I don't know where this all started.
It came out of the blue, a briefing to return to the USA, no info! I just thought it was a political decision.
So I was sent back to Texas to renew my senior Airline Transport licence and return as soon as possible and use my Australian Passport? on entry! That was a bit strange.
All I was given was the name of the FAA testing officer at Fort Worth, one other thing that was wee bit strange, the testing officers last name was the same as my mothers maiden name! and it was a very uncommon name?
So here I am walking into the FAA building at Fort Worth flight operations.
I ask to see the testing officer to make an appointment for a flight test, ATR/ IR. No problems I was booked for a test in a couple of days.
I had to go and arrange an aircraft for the test which also was not a problem.
I got a Piper Apache twin engine (test approved) from one of the many Flight schools.
Fort Worth airport was running two active runways at the same time and was one of the biggest flight training places in the world, people would come here from all over the world.
All they needed was the cash and they would be guarantee to get a licence, but they still had to pass the exams and flight test.
The new students (which were mainly Arabs) spent months in class rooms doing multi choice exams until they got a pass rate of over 80%, then they went up to the FAA testing exam room and completed their exam, if they failed! it was back to the class room. or they moved on to the flight training section.
There must have been at least 200 students at Fort Worth airport at any one time passing through.
On my test day I met my flight testing officer at the aircraft and introduced my self and handed him my log book, he followed me around the aircraft asking questions regarding items fitted to the aircraft, when he appeared satisfied with my briefing we climbed aboard the aircraft.
I briefed him on cockpit the instruments and their function and the aircraft paper work, I also included a safety briefing within the cockpit environment.
I demonstrated the emergency drill and the engine failure procedure.
I called the Tower for start up and continued with the controls check for correct movement and smoothness, as the engine temperatures went into the green I ran the engines up one at a time and checked the pressures and function of the instrument.
I then exercised the propellers one at a time, and run both engines down to idle.
I called the Tower for a clearance to Taxi. I read back my clearance and released the brakes, as I rolled forward I applied the brakes again, to prove they were going to work and taxied away to the take-off point, at the take off point I requested a take off clearance and completed my take off checks.
I started to roll reading back my clearance and after becoming airborne I engaged the landing gear into the up position at this point I expected the check Captain to shut one engine down and observe my single engine ability as he never cut the engine! I set climb power and turned onto my clearance for departure, climbing to 3000 feet, as I joined 3000 feet I called the tower and advised them I was departing their zone, they in turn gave me a departure frequency, which I called and gave them my details and I was asked to call again inbound.
I was at 3000 feet and on a southerly heading. when the flight testing officer, took command of the aircraft and asked me " how was it in Vietnam?"? I of course said "I'd never been there"!
he gave a knowing smile and mentioned the name of a few marine officers I worked for, I still said nothing! my brain was doing 50 MPH and getting nowhere fast.
Well he put me out of my misery and showed me his id card, and went on to say he was "sorry they hadn't asked me before now.
He said "We have reason to believe (very strongly) that an Arab group may be up to no good, at the air port and getting you here as a non national, on an Australian passport, who is doing a flight test is the best cover we could come up with",
"you were recommended by the base preacher". (that Preacher man will not leave me alone).
He went on to say that I could still refuse and I will pass your flight test and you can go back to the war or you would fail the flight test, pause the war for now and hang around the airport and see what turns up.
If you fail a flight test you can not present your self for retest for 3 to 4 weeks, so failing the test continues your cover story.
"I'm sorry for asking this at short notice, but tell me are you in"?
I of course said yes! I must be cookoo?
He said "thank you" and he handed me a bright yellow flight cap, saying "keep that in your rear pocket and if you want me to contact you wear it in the coffee shop, I will make a plan and meet with you."
"The owner of the coffee shop is also a flight instructor approved to give training to ATR/ IR pilots and man of great interest to us, we believe he is organising a terrorist cell of some kind! but we have no proof at all or do we have any idea what they may be planning."
"We are sure he will approach you, after you vent your frustration over failing your check ride at the coffee table amongst the other students."
