Archive for March, 2007

Wednesday 28 March, Bombay Town Hall address and event.

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

Joanna Conlon, responsible for our Seeing Is Believing flight amongst her many other responsibilities for the charity, flew in this morning, and, from 1100 hours until 1650 hours we had almost non-stop press interviews in the hotel lobby, with continual processions with the accompanying photographers over the road to an embankment holding back the sea, to be photographed in every conceivable position and facial expressions, staring up into the sky, pointing towards "Australia", and even one persistent photographer wanting me to make flying motions with my hands, standing on top of the sea wall, with the sea surf down below.  My only relief was to occasionally pretend to walk off the wall into the sea, that elicited immediate yells of horror and warnings, and I even managed to get the photographer to yell and stop shooting for several milliseconds- triumphantly  I moved away a few feet, feeling very pleased with myself, and the inevitable passer-by's wondering why the blind man with the stick was parading up and down the wal, with Richard trying to look like an aviator in all the melee.  Sweat running down our backs every time we left the air-conditioned hotel lobby to be hit by about 98% humidity and baking sun!

That evening I had the honour of speaking at the Standard Chartered Bank's prestigious annual Town Hall event, hosted by the CEO of all India and Nepal, Neeraj Swroop, attended by nearly a thousand bank employees from their national Head Office here, where the other half of the staff would meet the following evening for a similar presentation, but with an excerpt video clip from my presentation this evening.

What struck us as we came into the foyer of the impressive auditorium was a full scale model of our microlight, made with amazing ingenuity especially for this event, as we were not able to fly here ourselves!

It even had an impressive looking engine and propeller at the back, and Richard and I had great fun being photographed sitting in it, commenting on how much more space it had than ours!  Top, top marks to the designers!

The Seeing Is Believing project has already been hugely successful in India, which contains 23.5% of all the worlds blind people.

Already, 78,000 blind people have received sight restoration through their vision and compassion, and they are surging ahead with new higher goals to be part of the 10 million dollars the bank is aiming at raising by 2010, seeking to impact the lives of 1 million blind people in 20 developing countries around the world in the process- highly, highly commendable and inspiring to me!

After a late supper we returned to the hotel for a final de-briefing with Joanna, and, whilst I attempted to get some sleep, lay awake with my mind full, waiting for a wake-up call at just gone 0300 hours to catch an early flight back to Bhopal via Delhi.

Jon Cook joined us, as he was getting a flight later to Delhi, sorting out a visa for Richard into Bangladesh. Our bumpy, fast ride was in a taxi identical to an Austin A40, that turned out to be made by Fiat in India- air conditioning via open windows, and myself, bumping around, using the time to transfer our latest photos on my computer onto Jon's memory stick en route- all of us more asleep than awake!

Richard read to me a sign as we were going through security, ensuring I had none of the following in my luggage: crow bars, axes, choppers, cricket bats, blasting caps, dynamite, hand grenades, plastic explosives, realistic replicas of explosives (unrealistic replicas presumably allowed!). The complimentary newspapers on the flight all had our smiling faces once again plastered over their front pages, a very pleasing result after the bank's very hard PR work yesterday, with good profiles about Seeing Is Believing…

Tuesday 27 March Ahmedabad to Bhopal

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

Both very tired- Richard's wake up call didn't wake him, so two tired but intrepid aviators up and rearing to go around 0600 hours, meeting up with an international press agency man photographing us trying not to look bleary eyed carting all our flight gear down the hotel corridors; met up with Pushbak and other bank colleagues, and spent from 08.30 hours to, believe it or  not, 1315 hours, before we were finally given permission to fly, having even started up our aircraft and began to taxi 75 minutes earlier to find the good old customs man, smiling as ever, suddenly appear in front of us, explaining he needed more signatures and clearances, despite assuring us 3 hours earlier all was finished!

I was feeling a little sick today, partly with a bit of suspected Deli Belly as we affectionately call it, mixed with just plain old exhaustion, not having any time off at all for the last 19 days.

