbos landed and then sent us on our way to Bahrain in a very odd direction out over the sea in very poor visibility. Once we were in contact with them prudence dictated we should go there to refuel.
They set me up on a really long approach but fortunately there seemed to be a bit of a lull in the traffic and I don't think we held anything up. They made us park on a regular commercial jet stand, I asked for fuel and a large Jet fuel tanker appeared. I hadn't checked my book to see whether they actually had avgas in Bahrain airport but fortunately they did, and eventually a pickup towing a small avgas refueller came over. I went off to AIS to pay landing and re-file the flight plan but by now it was clear we would be arriving in Doha in the dark so we decided to stay where we were. I understand there was a large reception committee waiting for us in Doha, but little we could do to actually be there.
At least there are hangars in Bahrain so we wouldn't have the aggravation of getting the machine in through a fire station door sideways; I was taken over to a Gulf Air hangar and they were more than delighted to put us in a corner for the night. Stefan Klose, head of operations wrote in my little black book: "Finally a real aircraft in our hangar, an 'A' check was not due."
Next morning there was a 767-300 in there with us, but the wing was far higher than G-SEEE and there was no problem getting out.
The plan had changed overnight, we should now miss Doha altogether and fly directly to Dubai; 300 miles over water. We still haven't got a life raft but I suppose one could assume there might be a lot of military and oil people about who could rescue us, and at last, since Quasumah it has been quite warm.
Across to Dubai at about 3000 ft. Miles took control for more than an hour. So long as it's reasonably calm he can fly quite a straight course. The visibility was pretty terrible, on the way we passed loads of oil platforms and ships, including one really vast oil tanker which seemed as wide as ordinary ships are long. We were out of contact with ATC for a very long period in the middle. For some time the coast of Iran was actually our nearest land but we had a great tailwind (may they long continue!) and towards the end of the flight were doing more than 90 Kts on the ground.
ATC in Dubai seems to be South African run, they also seemed to understand what kind of aircraft we were in and vectored us towards the side of this very busy airport so we could pop in and be out of the way very quickly. Our route took us over the World, a series of artificial islands out in the gulf laid out in the shape of a World map, past the famous strip of tall buildings which make up downtown Dubai, and right over Burj Dubai, the soon-to-be tallest building in the World. It's at about 1500 ft at the moment and has a way to go yet. What an astonishing place!
There was 25 Kts of wind on the ground but not too bad taxiing downwind to our stand. Only when we'd got there was it realized that actually we had hangar space c/o Jet Aviation, the same people who had looked after us at Biggin Hill. Their place was practically at the opposite corner of this vast airport, M. Lehmann, director of Maintenance at jet Aviation wrote in my book: "It was an interesting experience to watch Dubai international Airport come to a stop when your aircraft arrived."
Actually I thought we did rather well considering the wind, which was now gusting 30 Kts. At one point taxiing across the main strip I physically couldn't pick the wingtip up, and couldn't stop either as I could see something big on the approach. The net result was rather a big hole ground in the winglet, but nothing structural. Oman Air services here in Muscat have since effected a lovely repair.
That taxi across Dubai International I rate as one of the more scary things I've ever done in a Microlight.
Our hotel bill for one night was nearly 500 quid. I'm told this is fairly normal for Dubai. The landing fees/flight plan people had a lot of trouble deciding what kind of aircraft we were as it wasn't in their computer. I've been putting GT 450 on everything but the nearest they could come up with was G450 which is an executive jet and they were all for charging us thousands of dollars. Eventually I persuaded the Indian accountant to have a look at P&M's website and they came up with something a bit more reasonable, Miles then got a 50% discount off that but that was still something over 200 USD. The splendid chaps at Jet Aviation decided to chip in for our fuel as their contribution to Seeing is Believing; thanks guys!
Dubai to Muscat isn't so far, but by the time all the paperwork was done it was lunchtime already and going to be rough over the mountains to Oman. Not that I knew where they were exactly because you-know-who hadn't got this section of map, the same as Brian had discovered there was no map of the bottom of Italy on board. I ordered replacements for all the missing sections before I left UK but they've not caught up with me yet. Most seriously we have no maps at all between Singapore and Australia; you-know-who had obviously given up completely after finding the 4 maps needed are out of print but hopefully my mate Andy Green is getting them from the RAF and they'll catch up with us later.
I'd filed a pretty much direct route but flew at 6000 ft over the motorway which goes through a big wide valley and it wasn't too rough. The last two hours down to Muscat was a very pleasant ride down the beach. It's still pretty much all desert, but this part of Arabia catches the edge of the monsoon and there's a pleasantly green coastal strip a mile or two wide with palm groves and kitchen gardens. We passed over a new oil terminal, part of Oman's master plan to be able to deliver oil from UAE to ships without them having to go through the Straights of Hormuz.
At both Dubai and Muscat I'd advised ATC not to send me miles downwind for a jumbo sized approach. The tower at Muscat took me literally and brought me in right from the side of the main runway. At the last minute the controller panicked and warned me not to land crossways on a taxiway, but I confirmed I intended to land on the main runway and turned a quick 90 degrees at the last minute, landed and was out of the way in all of 20 seconds.
The chaps at Oman Air Services have been more than kind and the machine's been in there for the last 2 days. They've done a great repair to my winglet, I've changed the plugs which were getting a bit cruddy on all the avgas we've been using and I've at last had the opportunity to fix up the video, though we've still no sound, it needs an amplifier between the Lynx box and the recorder which Andy Annabel is sorting out for me now. Apparently you-know-who had actually been in touch weeks ago with Andy as he's a recognized expert on these things, but like a lot of other things which should have been prepared in advance of departure from UK, nothing actually got done.
Another of the things which didn't get done properly was a life raft. So far (and there's been plenty of sea already) we've not had one. You-know-who had gone out and bought at incredible expense two brand new one man life rafts with such a high spec that there was simply no way they could be possibly be carried on the machine because of their weight or size. As soon as Brian and Miles left UK I rented the smallest and lightest raft SEMS aerospace had, which was a 4 man raft somewhat lighter than one of the singles and about 1/30th the cost to rent for 2 months. We'll be ditching the engine covers in favour of a easily accessible platform P&M have made for it to go on above the engine. It's all supposed to be catching up with us here.
The RAF have an installation the other side of the airport with several Nimrods. You can set your watch on the preciseness of the one which leaves every morning. They're patrolling Iraq or Afghanistan I suppose. Another one comes over to our side to get washed. The Omanis said they charge $850 a pop for doing this. As a taxpayer, I wonder whether I'm getting value for money.
Getting the life raft out of freight took until 1am this morning. The people who work in air freight terminals really are the same World over.... A vital stamp on the paperwork was missing - you can't have it. Friday, day of prayer tomorrow, so we would never have got it at all if it wasn't for the great assistance of Khalifa Samih Al-Said who works for SCB as "human resource manager" which means he's related to royalty.
Jon arrived this morning with part of the attachment to fit our life raft above the engine. Unfortunately the other half has somehow got left behind with the rest of his luggage in Dubai but will apparently arrive later this afternoon. It better had as we're off to Pakistan tomorrow morning.