"Now a word of caution these people may be very dangerous so be careful and only observe, relax and be friendly". Oh yes! take this from your preacher friend, he said, "you may need the luck" and he gave me one of the preacher gold crosses that he wore on his shirt collar, "you can take it back to him!".
I flew back to the airport dropped off the check Captain, and returned the aircraft, to it's parking spot, went in and signed it off, there was a few raised eyebrows when I let them know I had flunked the test and had to re-fly it in 3 weeks time.
I went over to the coffee shop and got a piece of blueberry pie and a coffee and sat down, the owner of the coffee shop came over and introduced himself and asked me" how my day went?" I quickly told him, "I'm here from Australia to get a ATR check ride, and as it happens I failed the walk round and cockpit orientation briefing! so now I must get a bit of retraining and do it again in 3 weeks time."
He went on to say "he was sorry to hear that but at least it doesn't stop you flying" I said "my budget was tight so I may need to get a bit of work, but being on an airfield which if full of pilots, it will not be easy".
Over the next week I went into the coffee shop a few times never approaching the owner, and making a point of sitting in a corner, the owner always came and asked me "how I was getting on" and happen to mention that "he held a ATR training certificate should I need some help", I said "first I must earn some money".
The next day. he said "that a company he knew wanted to get their aircraft a Cessna Citation positioned down to Southern Texas next week and they are willing to pay top money for the right guy? who must have a variety of Pure jet and Turbine experience and logged and in excess of 10.000 hours" for their insurance he claims!"
"If I was interested" he said "he would give me a check ride this very afternoon," I said "fine I will meet you later" just them 6 of his Arab friends came in and sat with us !
But I found out nothing about them, they seemed to side track most of my questions, they took their leave all together and when I asked the coffee shop manager "where were they off to?" he casually said they were going to pray and they use a room he has for them upstairs.
I told him I must away to my Motel and get my kit I pulled on my bright yellow cap and headed for the shuttle train to Dallas I wasn't left 5 minutes when my phone went off it was the gentleman with my mothers name!
I told him "sorry ole boy I don't think I found out anything for you in regards to the coffee manager".
Just a couple of small points which may mean nothing, the 5 Arab students were using an upstairs room for their prayer meetings, and I just happened to notice that they never took any water bottles up to the room with them, and one time when I saw them come down from the upstairs room, I noticed their faces looked like they hadn't washed and clearly not washed their feet, their open sandals had sand in them from the road.
So as true believers they were not praying.
One other thing that was strange to me was that they all showed a great interest in big aircraft and their performance! not one of them mentioned the training aircraft they were to fly.
All of them were very polite I would say overly polite, strange really and they all asked me a plethora of questions about large aircraft, but cleverly answered very few of mine.
That's all I noticed Suspicious or not? that's for you to work out.
I then went onto tell him about the coffee shop owner saying "he could get me a positioning flight, paying top bucks and he as going to check ride me today, to see If I could handle the Citation and as there was only one on the airfield,would he check it out for me please.?
"It just seems strange to get a guy like me to fly this, when there must be many locals desperate for the work at 25% of the cost of what they are offering me, and the coffee shop guy would know that". He rung off "saying he would contact me later today".
So I picked up my kit and returned to the airport and the coffee shop, when he was ready I followed the fellow out to the Cessna Citation and proceeded with giving him a full briefing, I noticed he was very sweaty, as if frightened or nervous of something, anyway I continued with the briefing, we climbed aboard and I got the check list from the cockpit and continued the briefing.
when we took our seats in the cockpit I asked him to read from it and I will show where the instrument was and how to test it on completion.
I called the tower for a radio clearance after completion of the radio procedure,
I called for "taxi" and made my way down to the take off position. I was given a take off clearance and away we went, after completing my after take off checks, I asked "my coffee mate what did he want me to do?" I couldn't help noticing he was really in a nervous state and shaking a bit, most Pilots can pick up on this feeling, I would say he has never flown this type of aircraft before and he was frightened.
