K.J.Fuller # 1354 – 1944/45

Sailor Malan was possibly the first ex cadet to leave the sea and turn to the skies instead. He is certainly not the last, there are many Old Boys presently earning their keep as commercial airline pilots. Ken Fuller was one who spent more than 40 years as a pilot, he originally wrote the following for an Airways publication.

Ferrying an aircraft from Witchita to Johannesburg has become an everyday normal operation. In fact almost boring. Not always so! Take November, 1975; the time, sparrow blink, the place, Witchita, the route, Toronto, Sept Iles, Sondestrom Fjord, Reykjavik, Shannon to Seville. The first North American cold fronts were assembling on the North Western Continent and cold-bloodedly stamping their way to the South East, bringing moisture, bone-aching cold, fog, snow and freezing rain, which would eventually make New Yorkers miserable and long-suffering.

Our take-off on a balmy sunlit morning was in the kind of weather all ferry flights should encounter. The first rain and scud were waiting for us at Toronto. A radar vectored high speed approach slotted in with heavy late morning traffic saw us finish the first leg without incident.

Airborne into a light drizzle and a climb out into a bright sun, levelling at 35,000 feet did not presage a diversion to Goose Bay from Sept Iles. Seven Islands reported heavy snow, wind out of the East at 40 knots, visibility less than 50 feet, deteriorating.

Ah ! Goose bay. An ILS in heavy snow and an empty, echoing wood constructed terminal “Please refuel now – tomorrow is Sunday!” Out in the wind and snow. Temperature on minus 18, wind 15 knots.

The Hotel Goose was a welcome harbour. Dinner out of cans – well cooked mind you, and beer or two. The lounge warm and friendly, with a buzz of conversation, interrupted now and again with the illusions of a very strong, Amazonian – type Eskimo woman. She and a friend ended up in an adjoining room to ours. They and two tough Canadian construction men for raucous company. The walls were a fairly thin veneer. Our banging on the wall caused this comment:

“Hey Larry, you hear someone knocking on the door ?!” “Sure do”. “Well answer it dammit!” …….. “Hell, no one here, buddy”. Female voice, – “Forget it. Come here! Lets…. ” Believe me, that was an athletic foursome.

Our somewhat sleepless arrival at the flightline showed. Our Citation waited, forlorn and packed with ice up to one inch thick. Try calling the anti-icing crew on an early overcast -230 C Sunday morning. If we had refuelled that morning it would have saved applications of shivering elbow grease and overtime rates.

Out of the sun and into the murk and a GCA radar approach, landing, refuelling the Citation and our bodies, then into the fast developing night. At 41,000 feet we noticed light in the distance, like a pale dawn up ahead. After an hour, wonders of wonders ! Right in among the showers of the Northern lights. Giant curtains of changing eerie blue and red rustling drapes, starting out in space above to the right and willowing down around us and disappearing abruptly about 10,000 feet below us, way to the left. On the windscreen, snicks of St. Elmo’s Fire. Never to be forgotten wonders ! Then – they all said it couldn’t happen. Both ADF needles remain suspiciously glued 30 degrees left of the nose. Press to check. Normal. So follow the bouncing needles. The VOR is not on Reykjavik – set up the ILS. Alive ! OOPS, through the centre line at 90 degrees. Proof ! Double ADF failure ! Orbit, waiting for the radar, vectors on to the ILS, down to 400 feet, 50 knot crosswind, break right, circling approach to the in wind runway. We used that rest well in the eiderdowned beds at the Loftleider Hotel.

Another cold windy day, into the air, look down, sombre, dark, mountainous seas – ignore them. Set the cabin temperature to shirt sleeved summer heat – forget the ocean, then down to that little town and airport placed within that green, green island called Ireland. The duty-free girlie laughs at our Icelandic coins, then off to the climate that suited our Southern African souls, Seville. Spanish food, wine & hospitality and on to Las Palmas and Dakar. Easy riding and thence to Abidjan and Libreville.

Further down into awaking Africa – Point Noire awaits. Awaits for our arrival into the middle of a Russian airlift. Troops everywhere, AK47’s lovingly caressed by their new owners. Yes, have permission to land here. No, we don’t have the paper, there must be a copy with the airport authorities. Okay – refuel. Troops. Pointed guns, the army says we cannot leave.

Prods by gun muzzles, into a truck, down to the jail. Thank goodness we had spoken to a Belgian lady at the airport who, realising our predicament informed the erstwhile British Consul. He contacted and stayed with us until the army found us their normal board and lodging provided for people out of favour.

Having been stripped of everything, our bedroom, bathroom, toilet, and sitting room iron door was banged shut. Silence, heat, and thank heavens no bugs, fleas or lice. Our accommodation I fear was too filthy for them. Our guards were pretty decent – they took money from our clothing and bought us sardines and bread, which saw us through our sojourn.

It was my crew mate’s first visit to Africa. I spent a lot of time trying to cheer him up. A very difficult operation when you are worried yourself. Suddenly, late on the third night, the troops arrived. Kicked us out of our cells, made us dress, rushed us to the airport and told us to get !

With relief we got airborne in record time, no flight plan and headed out to sea climbing at maximum rate to 41,000 feet, all lights off in case some trigger-happy missile operator decides to have a go at us. Now the prayer for the HF radio to do its thing, SAA operations alert Windhoek to open for us and we arrive at 2 O’clock in the South West morning.

To the hotel. They don’t put smelly, unshaven, tramps like us up in the Kalahari Sands. An explanation gets us our showers and rooms. The next day, an easy flight home – it all looked so good and well – er normal. Ferry anyone ?