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Posted in G-IIXF on 04/06/2011 by Steve Noujaim

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The Cape Challenge

Posted in G-IIXF on 22/10/2010 by Steve Noujaim

I am sure that you would all like to know that last night, at the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators of London’s annual Trophies and Awards Dinner in the Guildhall of the City of London, Steve was awarded the Master’s Medal for his record-breaking London – Cape Town and London – Cape Town – London flights.

At the same time you should know that Tony ‘Taff’ Smith, who took off from Southend on Tuesday 19th October in a Glasair Super IIS RG, attempting to break these records, was forced to land near Windhoek in Namibia, while southbound, owing to major technical problems caused, inter alia, by the severe storms of the ITCZ. Tony is safe but the record attempt has been abandoned.

Best wishes to all

Martin Barraclough

Post Flight Report

Posted in G-IIXF on 13/09/2010 by Steve Noujaim

All photos and words Copyright S C Noujaim except where otherwise credited. This article or the contents in it may not be reproduced without the author’s permission

Dear All

Thank you so much for following my flight on the website and blog. You were all part of a team that combined to make the Cape Challenge an exciting success. I did not realise that things would get so close and for those of you who think that I took the northbound Cape Town to London part of the record off Chalkie, I did not; FAI rules stipulate that records must be broken by at least 1%. My records are, of course, still subject to ratification.

The Challenge was not what I expected. I knew that it would be a tough series of flights, but I was unprepared for the emotions I felt and the relentless concentration that was required. Discomfort was a factor but it was the mental aspect of the job that I found shocking. I am so glad to be back and to have achieved my dream by meeting Alex Henshaw’s Challenge and joining the only other living Cape Record holder, Chalkie Stobbart, in the history books. I thought it appropriate that I give you all, my dear supporters, a little information about the plan, the aircraft and the journey itself.

The Route

Photo Tim Barraclough

The Plan

I always knew that the RV7 was not as fast as a Mew Gull or Osprey, but I also knew that the RV was lighter and had a better load carrying capability. The flexibility and all round performance of G-IIXF – “XF” – allowed me to carry the fuel to plan a 2 stop strategy; accordingly, I measured and plotted the great circle distance to Cape Town and then equally divided the legs to generate the re-fuelling stops at Tamanrasset and Pointe Noire. On the advice of Hennie Delport and Stuart Smith of Phoebus Apollo, I changed from Pointe Noire to Brazzaville to solve some logistical problems; this made each leg about 1800nm via airways. I felt that 2 hours was a reasonable time to rest and refuel and 10 hours to sleep and service my RV in Cape Town. As it transpired we weren’t far wrong; I could not have spent much less time on the ground. A team was needed to make the plan run properly. First, Martin Barraclough generated much needed sponsorship, mostly from the good people of The Air Squadron. This project would not have taken place but for Martin.

In the Flight Planning and Ops department I must first thank Gill and Martin Courage of Aerodynamics for Flight plans and Satellite communications; Martin was invaluable for weather advice, particularly on the 5th leg. Then Colin Wood and Tobin Berry of NATS for their help with ATC, and finally Mike Grey of White Rose who organised the over flight permissions which were a worry for me but of which Mike made short work.

Outside ATC Lasham Hangar

Photo Martin Barraclough

On the ground at Southend, ATC Lasham housed the aircraft pre and post departure and Southend Airport hosted my fantastic homecoming together with Jacqui Harris from the Roslin Beach Hotel (a brilliant hotel by the way). In Tamanrasset Sam Rutherford from Prepare2go organised the positioning of fuel and the servicing of the pilot! He had the aircraft refuelled and ready to go within an hour and it was only me who insisted on longer turn-rounds. In Brazzaville Stuart Smith and Hennie Delport organised the delivery of Avgas and Ben Ahmadou and his team looked after me so well while I was there. I was relieved at the lack of stress on me and the efficiency of the team in “Brazza”; the guys were great and I will put some of the pictures up soon. In Cape Town I was so happy to be met by Chalkie Stobbart and Maureen his wife and I must say that the hug I got from Maureen was something that I really needed. (I know that she is one of the few people that really understand the emotion involved in a project such as this). Tiaan Kotze of Signature Flight Support Cape Town took care of all the costs I incurred while I was there and chauffeured me where I needed to go. BP paid for 250 litres of fuel and Chalkie took care of the rest – proper golden age etiquette I reckon. Will, my engineer who we had flown in from UK, was fantastic. I entirely appreciate the amount of responsibility he must have felt when servicing XF but I don’t think he quite realises how much trust I have in him. Will is a proper engineer. Without prompting, Will was assisted by Robin Coss and Damon who build RVs (sanctioned by the regulator in SA) and really know their stuff when it comes to the Vans product. My cousin Mark helped with the IT and looking after me and is our graphics designer; I was proud to carry his company logo on the cowling. If you need quality graphic design, see Mark; he also does a good line in banter! I was also so grateful to Mike and Tony for bringing the GP4 to Cape Town. Your Osprey really is a lovely piece of gear and a credit to you. Interestingly both aircraft have only ever met at Southend and Cape Town and probably never will again!