Just before take off my compass and angle of bank began playing up, resulting in me not being able to fly very effectively this leg, with me feeling definitely off-colour as well. We decided to fly high to pick up a favourable tail wind predicted by Met.up there, so we sailed up to around 10,000 feet for the whole flight, with me comparing air speed, ground speed and altitude all the time, and starting to feel very cold, having sweated profusely in my hot flying gear with our hot-tarmac delays, that now left me feeling shivery and cold, plugging in my heated gloves.

We then hit some GREAT turbulence, charging at high altitude into well-developed thermals.  We would be thrown violently to one side, hitting the fast moving spiralling turbulence that would shunt our ground speed from 95 mph to 65 mph in a couple of seconds, accompanied by soaring up at over 500 feet a minute effortlessly, with both of us bracing ourselves for the inevitable opposite violent movement as we came out the other side of the thermal, throwing us the other way, jarring the wing bars into us, accompanied by a swooping, gut-wrenching descent just as fast as we came out the other side!

Both of us I noticed repeatedly checked that our little waist safety belts were definitely secure!

As we approached Bhopal Richard described the beautiful lakes that surround the city, infamous for the dreadful chemical disaster some 15 years ago, with a release of a deadly chemical gas cloud that killed over 5,000 people, and has left thousands of others disabled and ill, with many blinded through it.

We were warmly welcomed on landing, and given immediate hangarage, with the head of the SCB here coming to welcome us.

Whilst Richard cleared customs etc, I was encouraged to meet the press conference waiting patiently for us, and walked through, garlanded once again in pungent-perfumed Indian wild roses, into a barrage of camera flashes from some 30 very enthusiastic press people, all demanding I give them an official message from myself to the people of India etc.  I felt a bit like Kissinger standing there, and it took a good 30 minutes before the questioning and flashing cameras calmed down, and I was able to give them some photos of the microlight flight from my computer, as they were denied access to the hangar and machine.

After Richard joined me we were whisked off to a beautiful hotel that used to be the palace of the local ruler of the region- beautifully preserved with ornate fountains sparkling in the courtyard outside our rooms.

After a quick shower we were taken back to the airport for a evening flight to Bombay, so we could speak at an event the next evening  for the bank, arriving at the Bombay Hilton around 2300 hours, to be met by Jon Cook our Project Manager and our wonderful bank hosts once again.

Another exhausting day, tumbling into bed around 0100 hours, trying to recharge our batteries for the busy day ahead.

26th March Karachi-Pakistan

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

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!

Friday 23 March

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

John Cook, my great friend and our Project Manager flew in via Dubai this morning, bringing with him maps and other essential material for our ongoing flights from here on, including the mounting for the 6kg raft Richard needs to mount above the engine of the microlight.

Jon's case, containing the vital mounting, was not put on his connecting flight in Dubai, resulting in some pressure on us all to get it forwarded out in time for Richard to fit it before our long flight tomorrow to Gwadar, over the Arabian Gulf into Pakistan, wehre we plan to refuel and fly on from there.

Imran Awal, our very gracious host from the bank met Jon and I in the evening for our last meal together for now, but unfortunately Richard was still hard at work fittng the life raft and fuelling up, with security regulations restricting our involvement there wth him.

I MUST come back to beautiful Oman!!!

CROPS

(TO VIEW MORE PHOTOS FROM THIS LEG OF THE TRIP, CLICK HERE

Thursday March 22 Muscat

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

Today I was given an invitation to visit the Al Noor Association for the Blind, one of three centres I uncderstand they have throughout the country.I was very honoured to meet and be escorted by their dedicated patron, her highness Sayyida Aliya Al Said. I was introduced to different members of the organisation, and shown around the centre, that is soon to be replaced by a much bigger building.

AL NOOR ASSOCIATION FOR THE BLIND

I was fascinated by the beautiful jewellery that blind people were making here, with matching necklaces, bracelets and earrings made from collourful semi-precious stones, with exquisite harmonising colours.I was blessed with a set for my wife and two daughters before I left, so my family also will always remember my visit there now! I also felt some very soft scarves and head coverings, crocheted without needles, but rather on the fingers of the individuals- a Japanese craft they had recently been taught. I was shown around their I.T. department, and listned to the speech-output coming out, not in english as with my own system, but in perfect Arabic! They also have a growing braille library and audio cassettes for educational purpuses, and I understand they plan a visit to the RNIB in London to give them more ideas to continue serving with great dedication the blind people of Oman.

