August 21. Ninoy Aquino, youngest governor of Tarlac, senator and opposition leader, was assassinated in 1983 at the airport now named for him.
Twenty-seven years later Carlo and I were approaching Concepcion, Ninoy’s birthplace. We were flying over a Philippine history lesson, near the old Hacienda Luisita airstrip.
A burst of brogue warbled over the radio – an Irish pilot, over Tarlac? I forgot about Ninoy. Who could it be? The Irish Wild Geese? Pierce Brosnan? Liam Neeson? I began to hum Enya’s “Only Time”.
Whoever he was, he was reporting his position as 20 DME on CIA’s 020 radial, altitude 2,500 feet.
My hair rising, I pulled into a maximum performance climb, broadcasting our own position, “ Clark Tower, one five one three Cessna one five two is two-zero DME on the zero-two-three radial, leaving two thousand five hundred feet, climbing.” Carlo searched for the bogey under an apocalyptic overcast.
Air Traffic Control called the other pilot.
Clark Tower: “Station calling Clark, say again your call sign?”
G-YROX: “This is Golf Yankee Romeo Oscar X-ray.”
G-YROX! A unique aircraft on a unique flight. This was the British pilot from Northern Ireland in an around-the-world record attempt, in an autogyro!
It’s tough to circumnavigate an airport ramp in an autogyro, never mind the world. But this pioneer had already crossed half the earth – Europe, North Africa, the Arabian desert, the Indian subcontinent, the Far East.
I’m getting ahead of the story.
On August 21, 2010, Carlo and I hadn’t defected yet to Woodland. We reconnoitered the airfield again now, to taunt the Hun.
Nothing. No scrambling schwarm of Fokkers. Perhaps Herr Hauptmann was still leafing through his Fliegen für Idioten 🙂
We left him to his advanced studies and flew to the Charlie 2 training area.
Carlo and I always sneak exercises into our flights – stalls, slips, engine out, sick bag emergencies. Today we did oscillating stalls and competition turns – sky to the right, earth to the left, pull! “C’mon Mav, do some of that pilot sh*t!”.
Carlo practiced stalls – airspeed pegged at the bottom, yoke all the way back, throttle and carb heat out to the stops, ailerons neutral, dropping 15 feet per second. You’ll be surprised how many commercial pilots have never done this. Air France 447 and Colgan Air 3407 both crashed because the pilots couldn’t recover from simple stalls.
Then we headed for Nampicuan airfield, where Rolf kept his staffel of German gliders and his sexy Dallach Fascination.
Nothing. We swept low but saw only cows on the runways. Clearly, all was quiet on the Western Front.
We flew south to our own base, dodging rain showers. That wavy black band outside Carlo’s window is the bottom of a thunderstorm. Cockpit lights to maximum.
Then we heard the call.
“This is Golf Yankee Romeo Oscar X-ray.” An Irish accent over Central Luzon!
I leveled out from our maximum climb at 3,000 feet, just under the scud. We heard the Irish pilot report his destination as Woodland. Carlo and I overflew Woodland, on the way home. It’s hard it to intercept another airplane, even with the ‘bogey dope’: position, altitude (“angels”), and destination. We marveled at Battle of Britain pilots in 1940.
Then Carlo saw … it. A hybrid, not an airplane, not a helicopter.
It flew an overhead break and spiraled steeply down to final. Little did I know that I would fly that combat approach in the autogyro, 10 months later.
Nor did I know that those hangars would be home to both my airplane and the strange aircraft for the next year.
I didn’t meet the pilot, Norman Surplus, until 10 months later. And what a magnificent pilot he turned out to be!
Carlo and I made one of our last landings at Omni, and shut down.
Posted from Woodland, July 16, 2011
Next: G-YROX, and one of the most exhilarating flights I have ever had!