“Fighter jets inbound on the left from behind”, the PAC 750 pilot yelled a warning from where he sat on the first row of passengers' seats. My captain barely blinked and eye while I tried desperately to catch a glimpse of the formation flying jets, now only dots in the distance.
“Oh,” my captain said, very nonchalantly, “That's a regular occurrence.”
I was on my very first contract flight, in the right-hand seat of a Beech 1900 flying from N'djamena, capital of Chad to Abeche, East of Ndjamena, to deliver the relief contract pilot.
This was definitely a whole different world. Ahead of us the white Chadian desert stretched to the horizon. The wind picked up the powder fine sand and suspended in the air. It made it hard to distinguished sky from ground.
Back in N'djamena, our engineer welcomed us warmly. We stayed in a heavily guarded compound in the city. Mortar fire at night in the area around the compound was something you get used to very quickly. This did not deter this intrepid flight crew from sneaking out of the compound in the presence of some of our minders to go and sample the local cuisine.
French and standard Arabic are the two official languages in Chad. With the help of our local protecters and the contract savvy captain, I at least manged to order myself a chicken pizza - that's what I was told, in any case.
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The captain, however, decided that it was time for something a little more exotic and adventurous and ordered a reed rat. When he offered me some, I had a tentative nibble but decided that my chicken pizza was a better idea.
On our return to N'djamena, one day from our many scheduled UN personnel flights, we were told that we had to hold as the president was inbound. We got stuck sitting in the holding pattern for quite a significant amount of time without any sign of the president arriving. Our passengers by then were making very serios hand gesture indicating that the needed to land in a hurry.
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Very reluctantly the ATC eventually agreed to allow us to land.
Once on the ground we were literally escorted by heavily armed guards watching our every move from the moment we taxied of the runway to the apron where we stopped. Our passengers tried their very best not to look desperate or to show the discomfort they obviously were in as they hurried towards the facilities of the terminal building.
I helped the engineer close the aircraft up for the night.
After all this palaver the president never actually arrived.
Towards the end of the contract, we got news that they were replacing the 1900 with the Embraer 120. So, we had to ferry the 1900 home all the way from Chad to South Africa.
We flew from N'djamena in Chad to Entebbe in Uganda, which was a lush, tropical paradise after the desert sands. From there our journey took us to Lilongwe in Malawi and South to Lanseria outside Johannesburg, South Africa.
What an adventure! Our next story will be all about loadshedding - aviation style.