My final activity before speaking to them all was to represent Great Britain in a "ping-pong" tournament against some of Oman's best! The game is really quite different to conventional ping-pong, except for the fact that the same bats are used on a similar sized table. The table is bordered by wooden sides some 12 inches high, and an oblong box is sunk into the centre of each end of the table.  The ball is about twice as big as a ping-pong ball, and is much harder, with some small balls inside to give it a tinkling sound when moving. The purpose of the game is to get the ball into the depression protected by the player at the other end, and points are scored whenever a "goal" is scored!

PING PONG

It is actually a very fast-moving game, with the ball hurtling off the sides, crashing around, and I soon found an enthusiastic crowd around me cheering loudly as we smashed the ball at each others goal- but unfrtunately I ended up being beaten 3 nill in good style, despite my energetic and acrobatic actions- skill seems to be the key, not showmanship, but great fun had by all!

I was very honourd to be accompanied by her highness… during my visit, who also helped with the translation when I spoke to the gathering after coffee and biscuits.

I came away feeling I had made lots of new friends, underwstood a little better the global commonality of blindness, and the fellowship we enjoy facing the challenges it brings with it.

A quiet evening with Imran and the head of the bank's HR department here, Khalifa Al Said at  an outside restaurent with Richard ended wih Kaleefi and Richard heading off the airport to visit the customs there.

Our life raft for our long water crossings flights that had been sent out had not been cleared in time before the Omani weekend here (Thursday afternoon and all Friday), and it took all of Kaleefi royal blood line, HR connections and diplomacy to finally get it released and left with our microlight at around 0100 hours this morning!

(TO VIEW MORE PHOTOS FROM THIS LEG OF THE TRIP, CLICK HERE

Wednesday March 21 Muscat

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

21 March Muscat:

I spoke at a luncheon for the bank staff here, hosted with wonderful eastern hospitality by Ravneet Chowdhury and his highly motivated team here.

I was especially touched by the deep commitment of the youngest members of the bank's fast growing sales team here, who all came to say hello to me afterwards- I could not have been made to feel more welcome!

MUSCAT BANK STAFF

That evening I contributed to a dinner at the Grand Hiat Hotel here in Muscat- a fabulous, imposing hotel right down by the Gulf. Shayne Nelson, CEO for this region of the world for the bank also spoke, and I enjoyed meeting many of their corporate customers from Oman, and was interviewed by several newspapers and publications about our flight to raise much needed funds for the Seeing is Believing project.An extremely enthusiastic auctioneer, dressed in a dazzling white suit I am told, who had flown in from Dubai especially to support the event led us in an amusing, fast-moving auctioning of paintings and sporting memorabilia for the charity, and I understand some $10,000 was raised from the evening.

Our huge thanks to all who contributed financially to support the goal of our flight- to restore sight to thousands of unnecessarily blind people in our world today!

Richar and I ended the evening relaxing down by the beach nearby, listening to the sound of the surf, drinking fresh mango juice drinks, surrounded by the wafting, spicy aroma of patrons quietly sucking on their "Hubbly-Bubbly" pipes, known as Shisha Pipes elsewhere.  Tjhey consist of small quantities of fruit-flavoured tobacco placed in tin foil on burning charcoal, with the person sucking up the aromatic smoke through a chamber of smoke-cooling water into an ornate tapestry-covered pipe.

