Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Flying The Middle East


These days, the most intelligent advice might be simply, “Don’t”


The Sinai Desert isn't very big, but it certainly looks forbidding from the air: desolate black, hot mountains, seas of sand, and large plains of heat and misery. Today, I look down on the disputed territory from 19,000 feet, the lowest altitude that Cairo control will allow.

Directly below, the Gulf of Suez points the way to the Red Sea, and despite the fact that Israel and Egypt are temporarily at peace in September 1987, I'm uncomfortable flying in this airspace.

Strange things happen in this ancient land called North Africa. Barely a month ago, a young soldier on the opposite side of the continent fired a shoulder-launched missile at an overflying aircraft, apparently just for the hell of it. To his amazement, he hit it, a Mitsubishi MU-2 research aircraft returning from Antarctica to Europe with a pilot and four scientists aboard. Never mind that the MU-2 had no weapons and was on an approved flight plan, all on board were killed. The soldier was probably executed the following day, but …

My route today is dictated by war. Look at a map including the island of Crete, Israel and Jordan, and you'll note that a direct flight across Israel would be about half the distance. Instead, there's still no treaty between Israel and Jordan, so I must fly the long way around.

With that as prelude, the Beech Duke trundles along at 200 knots, and I can't help but check below me every once in a while for a telltale missile trail closing at Mach 3.0. Israel and Egypt fought over the land below three times, in 1956, 1967 and 1973. This is 1987, and I can't help but wonder if things have quieted down.

Perhaps they have, at least a little. Today, I was granted a routing I've filed for several times, but always been denied. I left Iraklion, Greece, at sunrise, flew south over the Med to Alexandria, Egypt, was routed east above the pyramids and Cairo, turned south down the Gulf of Suez to the bottom of the Sinai Peninsula, then was granted permission to fly north over the Gulf of Aqaba and on into my destination, Amman, Jordan.

"My" Duke for this trip is a cloud seeder owned by Weather Modifications Inc. of Fargo, N.D., and under contract to the Jordanian government in hopes of increasing the country's meager rainfall. This will be my third trip from Fargo to Amman in October and back to the U.S. in April. There will be two more round trips before the contract expires.



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