Southend May 2009

Cape Town September 2010

Photo Mark Baldwin

Cape Ready

Photo Sharpshotg.com

The Aircraft

The aircraft is easier to fly than the other adversaries so I felt that fatigue would be reduced. The RV is a homebuilt metal aeroplane – there are approaching 7,000 flying at this time. XF is powered by a 200 horsepower air cooled Lycoming burning 34 litres of avgas an hour at maximum continuous RPM. Cruising speed varies from 171 knots to 176 knots depending on weight but the performance is reduced in the higher temperatures of Africa. The avionics were provided by Garmin and are the homebuilt version of the G1000 Electronic Flight Instrument System or “EFIS”. On the trip the avionics were a lifesaver and I found the synthetic vision system and stormscope absolutely essential. XF ran like a sewing machine throughout the event. The only small issues were the inability of the autopilot to fly the aircraft accurately at high gross weights; engaging the autopilot at any time during the first 4-5 hours of a sector would result in a loss of 2-4 knots. But from a safety point of view it was invaluable and I would highly recommend the Trutrak system if used in ordinary circumstances, although if planning to operate south of the equator you will need to carry out a magnetic calibration (heading was 180 out on crossing the equator!!!!!) The ACS Angle of Attack system was also invaluable as a way of maximising performance and to check that I had reached my optimum CG position.

Over the last year we have effectively rebuilt XF! We have taken off most of the alleged ‘go faster’ items, rewired, fixed long range equipment, tested, adjusted, serviced and generally fettled her to the standard that she is today. So many thanks to Manuel and Will for all the help and advice they have given. Thanks also to Nigel Lamb for his advice on the inlets and to Martin Carolan for making such a beautiful job of constructing them – 3 knots is a lot of speed for a small change. The engine information and how to operate it came from Andy Higgs (a Formula 1 engine designer) of the AC Corporation. AC will shortly be producing some highly innovative improvements to incorporate in Lycoming engines and we will all be better off in terms of power and reliability when it comes to Lycoming engines and their operation. Ronaldson Airmotive also provided some spares and replacements at cost and I am grateful to them. Importantly – so far as you the viewers are concerned – Dennis Jankelow and his team at Indigosat provided free tracking and Tim Davies, my web designer in Thailand, and Tim and Julia Jackson in South Africa, took care of the internet tracking which allowed you all to join me on the journey. In this respect technology really provided me with an advantage over our intrepid ’30s aviators. Although there was a similar risk of having a catastrophic failure, at least people knew where I was going to be if I had one!

Dawn Ready

Photo Tim Barraclough

The Journey

The event was not an adventure in the sense that we imagine when reading an exciting novel. For me it was a lifetime achievement but it is something I never want to repeat. The sky-high moments were few and far between, interspersed mostly by fear and dread (engine failure) I pretty much knew that for large portions of the flight, if the engine stopped, I would have to jump out and take my chances. I insisted, much to the amazement of many people, that I would wear a parachute – thanks Paul Morgan! My gut feeling was that the chances of disappearance and death were as high as 40%; this, and my responsibilities to Anna, was uppermost in my mind. For me it was all about doing my best and never shirking or giving up. Oddly, the first leg to TMS was the hardest for me. (Thanks for taking the time to chat, Syd B on the Speedbird). I don’t mind admitting that I had an emotional crisis three hours from the re-fuelling stop. (Smells of home are very evocative).I wondered what the hell I was doing risking all that I have. I arrived in TMS, had something to eat and drink and felt a good deal better.