(TO VIEW MORE PHOTOS FROM THIS LEG OF THE TRIP, CLICK HERE

Tuesday March 20 Dubai to Muscat Oman 190 miles- 2.35 hours

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

Just beautiful being in the Arabian Gulf- sunshine, warmth (on the ground at least!) and great hospitality!Jet Aviation Services in Dubai looked after us so well this morning (many thanks again to Marcus and his great staff), who not only did not charge us a penny for parking our machine in their hangar, but very kindly also paid our fuel bill for us.This saving means more blind children and adults around the world will receive the priceless gift of sight through the significant savings made here.Simply life-changing stuff.Marcus and Jet Aviation, you may never get to meet or even know about these individuals, families and communities you have touched around the world through your generosity today, so we thank you most sincerely on their behalf…Dubai air traffic control were very supportive to us as we were directed out onto the huge runways amidst all the giant aircraft around us, and vectored us safely away down the coast towards Oman and Muscat.

I have spoken at several conferences in Dubai recently- the last just about seven weeks ago.  Just exhillarating to realise this morning that I was now actually at 3,000 feet flying past the very hotel in the microlight!

We may have been the smallest aircraft ever to use their giant runway, but somehow I don't think it was the least significant flight to do so, through the generosity of people supporting our Seeing Is Believing flight for sight.

It still makes me smile and pinch myself whenever we pass through the normal departure formalities at big airports like Dubai, with our kit going through the x-ray equipment, showing up an array of dodgy items including dangerous looking knives, that we explain we need with us in case we crash into the sea and need to cut our way out.  They seem to look at us like we are pranksters pulling their legs, but start to realise we are serious when we have no boarding cards, and, when they ask us what time our flight departs we tell them, "when we are ready"- and remember they are talking to a man with the shorn remains of a shaggy beard and a blind guy with a white stick, andwe are both are introduced as the pilots.
When we then show them a picture of the microlight, and explain it has taken us not 5.5 hours to fly from London but 14 days, and we are on our way to Australia they start looking at the big knives again and start wondering if we are serious- it makes me laugh and shake my head, as, somehow, it seems as ludicrous to me as it must do to them!

We had to be cleared by Executive Flight Services today, the handling agents for all private flights out of Dubai, and, when meeting other pilots chatting together about their flights coming up in their Gulf Stream, Leer Jets and other business jets to the States, Hong Kong etc, it seems a bit of a let-down to admit that we are flying a microlight, with the two of us not only being the full compliment of crew, but all the passengers as well, with our entire aircraft, fully loaded with us on board, weighing less than the luggage for a small business jet.
We seem to leave a trail of silence behind us whenever we explain what we are doing.

Our flight today was a really beautiful route nearly 200 miles all the way down the Arabian Gulf coastline from Dubai to Muscat, mostly at 4,00 feet or lower.
ENTERING OMAN
Richard described the scenery below, that included small fishing boats with enclosed circular nets pulling in their catch, with seagulls diving into the harvest to the beautiful homes and gardens all down the coast, with big circular watered vegetable gardens behind them.

I ended up geting a bit of a migrane headache on one side of my head, that I think was caused by the volume of sound that erupts from one headphone from powerful radio transmissions from other aircraft or ATC at times.
It was fairly cool up there, and I was pleased to have my heated gloves plugged in and two fleeces underneath my flying suit, along with three pairs of socks!

Muscat airport opened their arms and hospitality to us, and we were immediately offered hangar acommodation for the microlight for the four nights we will be here- Jet Aviation again opening doors for us!

We were treated to a great sea-food dinner tonight by Imram and his cousin from the Standard Chartered Bank, both of them also pilots!

Tomorrow I speak to the staff of the Bank here in the early afternoon, whilst Richard works on the microlight, sorting out a few things regarding our camera equipment etc.

Tomorrow evening we will both attend a corporate dinner hosted by the Bank, where I trust I can be a vehicle through my presentation to encourage the businessmen and their wives attending to give generously to  the amazing Seeing Is Believing charity.

I am very tired tonight, now having flown continuously for the last 14 days with long nights as well updating the website material, so I am heaing for bed now, knowing I don't need to listen to my 0600 hours alarm going off for once!  Sleep is a wonderful gift, isn't it?!

(TO VIEW MORE PHOTOS FROM THIS SECTION OF THE TRIP, CLICK HERE

Monday 19 March (day 13) Bahrain to Dubai via Arabian Gulf 270 miles over water

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

We were very kindly hangared overnight with Gulf Air, and we returned this morning to find our little baby microlight totally dwarfed by a huge, huge Boeing 767 over it, with us nestling under a wing, not like a mother hen and chick, but more like a mother hen with a flea!

