Julie Wright, Admin Staff, TMA Member Brisbane
After 10 years of dreaming, and 8 months of planning, my husband and I embarked on the adventure of a lifetime in August of 2006. (Six weeks prior to departing Brisbane, we of course consulted with Dr Deb Mills to ensure our health was optimal! ) We shared the small cockpit of a single engine Beechcraft Bonanza F33A at 10,000 feet, across half the world. Our fuel tank only allowed a 5 hour flight range, so we had to make 29 stops in 31 days. Our flight path took us – Hurning (Denmark), Copenhagen, Baden Baden, Barcelona, Corsica, Amalfi, Athens, Santorini, Istanbul, Adana, Tabriz, Esfahan, Dubai, Muscat, Karachi, Ahmedabad, Nagpur, Colcutta, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Phuket, Singapore, Jakarta, Bali, Kupang into Darwin and on to Archerfield airport, Brisbane. To experience the many different cultures in quick succession was a fascinating experience. However, despite our careful preparation, the different terrain, along with language barriers, and unforeseen weather conditions presented both mental and physical challenges. We became known as the “Crazy Aussies” by many air traffic controllers. Sometimes we were met with an incredulous “You’re flying to Australia in that?” from commercial pilots on the ground. We planned the route with a German company that organises flight paths and permissions for cargo aircraft around the world. They successfully applied for our permissions, even organizing us to transit through Iran where we made stops for fuel in Tabriz and Esfahan. To smooth our dealings with Army and security on the tarmac at various terminals, they suggested we wear a uniform, so from Istanbul to Darwin, my husband and I wore collared white shirts with epilates and navy pants. We were seen as flight crew. We were to need it sooner than we thought.
On one occasion we had some problems that resulted in our passport stamped with the words Illegal Aliens… Our aircraft was only rated to fly in good visibility. In Esfahan, Iran, our refueling and paperwork took so long, that it was well into the afternoon before it was finalised. Problem. We had no visa to stay in Iran, only permission to transit. We were marched inside the airport under army guard. We sat for six hours in a tiny room with a young fully armed guard right beside us. We overheard the head of the police and the government officials yelling into their phones, trying to sort out what to do with us. We phoned our contacts, they called the Australian consulate. This went on and on.
At midnight we were taken from the airport, thankfully to a hotel, still under police guard – at least the guard stayed outside the room! How could we sleep with visions of being trapped in Iran forever running through our heads. The next morning, we were returned to the airport. Yet another official met with me. This time, thankfully, he had a big grin. I think he was as happy as we were, that a solution had been found. Our passports had been blessed overnight with a 7 day visa. In fact the now smiling official even warmly welcomed us to stay a few days in Iran! We made all the proper polite comments and hurried to our aircraft. As we were waiting on the tarmac, running through our flight checks, we heard a huge roar from the runway. A mick fighter took off and flew vertically at great speed in front of us. What a sight! I looked over at the Iranian police, unsure why the tower had put the mick fighter up in the air before our take off. The officials were all smiling, pointing to the fighter in the air and hands on their hearts yelling, “Ours, ours!” with much pride. Now it was our turn, my husband and I sat waiting for the radio signal from the tower that would giving permission to take off. Silence…. We watched the fighter land and be towed off the runway. Only then, were we given permission to take off. As we looked over at the smiling Iranians, we realised that we had been honoured with a display and fighter ‘send off’.
I earned the nick name ‘wife white knuckles’ after episodes like that, along with sand storms in Tabriz, dust storms in Dubai and a raging torrential storm over Singapore. The realization of our dream would not have been possible without an extraordinary team of many helpers from across the world. In 2006, we, “the Crazy Aussies”, were the 187th in the world to fly this particular route in a small single engine aircraft.