AIRCREW - AND WHAT THEY GET UP TO
In 1965 I was posted to the then British Colony of Aden. My job was organising the sales of redundant equipment by tender action to 70 odd Arab contractors. Where I worked in the Cemetery Valley area of the RAF Steamer Point base, we shared the site with the Aden Forces Pistol Club Range and as Id been a good shot in the past, I decided to join.
Having joined, I was soon contacted by the club President, Col Drake-Wilkes and he told me that he wanted me to be his club secretary. I soon found out that life was full with this appointment as we were challenging the French Forces in Djibouti to matches. The picture (left) shows a Foreign Legion staff-sergeant at the Aden lines firing point. Capt Marchant of the Royal Marines is at the far end.
In return, the French invited us to Djibouti for a return match. This was a lavish affair with no expense spared. You see me (right) overwhelmed at being offered a drink by the French CinC (The bottom picture). The other shows Sqn Ldr 'Tiny' Fleming talking to the CinC's wife.
To cut this story short now and come to the point I'm going to make: after these matches had taken place I had some leave accumulating. So I decided to buy a civil air ticket with Air Djibouti on one of their daily flights to the African mainland. At the appointed hour I turned up in time for the 1200 departure at RAF Khormaksar civil airport departure area. I was accompanied by a mixed group of Somali's including three goats and two chickens carried loose! The aircraft captain - a small airline owner - was a French count who was there beckoning us on to one of his three DC3 Dakotas. All the passengers hurried forward to get a seat so when I arrived there was mayhem - goats where taking up three seats to themselves. At this point I saw that the Capt. was beckoning me to come forward to the flight deck - this I did and he told me to sit in the spare seat by the table. He then went back into the cabin to make sure that his passenger and animal payload were all seated and belted down. This done he then secured himself in the left hand seat and started engines; taxied the aircraft for takeoff; took off; climbing to operational height and finally, switching on automatic pilot. At this point the Capt. got out of his seat and invited me to sit in it as he was going to check on his passengers in the back end compartment. I was quite thrilled to be sitting in the left hand seat at 30,000ft until I glanced to my right and saw that the rather portly co-pilot with a drooping moustache was asleep! I was not too troubled because I was keeping an eye open for any other aircraft straying into our path. It was at this point that the Capt. returned; I began to make way for him to sit down in the left-hand seat. He told me to remain where I was and he sat in the spare seat and put his legs up on the radio operators table closed his eyes and went to sleep!
There I was with a dozen or so passengers not to mention animals, two aircrew - both asleep - and me in charge of the flight! Minute after minute went by. I knew that the French operated Douglas Skyraider ground attack aircraft from Djibouti that would fly close to other aircraft just to let them know who is in-charge here! So I kept a close eye out for them. Through the haze I could see the African mainland and the town of Djibouti in the distance and the behind that the airfield. It was at this moment that my two aircrew woke up as though an alarm had sounded. I gave the Capt. his seat and he landed us safely at our destination - the African town of Djibouti.
I ventured into the town centre saw a hotel; booked two nights' accommodation; went up to my room and then went out to see the sights. I was walking down the main street when who should be walking in the other direction than the French Foreign Legion staff-sergeant that I'd met in Aden at the pistol competition, in uniform! He asked where I was staying - I pointed to the hotel. 'Sacre Blue! Follow me' he said, and stormed into the hotel demanding that the Somali receptionist return my belongings and cancel my booking. He went on to say that had I remained there for even just one night I would have had my throat cut and my belongings stolen. We left clutching my bags got into his jeep and drove off to the military base at the airfield. He took me to the fellow pistol club member French Air Force Capt George Orio's married quarter and - thankfully after the Staff Sergeants explanation as to my circumstances - they welcomed me with open arms. So I gratefully stayed with them for the three days.
The return journey to Aden was not as eventful as coming out: the Capt. was training another pilot in the command role so the training pilot flew us back. There were few passengers so I was with them at the back compartment. But I suppose with a training pilot at the helm all the aircrew up front stayed awake for the whole flight!
Next time you fly away on holiday think about what your pilots are doing at that time!