Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Flying The Middle East

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

This is my 14th delivery flight to the Middle East, and I've learned that everything isn't necessarily what it seems. A few years before, I had been part of a large flight of 10 Piper Archers that launched from Vero Beach, Fla., and routed through Bangor; St. John's (Newfoundland), Canada; Santa Maria, Azores; Palma de Mallorca, Spain; and Iraklion, Greece, into Amman. After all 10 airplanes had arrived at Amman Civil Airport in Marka, and we were removing the ferry tanks and HF radios, we noticed a group of military pilots apparently waiting for us to finish.

When the aircraft were restored to stock configuration, the military pilots stepped up and accepted the keys to the Archers. They were all members of the Iraqi Air Force and were there to finish the ferry to Baghdad where new ab initio military pilots would be trained to fly. The U.S. didn't trade with Iraq, but we would sell airplanes to Jordan. King Hussein of Jordan was obviously acting as an intermediary for his then-friend Saddam Hussein.

I'm also gaining an undeserved reputation as the resident Middle East expert at the ferry company I fly for, a title I'd just as soon relinquish to someone else. I once landed at Luxor, Egypt, in a Piper Chieftain and made the mistake of allowing a hot engine to idle out before I turned off the runway. The airplane was impossible to restart, and there was no way to leave the runway with only one engine running. As a result, the tower sent out a truck full of ramp workers who proceeded to muscle the airplane onto the ramp, pushing on ailerons, rudders and anything else they could grip despite my protestations. Fortunately, there was no damage.

The next morning, the tower chief refused my flight plan until I signed a "Hold Harmless" statement. He said the airplane was obviously defective because an engine had quit, and the airplane hadn't been inspected by the local FBO. I tried to explain fuel injection and hot starts in extreme temperatures, but he insisted that my company would be liable for any damage if the Chieftain crashed on takeoff. I signed, but somehow managed to depart safely.
The Beech Duke trundles along at 200 knots, and I can't help but check below me for a telltale missile trail closing
at Mach 3.0.
When someone does have an accident in some parts of the Middle East, the reaction is sometimes surprising. The year after the Duke's Jordanian contract expired, I was hired to deliver the airplane to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, for the same cloud seeding mission. The outbound trip to UAE went fine, but the return flight was problematical. Shortly after I arrived on the airline six months later to pick up the Duke, I learned that an American-registered Navajo had crashed on the runway two days before. For that reason, all U.S.-registered aircraft were grounded until the probable cause investigation was complete. No one knew how long that would take.


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