I felt hot and sweaty, even putting on reduced warm clothing under my flying
suit- just two fleeces and no balaclava, but we soon felt a bit cool once we were up at 3,000 feet over the Gulf.

Actually, we were very grateful to get away so smoothly, and once again felt a bit dwarfed by all the huge commercial airliners taxiing out behind us, and felt a bit less threatened once airbourne and out of the circuit!

The air was a lot less turbulent over the 270 miles of open Gulf most of the way, and I enjoyed being able to keep a more accurate track as a result, listening to a recipe of angle of bank and compass only.

After about 3 hours non-stop listening to this digital data being spoken to me, I found my brain feeling a bit mushy, and on a couple of occasions I could hear the information perfectly, but could not translate it into meaning, and meandered off course a couple of times- just a matter of a few seconds loss of concentration that results in me having to turn some 60 or more degrees to get back on track.

I am beginning to realise how tiring it is on brain power, having only audio numbers to constantly digest and interpret.

We flew over lots of oil derricks, either stationary in the Gulf or being towed to new locations by boat.

Richard also described the gigantic size of a few super-tankers we flew
over- giants of the sea, even at 3,000 feet!

Richard took over as we approached the now famous Dubai skyline with a 20 MPH tail wind, flying just off the coast with all the high sky-scraping hotels and buildings just a little way off our left wing, including the soon to be highest building in the world, as well as passing over the artificial islands that have been built- one of them replicating in miniature the continents of the world.

APPROACHING DUBAI

I think we made history today,  becoming the smallest aircraft to have landed at the huge international airport, according to one of the aviation people who has been around for many years.

Jet Aviation, the same great people who gave us hangar accommodation at Biggen Hill for several days, again came up trumps, offering us unlimited use of their facilities here as well (huge thanks to Michael at Biggen Hill and Marcus here!)

We found that our Project Manager Jon Cook had once again done a great job sorting out our hangar space, and Sophie back at the Standard Chartered Bank came up trumps with a great hotel near the airport- thank you both so much!

I did a long telephone interview for a British magazine soon after arriving at the hotel followed immediately by two more interviews in the lobby with both the UAE's biggest newspaper and one of the region's most popular magazines.

DUBAI

I then discovered we had lost another hour flying into Dubai, so find myself trying to sort out this blog at 0145 hours, and looking forward to my bed!

Tomorrow it is off to Oman, where we will have our first break from flying daily the next day- my 13th in a row today, with the pace very exciting but also tiring

Huge thanks to all who have sent us e mails in the last few days- I will try to catch up with them all in Oman!

(TO VIEW MORE PHOTOS FROM THIS AREA CLICK HERE

Sunday 18 March, Arar Saudi Arabia to Bahrain, Persian Gulf

Monday, March 19th, 2007

We had a great send off by the fire crew from Arar, although not as early as we hoped, due to delays in flight plans being approved and finding suitable fuel for the aircraft.

At last it is warmer, and for the first time I reduced the 8 layers of clothing under my flying suit to only six, and was only wearing three pairs of long woollen socks!

We had more lumpy, bumpy weather as we continued to fly up Saudi Arabia, following the oil pipeline and national highway through the desert. Lots of small desert houses, with the occupants eking out a living by growing crops, irrigated by a circular irrigation system about a few acres in area, with booms on wheels driven by water to turn the drive wheels, whilst the linking water pipes sprayed the crops with priceless water from boreholes literally hundreds of feet deep.

I laughed so much today, talking to Richard on our intercom, and trying to describe how difficult it is  trying to fly the microlight in a straight line along the track (the imaginary line on a map drawn between two points, that we try to fly the aircraft along). You may remember my earlier description of trying to listen to my angle of bank and my compass heading, keeping a reasonable track over the ground through listening to the information and seeking to interpret it, whilst flying in somewhat challenging conditions, being thrown about the sky a bit. I asked Richard if he would like to try closing his eyes, and I would relay to him my information coming into my headphones from my computer and flight instruments.