Orange Sahara

Tamanrasset Outbound

The run overnight to Brazza had an odd calming effect on me; I was pleased that we were ahead of schedule and Cb (cumulo-nimbus) activity on the route took out the airway dog-leg to Agades, allowing me to carry straight on to South Eastern Nigeria. I felt that my mates were looking out for me and thanked my lucky stars as I saw the flashing boiling clouds bursting well away from my track; there was some pelting rain and turbulence but nothing too challenging. We descended into Brazza at 185 kts and I self positioned straight to the centre fix, handsomely beating the Angolan jet on to 05R. I did note that I suffered the worst ‘leans’ that I had experienced since training on the F4… tired I guess; I must knuckle down and concentrate…

Steve and Ben Ahmadou

Photo Ben Ahmadou Team

Ben and the guys at Brazza did their thing while I snatched a shower and 20 minutes sleep. Back in and off at 0500Z with the sun coming up; I felt good. I blasted down through Angola, trimmed XF out and decided I would treat myself to some cold ‘boil in a bag’ chocolate pudding. I looked and looked but found no spoon or fork – I know we had packed one – so resorted to using my BAA airline ID as a shovel. Angola was out in fog for around 4 hours, but as I crossed into Namibia the desert appeared and, as Neil Armstrong said – ‘what a magnificent desolation’. More happily there were some very long straight roads to land on in the event of an engine failure. I even reckoned that I could carry out repairs and get airborne again. I passed my enroute alternate of Windhoek but Cape Town was a long time coming.

Magnificent Desolation

Crossing in to South Africa I contacted Jo’burg and was promptly given a direct to the initial approach fix at Cape Town. I thought ‘Great, we are nearly there’ but checked and found that we still had around 400 miles to go. A quick fuel and destination weather check allowed me to increase the RPM to 2450 and go a bit faster. Sure enough Cape Town turned up, a little weather to think about with the high safety altitudes but great ATC, despite being busy, saw me join downwind for runway 01 at around 190 knots. ATC happily let me cut in front of the Comair 737 at 4 miles – thank you Ma’am – for a flapless landing and quick exit so she didn’t have to go round. I taxied to Signature and thought quite seriously about how easy it would be to take the wings off and ship the little RV home in a container. Chalkie never told me it would be this hard.

Steve and Chalkie in Cape Town

Photo Mark Baldwin

A fabulous welcome committee, consisting of friends, family and the press, met me. XF was wheeled into the hangar, ready for servicing and fuel. I was elated to have broken the southbound record and was happy to chat to my friend Chalkie until he sent me to bed. Will and the team serviced the aeroplane while I rested. I woke up at around 0200Z, looked out of the window, and saw to my disappointment much reduced visibility and driving rain. I had a word with myself and determined to get home as quickly and safely as possible. We had some hassles getting immigration out of bed; I had a mouthful of fruit salad, strapped in, in the hangar and, having been pushed out into the rain, started up and began our way home. As I took off in the darkness and rain I detected that XF was going well; I felt good and thought to myself – ‘only another 36 hours and I will be home’. As the sun rose I felt ready for the northbound challenge; the leg went quickly and I actually did some sightseeing.

When I arrived at Brazza the team were ready for me. At this stage I elected to take an extra hour’s rest; first, because I was tired and secondly – probably incorrectly – to allow the equatorial Cb activity to die down. I knew that this fifth sector was going to be the hardest of the whole journey and, with safety in mind, I wanted to be ready for it. Ben had, for the second time – and gratis – organised a hotel near the airport, so I took the opportunity to take a shower and to sleep for 90 minutes. I had a moment’s scare when the bathroom door shut behind me and locked, despite there being no handle in the door! I had visions of the record attempt being stopped in its tracks because the pilot was locked in the bog! Fortunately Ben managed to get me out. I returned to the airfield to receive a very professional Met brief from the Ops man, but my heart sank when I saw the equatorial satellite picture. I immediately called Martin Courage on the Satphone. Martin assured me that I would be busy but he felt that if we worked together and I used the stormscope all would be well.

