The weather at Heathrow is foul, something that should only concern the queue of metal birds waiting their turn to land. Or so one would assume.
In common with the rest of Westminster, Damian White is oblivious to the problems in the sky above. Damian’s ancestors came from the old empire, the Caribbean and India, which makes him an unusual Tory Member of Parliament for an English shire. However, his biggest handicap is not the colour of his skin, but the fact that he thinks for himself. And votes accordingly. Not ministerial material. Just a career on the back benches.
Until fate launches him upwards into a cauldron of catastrophes that no one else is prepared to handle. Fortuitously linked with Chloe, a reporter from his local rag, he becomes the Night Watchman, his job to steady the ship of state until normal service can be resumed.
Captain McGregor felt he was somehow responsible for the Leaning Tower. This was nonsense, but his was perhaps the butterfly effect that triggered it off. Chaos theory suggests that the future is beyond predicting, because the flapping of a butterfly in the Caribbean may eventually lead to a typhoon in China. Tiny initial cause, massive final effect.
McGregor’s trip to San Francisco was routine, no suggestion of any flapping butterfly. Routine peck on the cheek for wife Jane, before setting off in his BMW. Routine drive from his home in Maidenhead to Heathrow, on this occasion rather better than normal, because the M4 was not the usual parking lot.
The first hint that ‘routine’ might not be the appropriate word came at flight briefing. It seemed innocent enough at the time, just a note from Captain Melville, the airline’s head of training, that co-pilot Alan Hardaker had only recently converted onto the 747: his landings still tended to be ‘arrivals’, and needed some polishing up.
As an old hand on the Jumbo, McGregor was familiar with the problem. Ever since Wilbur and Orville invented the flying machine, pilots had relied on the Mark One Human Eyeball to get themselves safely back onto terra firma.
Until the 747 came along. The first clue that something different might be needed came early on, when a Boeing test pilot undershot the runway, badly damaging his company’s new toy. This monster was not only twice the size of anything that had gone before, but the cockpit was located on the upper deck and the landing attitude was nose up; this meant the main wheels of a 747 were so far behind and below the pilots they hit the ground when the Human Eyeball thought there was still a long way to go.
Years of visual experience had to be discarded. You were not about to land in that field beyond the end of the runway, it just looked that way. The drill became to trust your instruments, or the special visual approach slope indicators Boeing had been forced to install at every major airport, and just fly the slope until the radio altimeter registered fifty feet. Then you started to think about putting her down. At the thirty feet call you got serious. For new boys this last bit might be something of a controlled crash, but it was safe. And once your Mark One Eyeball got the hang of the new conditions, you’d be touching down without upsetting the customers. First Officer Hardaker only needed a bit more experience and he’d be greasing in the Jumbo with the best of them.
McGregor mentally filed the training captain’s note and studied the pre-flight information. A time of ten hours forty one minutes, on the great circle route across Greenland and Arctic Canada, approaching San Francisco from the north. On a Mercator map it looked an odd way of getting there, but it was actually the shortest and avoided some nasty headwinds further south.
The Met forecast warned of moderate Clear Air Turbulence (CAT) north of Scotland. After that, a nice smooth ride. In spite of many years and umpteen millions spent trying to crack the problem, CAT forecasting remained little more than guesswork. These bumpy bits were usually just irritating, very occasionally scary. In either case there was little you could do except strap them in and take your punishment.
Their destination was going in for a light westerly wind, with the chance of sea fog. You hardly needed to be an expert to make such a forecast. Every picture of the Golden Gate Bridge has downtown ‘Frisco swathed in a white mist, murky and cool, while across the bay in Oakland it’s sizzling.
Although the airport lies on the lee side facing the bay, fog is unpredictable stuff. McGregor remembered watching one display, the fog rolling in over the hill, threatening to blanket the airport, but the air warming just enough in its downward path to melt the fog just before it reached ground level.
Yes, fog was unpredictable, which meant the trip’s script wrote itself. The usual formula was for pilots to share the flying, so McGregor, as captain and the more experienced, would take the more challenging first sector into San Francisco. Alan Hardaker, new to the 747, would fly the return into Heathrow. Good old familiar Heathrow. Home territory. Just the place for a tyro first officer to polish up his landings.
No one realised it at the time, but a butterfly had flapped its wings.