He said "no that's fine just make a visual landing back on the airfield without the use of any Navigation aids", which was unusual but not unheard of,
so I completed the flight and returned and parked the Citation, his demeanour had changed he was his old self again.
He said "he would contact this company and say I was experienced and capable of flying their aircraft" he then asked "when could I be available" I said " well I thought they wanted it positioned next week but any time will suit me" then he said "well that's true, but theses things seem to have a habit of changing usually sooner rather than later" I said "no worries I can go any time,"
We returned to his shop and had coffee I had a slice blueberry pie
and it was yummy.
His 5 friends came and said "hallo" and went directly upstairs he said good bye to me and followed them, so I made my way out to the shuttle, and went back to my Motel.
In the early hours of the next morning my phone went off with a text: "Open the door" so I did, the man with my mothers name came in. he said "He had done a check on the Cessna and it is under suspicion of being used by a Mexican Drug Cartel.
They always eluded the Drug Squad boys, people who they thought were previous crew, were never seen again, so there was no gossip or information coming in at all.
I looked at him and said "what do you want me to do" ? He said he would like me to undertake the flight and they will cover me and see what happens! if they coerce you to undertake another flight into Mexico.! What ever you do! do not enter Mexican airspace, delay the flight as best you can but don't take off we will get there.
Now listen to me "it's very important do not get out of the aircraft even if you hear us, wait until we bang on the door, we are pretty sure that the plane will be empty, just you and a few bundles of bucks.
But the decision is yours, you can leave tonight with no hard feelings". Another button pusher of mine!
I have your check ride pass here with me, so what do you say.
" I'll go! if they leave a guard on board?
I will fake an engine failure halfway down the strip and run off to one side, just please be the first face I see when I open my eyes". so it was agreed.
He asked me to send a text message as soon as I thought I was going, also before landing to squawk 7700 and leave it on, before starting my let down, so they can position the landing strip, just as a back up!
We will have a Boeing early warning missile tracker over the top of you at all times and we will seal off the whole area and engage with helicopter gunship, with luck we will catch the whole gang.
I thought to myself "Oh dear, Luck? where does that come from.
Well the next day I received a call from the coffee shop owner asking if I was willing to leave today around lunch time?
He said he would log my flight plan for me and give me a copy when I'm ready to leave, I asked him "how would I get back?" he said no problems there is a Cessna 206 on the runway for me to use. I rung off saying "I will be right there to see you"
I immediately gave my controller a call and filled him in on the message I'd got and told him I had agreed to depart around mid-day, "I haven't got my destination yet but the coffee shop man was going to log it for me, so it should be logged with-in two hours before departure". he said "that's OK we will be there" I went on to say " if you can't get organised in time? you must some how! stop the aircraft from taking off, for what ever reason" he said "OK".
So here I am Climbing through 17000 feet for 22.000 feet my selected cruise height and I'm squawking 4400. My flight is only about 20 minutes south, so by the time I reach cruise height I will be on my way down again, but that's jets for you.
I got myself cleared for descent and departed controlled airspace.
I changed my squawk to 7700 as I descended below 10.000 feet.
I called the ground frequency I was given, they gave me a new landing strip, they said "there was a problem with the local airfield and this here is ok, they had used before, its 10.000 feet of used prepared grass and in constant use, no aids for approach, so I will send you the GPS position" which I dialled in, the strip was only 5 miles east, of the licensed field.
I started to acted like a Senior pilot, who was not willing to break the rules risk landing a jet on an unlicensed strip, and it was partly true, the good ole fear factor had kicked in.
What would happen if the Feds never picked up on the change of strips?
I could power up now and "bug out" and just say I was returning to Fort Worth, end of story.
Anyway I said "I would overfly and have a closer look", it was certainly long enough, but it looked very narrow between trees. I flew down the strip low, setting my gps on the way.
I then flew a wider than usual circuit to kill time, calling "Down Wind to Land" I was out of sight of the strip on a finals to land, I was given "wind's down the strip at 10 knots, you are cleared to land".