Namibian Sunrise

I took off full of fear and doubt. A few hours into the sector all my worst fears were realized; XF and I fought a pitched battle for nearly 5 hours. I had decided to burn off the big centre tank to keep the CG forward and make the aircraft less pitch sensitive. There were times when I thought we were finished but I think that much of the drama was more a result of personal turmoil than the actual conditions, although I never again want to see 2,000 feet per minute rate of descent at full power with an 11,300 foot MSA (minimum safety altitude). We bottomed out at 12,200 feet. The rain was incredible; I couldn’t hear the engine and I could see lightning shooting across the nose and out to the right. All the while Martin was quietly advising and generally boosting my morale. We arrived abeam Jos some 30 miles east of track and I thought it was all over. We were shipping water and my teeth were chattering with the cold. What an aeroplane is the RV7! I had drawn on every ounce of my fast jet instrument flying experience; the poor autopilot had not been able to cope, so I just put a towel over my head and the coaming, shut out the world, and flew instruments. Nothing else mattered – just me, XF, and staying in one piece for Anna. Get home! North of Kano I noticed more flashing on the horizon; this time I would have to go to Agades and fly the dogleg. It was really nice to talk to “Stumpy” Stirton on the VIR 602 and get a few airfield weathers. It was bumpy but I managed to stay east of the squall line; I thought that we would be okay until the standby alternator light came on. I called up the engine page and saw that we were running near the 20-amp limit. The last thing I wanted was to fly a VOR approach in to TMS on standby instruments with 12,200 foot mountains close by so I load shed everything I possibly could, all the cockpit lights, navigation lights, strobes, transponder and a few other ancilliaries which dropped the current to 9 amps. I pulled out my Ipad and called up the TMS approach plates for Runway 02. I was ready. I had fuel to hold until sunrise if necessary. Finally the weather abated and I could see Tamanrasset in the distance so in the end I flew the VOR but at high speed; on short finals I turned the lights on and did the best landing of the trip. But how was I going to get home with no alternator?

10 minutes Rest TMS

IMG_4747

Photos Sam Rutherford

While Sam and his team re-fuelled XF I took the top cowl off and checked the alternator belt and all the electrical connections; all appeared well. I reset the standby alternator push button and checked all the circuit breakers – again, nothing was amiss. So I elected to get some food, have ten minutes sleep and consider the problem. I awoke and gave the Courages a call; the weather promised to be beautiful. I would launch at sunrise and come back on the standby alternator. Decision made, I strapped in for the final leg, turned on the master switch and started the engine. I thought I would try the primary alternator and it started with no problems. (I have an electronic voltage protection system and Chalkie reckons I may have had a voltage spike the previous night causing it to shut down). As I taxied out I realised with some sadness that I had not said a proper good bye to Sam and the team. I took off using the full length of runway 20 and noted the now familiar poor rate of climb and the high oil temperature, but we were on our way home and we had time in hand. There were some big towering Cu (cumuli) and a headwind to negotiate but I thought it was pretty much in the bag, especially when I spotted a line of convergence – gliding is useful – just off the airway centerline. So I parked XF under it, to be rewarded with a 180-knot groundspeed.

Algerian ATC was not able to give me any directs so, as I arrived at the FIR boundary, I was looking forward to a direct Perpignan or even Evreux. The G900 showed an ETA of around 1525Z – good news. Imagine my disappointment on contacting Barcelona to be told that they had no knowledge of me and that I was to clear controlled airspace…welcome to Europe! Despite many attempts to ask for help I had to descend to low level, clear Palma airspace and make my own way to BGR. I got on the Satphone to Gill and she obligingly re-filed, but I was losing time. Eventually I raised a mate in Toulouse – thanks Frank – and he briefed ATC in that sector. Having cut across to Limoges the ATC there couldn’t have been less interested and told me ‘no directs available; do what you like but remain clear of controlled airspace’ and, no, he wasn’t going to tell me where it was unless I infringed it! Bottom line, all the weaving about cost me 20 minutes or so. Finally when I called Paris Information they were very helpful. I set 200 fpm rate of descent; the weather was beautiful and finally we were making real progress. As I coasted out of France I could see the white cliffs and Gill was on the phone. I was tight on fuel but reckoned I could push up to 2600 rpm – I had to get in before 1555Z. I made a quick jink around Headcorn and Southend advised me to fly over the tower for my final time-check. I could almost see Chalkie catching me up! This was taking forever. I could see the Thames estuary in the distance; Gravesend was out to the left (a big salute to Alex). XF loved the reduced temperature and I had to throttle back as I crossed the line at Southend doing 200 knots. We were home.

Home!

Photo Colin Wood

I am glad it is all over. Even after a week I am beginning to remember parts of the trip fondly. I am surprised at myself but I feel immense gratitude to all who have helped me. This wasn’t your dream; it was mine, but still you were generous enough to help. Thank you so very much.