After a few goes, meandering about the sky a bit, he asked me to only give him the compass heading, and he thought he could fly fine with just that.
He actually did very well for a while, just veering about 20 degrees either side of our track, that was very good, due to the thermals from the desert throwing us about quite a bit.

Then I began to struggle to keep my voice normal, transmitting the compass headings to him, as he began to turn more and more to the left- over 90 degrees after only about 20 seconds or so, that is something I sometimes battle with, as, when you put pressure on the bar from the wing to correct the turn, sometimes, whilst you think the aircraft is starting to respond to the bank, it is gaily keeping on it's original bank in the opposite direction, with you thinking you have stopped it by opposite pressure on the bar, that, due to turbulence n the air at the same time, has had absolutely no effect to reduce or reverse the bank.

By the time you realise it with the compass lagging behind, along with the angle of bank, you are, as Richard retold me several times yesterday, "heading into Iraq without a visiting card!"

I found it hugely, hugely gratifying that Richard, one of the worlds most acclaimed and recognised microlight pilots and World Microlighting Champion in the past, also had difficulty with his eyes shut.

The good news is that we have still some 10,000 miles to go, and Richard is dedicated to help me learn how a blind person can navigate more effectively in rough conditions- early days yet, and I am deeply grateful that I have had two such experienced pilots to accompany me on my trip.

The second good laugh of the day was when we realised that we did not have sufficient fuel to fly direct to Doha in Qatar as first desired, so we had to divert to Bahrain, an island situated some 30 miles off the coast in the Arabian Gulf to refuel.

The international airport usually only deals with big commercial jets and executive jets, so they diverted us on a typical approach path for a Jumbo Jet, way out to sea!

By the time we finally landed, we felt a bit pressured to clear the runway, so Richard decided we should "taxi" to the nearest exit allocated to us.  We ended up actually "taxiing" along the runway at about 65 MPH, which, for those of you in the know, means we are actually far above our take-off speed of about 45 MPH.  The result is that we "Taxied" at several feet above the runway, trying to look as casual as possible, at the pace of an intercontinental jet, somewhat aware that the pattern contained minor other aircraft behind us, and were very thankful to end up parking next to a Leer business jet departing, and closely followed by a C130 Hercules behind us.

Once again we felt like very small fry in a very big, noisy pond, surrounded by aviation giants, but with me slapping Richard on the bank and telling him he must be the first aircraft to inconspicuously  actually fly clear of the ground whilst taxiing at an international airport!

I was a bit concerned that they may charge us for two landings instead of just one!

Unfortunately we were unable to get refuelled and submit new flight plans in time to fly on to Doha in Qatar, so had to content ourselves with refuelling and preparing for an early start tomorrow to Dubai, if all goes to plan.

Our huge apologies to the Standard Chartered Bank staff and media press conference that had to be postponed in Doha due to our non-arrival.

I am learning so much about the complexities of international flight, mixed in with flying one of the worlds most primitive forms of flight- the beautiful microlight- totally open to the elements, so when you are flying, you KNOW you are flying!

Saturday 17 March- Saudi Arabia Arar to Qaysumah

Monday, March 19th, 2007

We had another wonderful Arabian meal for breakfast with the firemen at Arar airport, squatting on the carpet with a great array of pita type breads and savoury fillings, accompanied by a small thimble full of sweet Arabian tea- I longed for lots more tea, but just had the one, as we try not to drink before flying- not only our aircraft needs to have the range to reach our next destination, but our bladders as well!

The fire chief put on his number ones and we took a picture of him sitting in the microlight, telling all his staff in a loud jovial voice that he intended to buy three of them; one for him, then two more for each of his wives!

We took off around 1120 hours local time (now three hours ahead of Zulu or Greenwich Mean Time), heading for Qaysumah, some 4.5 hours flying time away.

