Day 10 : 6th 0ctober Airport to Hergarda
Nautical miles 254
Today started early (4.30am) and moved through calculation, apprehension, delay, disappointment, anticipation, fear, relief, a bit more delay and ended with farce.
Driving to the airfield it is difficult not to notice the disintegration of Cairo’s infrastructure. Every street is lined with rubble and trash, many of the housing blocks are unfinished or decayed and others unoccupied. It seems some what ironic that in choosing October 6th as the name of an airport and even an entire district, they are commemorating a victory which very quickly changed to defeat.
Last night we had been told that a clearance had been obtained to leave Cairo via the Nile, crossing the city from West to East. But, it was very apparent on our trip to the airfield that viz was probable only 600m. Then, Stuart’s tiger moth had exhaust problems and one of the Travel Airs also needed repairs.
Very soon the area around both aircraft was sprinkled with bolts, washers and tools. As a helicopter person it’s rather awesome to see actual hands on maintenance by a pilot. The Robinson company would never sanction such behaviour.
The advantage of these delays meant that the smog was lifting. But, it also meant that we would route direct to Hergarda, a route that took us over some very high coastal mountain ranges. And since we were not flying up the Nile at 1000feet, the clearance level was to go straight to 6,000 feet on leaving the circuit. The winds at the airfield had increased to 20kts and the winds over the mountains were said to be gusting 35kts. So the expectation of turbulence was very high.
It was a very long leg, 260nm. So a few calculations had to be made as to how much fuel to put in the extender tank while staying in weight and balance. The first thing was to reduce weight. We evicted our rear passenger although we wot his bags. But on the plus side a test if the ‘repaired’ plug had gone well. It did seem to be working, although possibly not reliably.
The airfield was keen to get rid of us signalled by the staff lining up and waving. So the swarm decided it was time to move out. Lured by the promise of a low level route towards the Red Sea and then turning to take a southerly track down the Gulf of Suez.
This time we waited in the ground not starting until the last plane had taken off to avoid the lengthy hover taxi . Climbing to 6000 feet put us well above the clouds. I would never fly like this in the U.K. But it was pretty cool seeing the bi-planes popping out from the clouds like bath toys.
We were then told that we must route directly over the mountains . The very route we had hoped to avoid!
As we got further east the landscape became bleaker and more and more dramatic. It developed furrows and ridges. It looked as if it hadn’t rained in centuries. Bare mountains rose up to 7000 feet. We crossed high cliffs that dropped so precipitously into the valley it gave one vertigo. As for the 35kt win, mercifully it proved to be fictitious .
Hergarda airport was the first stop. The intension was for a quick refuelling stop and on to Luxor. It wasn’t to be.
After the now expected welcome committee with roses and press interviews, the promised Avgas never arrived. Two hours later when we’d met the school children with banners and had our photograph taken countless times there was still no Avgas . After three hours a truck arrived with barrels on the back. The first barrel proved not to contain aviation fuel. It looked more like cooking oil. The refuelling of the 15 aircraft with a hand pump took a further two hours. By now we had set up camp by the caravan.
As the sun was set we were getting into the vibe, drinking beer and playing music. The package holiday travellers getting out of their 737 must have been surprised to see the impromptu camp site. As it got dark and the last plane was being refuelled the authorities put us in a bus and deposited us at the VIP suite. It was like being dumped in a furniture show room in the 1950's.
So 14 hours after leaving Cairo we had managed to get to the Meridian hotel in Hergarda. Tomorrow maybe, inshallah, we will see Aswan.