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About the Author
After spending his life in the travel business, first for 25 years as an airline pilot before becoming a travel photographer and a cruise lecturer, Rolf decided that the time had come to write about some of the hundred plus countries he has visited by using them as real settings for his fictional novels.
You might also enjoy Rolf’s other books:
Bear Bugger Cruise
Two days into a world cruise a man is reported overboard, but no one appears to be missing. As she heads for the Caribbean, the good ship Gioconda faces further problems. What about that unsavoury passenger in the owner’s suite? And can the Bear Bugger keep the old ship going?
“Intriguing cruise with twist after twist. As with many of the Rolf Richardson books – I enjoyed the context-placing history lessons as much as the story.” – P Thompson
“A unique story based on life on a cruise ship. Rolf Richardson manages to guide the reader through little known Caribbean islands, personal relationships and intriguing storylines. An excellent read.” – Amazon Customer
It’s the dawn of a new decade: 1960. Archie, a young RAF pilot looking for pastures new, gets a job with an airline based in Singapore. His older colleagues are of the war-time generation, trained to complete the mission, almost regardless of cost. But it’s now peacetime and the new mantra is maximum safety.
Unfortunately, the tools of the aviation trade in the early 1960s were primitive by today’s standards. Scarcely a week went by without the wreckage of an airliner appearing on the front pages. Archie’s initial workplace was the Bristol Britannia, a sedate looking aircraft that hid some of the strangest designs ever to grace the skies. Add the constant threat of the tropical rainbelt and you have an environment that can hardly be described as friendly.
This is a story of people who worked in the ‘teenage years’ of the airline industry: the pilots, engineers and cabin crew; the entrepreneur who got the airline off the ground; the ageing aviatrix, with progressive ideas, in charge of personnel. It’s also a story of the struggle to rebuild Singapore after the ravages of war; and to navigate the thorny path from being a colony to independence.
The action radiates from the airline’s base at Singapore: to Calcutta, Karachi, Phuket, Darwin and Australian outback. Finally, Archie has to face a problem that still tests pilots 50 years on: Coffin Corner.
“Rolf Richardson has written a high octane tale of adventure, love, excitement, exploration and danger which charges along at a rollicking pace! An often exotic tour of far-flung locations aboard the Bristol Britannia and, latterly, the state of the art Boeing 707 leaves the reader educated, exhilarated and fascinated. Richardson’s characters are beautifully painted with a vocabulary of limitless depth. Surprises and amusement lie at the turn of every page. Coffin Corner provides breathless, brilliant entertainment. Superb.” – Matt
“From the start it is clear that the author has lived this life or something close to it. I imagine it to be historically accurate and it is very easy to be led through those exciting days of aviation. Take airlines like easyjet for granted? You won’t anymore when you have read this book.” – Kevin Doyle
“Great writing!” – Kathleen Didato
The Last Weiss
In the final year of the Second World War, a Lancaster bomber is shot down over Nazi Germany. The tail gunner, a Norwegian named Per, is the only survivor. Tramping through Germany in a seemingly hopeless quest to avoid being sent to a POW camp, he happens to save the life of young Benni, the last son of a prominent family.
Hailed as a hero, with Germany now desperate for labour, and his status uncertain, Per is put to work in the town’s gasthof, where he quickly makes friends with the local people. Especially Siggy, Benni’s mother.
But in Nazi Germany death is never far away and soon Per’s situation becomes precarious. When a top Nazi, Gauleiter Frunze, with his own mysterious agenda, offers Per a chance to return to Norway, he accepts. In spite of the extraordinary condition attached to this offer.
Per’s action thriller life resumes in Norway, amongst the top echelon of the occupying Nazis, who are desperately trying to salvage whatever they can in the last, losing days of the Second World War.
As the Third Reich collapses in a welter of chaos and blood, Per finds both his personal life and that of his country heading towards a climax. An action thriller and historical romance with twists and turns that will keep you reading until the very last page, ‘The Last Weiss’ is a Second World War novel you will not want to miss.
“A thoroughly enjoyable wartime jaunt. Richardson sklfully weaves fact with fiction throughout this pan- Northern European adventure. Our hero, Per’s extraordinary journey after being shot down over Germany is as intriguing as it is believable. A tremendous story. I didn’t want it to end!” – Matt
“Intriguing historical jaunt from Germany to Norway and back” – Musto
“Nicely paced with interesting characters and lots of historical interest and context.” – P Thompson