Very tired, but happy- averaging only some 4 hours sleep a day recently- late nights, updating websites etc.
Great hospitality in Karachi under auspices of Standard Chartered Bank's CEO for Pakistan, Badar Kazmi.
Found our little bird aircraft in huge hangar full of other birds, so covered in striking patterns of bird droppings- fast washing job done to prepare her for grand send off at the VIP terminal arranged by the Bank.Some 100 children from the Ida Rieu School and College for the Blind and Deaf, along with Air Vice-Marshall Safta, Deputy Director-General of Civil Aviation in Pakistan (MP3 message from him), CEO Badar Kazmi from the Bank, and many other staff and well-wishers!
The children sang a wonderful song of welcome to us that I recorded, and hopefully you can click on the MP3 file and listen to the enthusiastic melody!
The blind and deaf school-children were given special permission to actually come out onto the VIP tarmac and feel their way around the microlight- a rare treat for them, and especially meaningful for me, being able to give them a description of what they would be feeling as they felt their way around it, all talking excitedly, with a huge banner especially made for us in the background- some lovely photos of the scene!
We finally got away after repeated fond farewells and mutual confirmations of unending felicitations, helped by delays in flight clearances, with us sweating profusely in our flight suits in the hot sun!
Our flight to Ahmedabad took 5 hours 10 minutes- our longest single flight to date I think. We had an early opportunity to refuel about a third of the way, but were reluctant to get enmeshed in protocols an the inevitable delays filling in new flight plans, paying landing fees etc.
After several hours of flying I became very drowsy after little sleep over the last few weeks. I nodded off, just for a few seconds several times, and had to keep on violently shaking my head, trying to make sense of the mezmeric voice in my headphones from my computer, before reluctantly asking Richard if he would like to fly for a while- I think he was quite relieved actually! We then began to encounter some quite intimidating head-winds, forcing us up as high as 8,000 feet, searching for more favourable winds, but burning precious fuel in the climb in the hot thin air.
I thoroughly enjoyed some feisty flying in quite lumpy thermally conditions, but both of us grew more concerned as we saw our fuel reserves dwindling, and we had finished transferring all the fuel from our 40 litre reserve tank. As we only have a fuel gauge on our main tank, we usually wait until our main tank is down to half, then turn on our little fuel pump and get her back to three-quarters, then switch off; this way we know roughly how much we have drawn off and what remains.Anyway, long after Richard could see only bubbles frothing their way from the well-emptied reserve tank we became even more attentive of our dwindling main tank, and Richard was describing a huge shallow lake we were flying over, measuring if we had sufficient height to glide clear if we ran out of fuel, and later eyeing different farmers fields far below, some ploughed and others with various crops, but none looked very inviting for a landing, and all the rural roads had trees growing along each side, precluding them!
We decided to continue climbing even more, giving us a slightly better ground speed. I worked hard at not asking Richard if the fuel needle was still moving, and what side of Empty it was lurking, concentrating on listening intently to my alternate air and ground speed, comparing them with our changing altitude, looking for the elusive tail winds that did not materialise!
When, with great relief from us both, we were only 10 miles from the Ahmedabad airfield and in contact with Air Traffic Control, we politely requested if we could disregard their instructions to reduce height, tentatively suggesting that we kind of like the height, as we were keen on keeping our long glide options open if necessary! We both began to wonder how far she would fly on concentrated fumes only, but she kept on powering us mile after mile towards the airport, and with great relief and light hearts we made quite a steep and fast descent into the circuit, feeling the wonderful warm 40 Centigrade air envelop us after the chilling cold air we had endured at high altitude.
We landed with a bit of a spring in our step, hopped out to be warmly welcomed, and resisted for at least two minutes to take a peek into the main fuel tank to see if anything in a liquid state was visible- Richard assured me several litres were clearly visible, in a tone that implied he had no idea what all the fuss had been about!
What a joy to take our thick flying suits off before the baking sunshine cooked us too much despite it being about 5.15pm in the evening.
We always work our flight times and flight plans on global Zulu or UTC time, which meant it was only midday in Britain and I was surprised to realise the day was almost gone here!
In the customs area I was offered one of those low office chairs on castors, with two customs men standing either side of me holding on to the blind man in case he fell. I was feeling a bit mischievous after the great flight and relief, so proceeded to sit down as slowly as I could, taking well over a minute to slowly lower myself inch by painful inch, with the customs men enthusiastically encouraging me not to be afraid, as they were holding me very tightly by now, with Richard trying not to guffaw into his beard, shaking his head at my antics- great relief detectable by all watching when the blind man eventually made contact with the seat! I am still wondering what I want to be when I grow up- maybe a pilot, but I don't want to jump into anything too quickly!We then encountered ongoing delays clearing customs and other flight clearances, that made our headwinds faced earlier look like a roaring tail-wind in comparison!
Unfortunately, Pushbak Ghuman, Branch Manager for the Standard Chartered bank in Ahmedabad was patiently waiting for us in the terminal, denied permission to come through to us, juggling with a huge press conference of some 60 media people, who eventually reluctantly dispersed without meeting us. One ingenious young lady from the Times of India managed to interview us in the terminal, and Pushbak finally had the opportunity to warmly welcome us with beautiful heavy garlands of wild rose blossoms, pungent with that glorious rose perfume missing from most hybrid roses from florists these days- we felt very special and honoured!
After finally clearing formalities we reached our hotel at 7.15pm, and spent until 10.45 doing individual interviews with as many of the press we could get back, finally falling into bed around midnight absolutely shattered, but happy that another interesting flight was behind us, and one less to go before reaching Sydney! Several prominent newspapers had us splashed all over their front pages the next day, that we found heartening after all Pushbak's hard work!