|The night is one of those which can only be read about in a Mills and Boone
novel - but is real. The warm, gentle, breeze blows off the Indian Ocean and
rustles the Coconut Palm tree leaves. In the distance is the soft murmur as
the rollers break on the reef. Stars shine down and seem no more than arms
length away. The moon shines so brightly as to make it possible to read a
newspaper, outside, in the middle of the night, and I can - I tried!
Things could be perfect, or as perfect as they can get on Gan, but the situation
has gone horribly "Pear-shaped".
Its like this; manpower on the Transit Aircraft Servicing Flight dictates
a permanent three shifts system each twelve hours "On" and twenty-four
"Off". No weekends, no Bank Holidays, no leave, nothing but "Time
Ex" to relieve the repetition. We have Two/Three Airframe trades, Two/Three
Engine, two Electrician, two Instrument and one "Electronics" man,
plus a Boss, on each shift. The usual total of thirteen is definitely unlucky
At the moment we have a problem. Due to sickness and family difficulties
back in the UK we are down to just one "Electronic" representative,
Cliff, among the three shifts. He can't work 24h/day, so he is not on any
one shift, but available at any time. "Available" in Cliff's language
means that you have to search the right watering hole in order to catch him
for work when he is required. We need him tonight because we received a "Tech
Warning" from a Brit coming in from Singapore, "No Returns on CCWR".
This means the crew cannot use Radar to see tropical storms ahead. They won't
be happy with a "Turnround" servicing and Take-off again. Gan has
to increase its population from around three hundred to four hundred with
all the feeding and shelter for crew and passengers this entails, until the
aircraft is fit to fly once more. No-one is happy at the prospect. Cliff must
Everything that can be done is done and we are ready for the arrival. As
the aircraft stops we go through the turn-round procedure. Cooler, Oxygen/Air
bottle/Bog Trollies, Ground Power Unit, Fuel Bowsers etc. are brought into
position and the inspection starts and finishes as far as we are concerned,
Radar excepted. Excuses are found to go onto the A/C to see how the Shift
Boss is getting on with the Navigator. The "Rover" arrives - the
driver has found Cliff. Mixing him and the Navigator is likely to be a problem.
Cliff looks and smells like someone who hasn't showered, eaten or slept for
some time. The Nav. is immaculate; for someone who has just flown a leg from
Changi, he is a walking miracle. SD hat TDC, creases only where required in
trousers. No sweat streak down the middle of the shirt back above a ramrod
spine, tie straight and mat black. Shoes with no marks to mar the high polish
and not a pinpoint of a sweat on his brow. A regulation picture.
Cliff gets down to business; that is, he sits at the Nav.'s station and closes
his eyes. Electricians hover with AVO and lamp and batteries at the ready.
"Check Resistance between "D" and "F" on No Three
plug", the check is made and the result passed back to Cliff. "Check
between "A" and "K" on No Two". The assistants down
in the "Forward Freight" carry out further instructions as requested,
the shift boss anxiously consults his watch, the Nav. stands waiting (Why
doesn't he sit, go away, or at least, lean). Time passes, Cliff sweats even
more, brow furrowed, heads peek out from the forward freight, everyone is
at the ready, waiting for him to work his magic. Our meagre store of spare
"Boxes" etc. for the CCWR system are gathered and we are ready to
change, repair as far as we can or just thump the item that Cliff indicates
is U/S, but he seems stuck. Everything is back to the way it was when we started.
We are going round in circles. The A/C is cleared of equipment, except for
Ground Power and the Cooler, ready to go when its fixed. We await Cliff..
"Run it" said Cliff. In no time I have three and four going in
S'fine and the radar "ON", we wait. Time seems to stand still, no
one moves. The roar of the GPU intrudes above the engines and they are the
only sounds in the world, apart from the thump, felt rather than heard, of
the oscillating scanner. Suddenly, Cliff surges to the front of the cockpit,
"Let me see that f*****g display". He stares at the screen, turns
to me and says "Stop it". He stays there as the engines stop and
the steps come in. We wait for Cliff to say something.
He turns and says "Who snagged this f*****g thing?" .
"I did" states the Nav.
Cliff looks at him and, apparently, sees him for the first time. He puts his
face close to the Nav's, breathes out, and tries to focus. Everyone stays
frozen in impossible positions, thinking he has finally cracked.
Cliff hangs on his tie, flows round him and then pulls him, by the tie, to
the top of the steps, we follow. He swings his spare arm in a gesture that
covers the star-spangled firmament and declares.
"Can you see any f*****g clouds?". Then,
" How do you expect to get any f*****g returns?".
The Nav enters the cabin while Cliff stumbles down the steps and into the
back of the Rover, shouting "Get me back to the 180". It goes off.
So do we, fast.
No one but the Shift boss and the Nav. is on the A/C. Everyone is back on
the Flight veranda, gazing back at the Brit and wondering what will happen
now. After a few minutes the shift boss comes in and calls "Opps".
"The Brit is finished, F700 cleared, and its ready to go".
I suppose we never will find out what happened after we left the A/C, or
what was said - unless one of your readers.........?.