Our route, like yesterday, is simply following the main international four-lane highway, that also follows the main oil pipeline, so our GPS systems and maps are very much an optional backup!
Road and Pipeline
I was very tired this morning, having been up until 0200 hours updating the website after recovering my lost computer, so asked Richard if he minded me dozing off for a bit. The funny thing was that I dreamed that I was in a microlight flying to Australia (honestly!), at the same time that we hit a particularly feisty thermal that shot us up in the sky, leaving me suddenly waking up, feeling a bit weightless, and realising with a shock that I was living my dream in an unexpected literal way, and taking me a few seconds to relax and realise all was fine, but I didn't doze off again after that!

I have actually found that it is great for me to fly from the back rather than the front, as it reduces all the hassle of changing radio and transponder frequencies. With my heated gloves on, unless the weather is literally icy, my hands seem to cope fine with the slipstream rushing past them.

Our whole flight today was over open desert, cold at first, but warming up, resulting in very turbulent disturbed air from all the thermal activity, keeping us flying low, anything between 200-500 feet, as the air was calmest there.

As we were flying alongside the road, it gave us an opportunity to fly at the same speed as an SUV driver roaring down the road, lost in his own thoughts, to suddenly realise he could see two people waving to him out of the corner of his eye!  After his initial shock we grinned and waved at each other, becoming something of friends via these Ariel gestures.  Half an hour later, after he had pulled ahead of us he stopped for petrol at a lonely roadside garage, and waved furiously at us as we flew over, waving back to him.I wonder what he will be telling his wife this evening- just one of those lovely moments of international communication without a common language!

My flying today was far from good in the very turbulent air, as both my compass and angle of bank indicator have a bit of a lag to them.  This means that, for example, my compass takes a second or two to measure my heading at that moment and tell me.  Likewise with my angle of bank indicator, speaking degrees of angle of bank left or right also lags a bit.
You can imagine, in very lumpy air with us being thrown about a lot, that there is a measure of guesswork needed, with me trying to marry the two bits of information being spoken into my headphones every three seconds, trying to calculate how much opposite bank I need to put on the wing to stop us drifting too close to the Iraq border, just some 30 miles away, running parallel to us.

In very rough conditions, it is actually very difficult to estimate an average direction to stick to, not having the advantage of a sighted person simply watching the angle of the horizon and a pre-selected point near the horizon to aim at.

The result at times was a very relaxed and jovial bearded Richard chuckling away over the intercom, telling me once again that we were going to visit the Iraqi's without a visiting card.

The other factor, as I have mentioned before, is the intrusion of other radio traffic from other aircraft or Air Traffic Control that partly drowns my computer input, and requires me to also listen to the messages, as well as holding a conversation with Richard at times. Any little distraction like this is sufficient for us to be 40-75 degrees off course in the lumpy air before I can start correcting it.To a sighted person, it is easy to visually see the degree of bank correction they are applying, knowing it is sufficient to compensate and correct the heading.  For me, at times I put a level of pressure on the wing to change the angle of bank, but, sometimes, that particular pressure is quite sufficient in still air to correct the turn.  However, in turbulent conditions, my pressure on the bar may have resulted in absolutely no a corrective bank due to equal opposite turbulence hitting the wing at the same moment.  Alternatively, the same turbulence under the opposite wing may have accelerated and over corrected the bank, with both options only becoming apparent to me seconds later, requiring me to again estimate the new correction to input, and estimate when to meet the turn in advance, so I don't allow the aircraft to go beyond my required heading.

It can be very tiring mentally as well as physically, but having one of the best microlight pilots in the world and the past World Microlight Champion pilot chuckling and making suitable derisive remarks into our intercom is strangely reassuring!

We landed here in Qaysuma to be warmly greeted once again by the local airport fire station staff, alerted by our friends at the Arar airport, who very kindly gave us hangar storage and arranged for us to stay in the airport's VIP visitors accommodation, so we didn't need to travel some 12 miles to the nearest hotel.
Eastern hospitality is simply wonderful in every way- gracious, totally genuine and knowing no limits, leaving us high standards to aspire to in our own lives!
Airport Officials - Quysumah
Tomorrow we plan to fly to Doha in Qatar, a long flight that will take us into another country once again, as we continue our quest to restore sight to countless blind people in the world today- a staggering 28 million are actually curable, just with money…

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