As I closed with the runway, with all the drag and flaps out, I was sitting on high power ready to kill the engines or increase them?
When I noticed (God bless-em) a couple of gunship helicopter hovering in spaces within the tree, "yes! that's a good feeling "
The landing was a wee bit bumpy but no worries, I had to run to the end of the runway and turn around to get back to centre, where there was a few vehicles waiting, as I approached the vehicles I shut down the engines and made my way to the door flicking off the squawk as I did so,
somebody started to open the door from the outside the looked in and greeted me, his English was heavy with a Mexican Spanish, (just like on the Movies) climbing down the steps I was given a lovely cool drink, it was around 30 degrees C.
I was taken to and asked to sit in an air-conditioned Jeep and they would bring me my money and "thank me for bringing down our aircraft and run me back to the main airport"
A rather well dressed guy came up to the Jeep and sat in with me he said " he had a problem with his Pilot who had been sick all week and they had filed a flight plan for their company strip, better than this one, just over the border in Mexico and he is still very sick and would I consider taking the flight for a generous fee (as he put it) the flight was less than one hour there and back and they would be most grateful.
Of course I knew there was only one answer to this request, it had to be yes or else! I replied " what sort of fee" "$5.000" I acted greedy as they expected and said "yes" he got out of the Jeep shook my hand and said "he would look forward to seeing me later".
I walk over to the aircraft, and one of the fellows said "he would load the aircraft and leave a loader aboard to unload me".
"After I was aboard and I was to depart as soon as they closed the doors". I noticed a two ton van approaching. sitting in the cockpit I noticed they were loading large carry-all bags into the seating area, doubling them up as they approached the cockpit door entrance and eventually blocking off the cockpit from the door,
now whilst this may seem alarming it was not my first time, as a lad I had flown a single engine aircraft delivering news paper on a Sunday morning and we were loaded with papers that filled any spare room in the cockpit,(you were trapped) plan was, the guys unloaded the aircraft at the destination, this looks like the same deal, sitting in the cockpit as I waited for them to close the doors,
I noticed a name in pencil written on the overhead panel, that was something that was my habit as well, I wondered if he survived? I wrote my name besides his.
After they closed the door I taxied down to the end of the runway as slow as I'd dare, turning onto the runway heading I slowly increased the power, I was fixed on my heading and what I was about to do. plan was to run up to V1 and shut off the fuel but leave the igniters on, just in case of fire, should be no problem? then go for the spoilers and brakes and hang on.
well that's is exactly what I did, coming to an abrupt halt at the end of the runway, I saw nothing I was stopped facing the trees.
I heard the helicopter moving in and a couple of short burst of machine gun fire and a couple of odd shots and it seem to be all over, so I waited. Sitting there I wondered how much a couple of tons of dollars would be in value !
I also had my little fantasy of filling all my pockets and brief case with a few bucks and walking off into the sunset, but I was unable to get out?
After about 20 minutes I heard the door open and the bags being pull away to release me It was certainly great to see the drug agency jackets.
When I climbed out of the aircraft, I didn't see very much really a few guys collecting guns and they had about 15 guys handcuffed together, I did notice the well dressed guy was handcuffed as well, a good thing.
There was also a few guys who looked dead laying about, 5 of them I would have thought.
Also the area was surrounded by at least 5 helicopter gunships. so that was that. I was flown away to New York where I was debriefed and signed a few statements and I flew back to the safety of the war.
Back on the base the word was out about my little adventure and I got sick of telling the story, many hand shakes, thumbs up.
the next day I was on duty to go fly a night pick up, so it was all back to normal.
The Feds got themselves a Cessna Citation and a bundle of cash to continue the battle against drugs.
They also found some bodies buried on the side of the strip in Texas.
I gave the preacher on base his cross back and told him "I didn't need any help from him just please leave me alone"!
I never found out how much 2 ton of cash was ? or what happened to the coffee shop fellow and his friends?
A Squawk signal leaves a position of the aircraft on a traffic radar screen and it's very good.
Life goes on, "One, Two, Three, Four, I love the marine Corp"