Happy Homecoming

Photo Tim Barraclough

Home

I felt huge relief as I cleared the runway at Southend and saw Anna; only then did I feel a glimmer of accomplishment, for it was she who had made me want to get back so badly. I derived huge pleasure from seeing Manuel (the designer of the long range tank system) beaming like a small boy, and of course Martin Barraclough, the former owner of the Mew Gull and the man who kept my dream on track. I was proud to see that Bonhomme and Pod (many thanks to the owners) had flown two Spitfires into Southend. There was a fleet of RVs there too as well as my mates Richard King and Steve Neale. Lyndon Griffith was there taking pictures as usual and Jacqui Harris had organised champagne and food. There too were James Wakeford (who had looked after Anna for me) and Edward Leigh, Mark Jefferies, Chris Hadlow from Fly2help (who was a student of mine at Church Fenton), Colin Wood and Tobin Berry from NATS, my Mum and Dad, Anna’s Father Roy and a myriad of friends. It was particularly good to see Martin and Gill Courage, my Satphone life-savers. After it was all over Manuel taxied XF off to the hangar and we went to the Roslin Beach for supper. As I enjoyed my steak, I missed my brilliant little aeroplane, changed in 3 days 11 hours and 16 minutes from machine to real person. Thanks XF.

Photos below Tim Barraclough

Champagne Reception

Friends on Board

Martin and Steve

All photos and words Copyright S C Noujaim except where otherwise credited. This article or the contents in it may not be reproduced without the author’s permission

3rd September, 2010 – a glorious day.

Posted in G-IIXF on 05/09/2010 by Steve Noujaim

First of all, my sincere apologies for the total absence of information during the last 36 hours. I landed at Southend around 1200Z on Friday and set about preparing for Steve’s return and reception. I set up my new lap-top to monitor Steve’s progress from Majorca homewards. The batteries just lasted until he was on the ground and from then on I was too busy with the welcome home which 100 or so well-wishers, 2 Spitfires, 13 RVs and a handful of GA aircraft gave Steve.

I know many of you are awaiting factual information concerning Steve’s times and the records. Here are the facts.

I have all (original or faxed copies of) the RAeC (Royal Aero Club) take-off and Landing Certificates for the flight, signed by ATC in all cases.

Take-off Southend was at 0438.05Z on 31st August, 2010.

Landing at Cape Town was at 1544.01Z on 1st September, 2010.

Take-off from Cape Town was at 0320.26Z on 2nd September, 2010

Tower overflight at Southend was at 1553.54Z on 3rd September, 2010

In the times shown the figures after the decimal point are seconds NOT decimals of a minute.

So where does that leave Steve?

First of all, I am assuming (until the RAeC confirm it) that in stating record times seconds are rounded up or down according to whether they are more or less than 30 seconds. The importance of this is relevant to Steve’s arrival at Southend. Rounding up his time puts his overflight arrival at 1554Z. For the time being I am using 1554!

Secondly, I telephoned the RAeC as Steve was on his run in to Southend to obtain their confirmation that a time overhead was acceptable for the record rather than a landing time and they confirmed positively. Because we knew at that stage that there would be minutes in it we radioed to Steve to go for the overhead pass rather than the landing, and had the pleasure of seeing his RV scream over the tower at 400 feet.

Thirdly, I have not yet had time to check whether a record has to be beaten by a certain percentage in order to qualify; we weren’t in advance expecting such a close run thing!

Using the above times and the rounding up here are the flight times.

LONDON-CAPE TOWN

Alex Henshaw 1939 39 hours 23 minutes

Chalkie Stobbart 2009 36 hours 15 minutes

Steve Noujaim 2010 35 hours 6 minutes

CAPE TOWN – LONDON

Alex Henshaw 1939 39 hours 36 minutes

Chalkie Stobbart 2009 36 hours 35 minutes

Steve Noujaim 2010 36 hours 34 minutes

LONDON – CAPE TOWN – LONDON

CAPE TOWN – LONDON – CAPE TOWN

Alex Henshaw 1939 4 days 10 hours 16 minutes

Chalkie Stobbart 2009 3 days 15 hours 17 minutes

Steve Noujaim 2010 3 days 11 hours 16 minutes

So Steve has taken the London – Cape Town record, and the London – Cape Town – London record. Three cheers for Steve.

For the northbound Cape Town – London flight it looks as if he will have beaten Chalkie by 1 minute! But will he have beaten his RAec/FAI record for this flight? I doubt it.

I won’t here go into all the frustrations that Steve experienced with Algerian, Spanish and French ATC which reduced a one-time healthy lead to this nail-biting finish and the inevitable debate that will follow concerning Chalkie’s time having been a landing and Steve’ a fly-over. This will no doubt consume much time and beer.

And Steve must tell his own tale of a very testing and at times very dangerous three and a half days of intensive and utterly exhausting flying at the end of which his admiration for Alex Henshaw and his incredible 1939 flight is undiminished.

For me it has been a unique experience and a privilege to work with everyone who helped to make this flight a success. As we all go back to our everyday lives after a week of sheer excitement, drama, worry and elation I hope that, like me, you are left with one enduring sentiment – admiration for Steve. He dreamed of doing it and he did it.

Martin Barraclough

Project Co-ordinator

Steve’s ETA Southend

Posted in G-IIXF on 03/09/2010 by Steve Noujaim

……now for that ETA. Southend.

Steve is meeting headwinds over Algeria and his speed is down to around 160 knots. At his planned speed of 168 knots he will arrive Southend at 1525Z.

Gill Courage of Aerodynamics is watching the weather (a beautiful day over France and England with winds light and variable) but at his current rate of progress she has him arriving at Southend nearer 1600Z. It is likely that he will pick up speed once over the Med and then France.

What is nail-biting is that Chalkie Stobbart’s time for the northbound leg, Cape Town – London was 36 hours and 35 minutes. For Steve to beat this time, and take the hat-trick, he must fly the leg in less than 10 hours 55 minutes. At 168 knots he will have an elapsed time of 10 hours and 54 minutes!!! At his current speed he will be 30 minutes slower than Chalkie.

SO, will he pick up enough speed over the Med and France to recover 31 minutes and beat Chalkie?

He already has the London – Cape Town leg in the bag and at the slower speed will still take the round trip record – but not Chalkie’s northbound record. (For those of you who, by this stage, will understandably be confused by my arithmetic, the fact that Steve has spent less time on the ground than Chalkie accounts for the fact that he can still take the round trip record without taking Chalkie’s northbound leg).

All I can say is watch that sat tracker and will the winds to be in Steve’s favour…………….

I am flying my trusty Super Cub to Southend for Steve’s arrival so I may not be able to send any more messages, but somehow or other I will post an arrival message as soon as possible after Steve has landed.

What a day for Steve. What a day for British light aviation.

Martin Barraclough

The longest wait

Posted in G-IIXF on 03/09/2010 by Steve Noujaim

0300Z and I rashly telephoned Sam Rutherford in Tamanrasset to enquire if all was well. They were investigating an alternator problem – Sam couldn’t say more.

With a planned take-off of 0440Z the minutes ticked agonisingly by. 0440Z passed so did 0500 and on the sat tracker that bloody little blue balloon stuck rigidly in its last position on the apron at Tamanrasset International. The minutes still ticked by and then the sat tracker showed 8 knots – he was on the move again.

0510 and a text message from Sam “ Arr 0301Z. dep 0500Z. Turnaround completed in 36 minutes, then waited first glimmer light! Photos follow”.

Yee-ha, go for it Steve.

When my heart has settled down to a steady rate I’ll give you all an ETA.

Martin

A time for reflection

Posted in G-IIXF on 03/09/2010 by Steve Noujaim

It’s now coming up to half past one in the morning of 3rd September and today, if all goes well, we will be welcoming Steve Noujaim back at Southend at the end of a record breaking flight that would make that great pilot and patriot, Alex Henshaw, proud. Watching on the computer screen the little blue L balloon crawl down and then up the map of Africa as the satellite beams back to earth Steve’s progress, trailed by Chalkie’s white C and Alex Henshaw’s white H, in the comfort of one’s home, it is hard to relate to a tiny aircraft with its 200 horses and a lonely man, 12,000 feet up over some of the most inhospitable jungle and desert country in the world, battling doggedly on and on and on against fatigue and whatever weather crosses his arrow–like progress.

In the 1950s there was a film called “The Bridges at Toko Ri”; it was the “Top Gun” of its day and I saw it as many times as my friend Tony Haig-Thomas watched Tom Cruise’s latter day hit. William Holden played Lootenant Brubaker and the gorgeous Grace Kelly (ahhhhh) was his wife, Nancy. Micky Rooney, believe it or not, played a very believable naval helicopter pilot. The plot concerned the bombing of heavily defended bridges (at TokoRi) which our hero Brubaker successfully demolished in his Grumman Cougar, but he failed to return from the mission and Micky Rooney and he died in a muddy trench somewhere in Korea. It was great stuff………

At the end of the film a craggy Rear Admiral Tarrant (all American admirals are craggy) played by Fredrick March, stares out to sea from his command seat on the bridge and asks the rhetorical question “Where do we get such men?”

Tonight I know the answer……………….

Martin Barraclough