Umm, what?

The local company that supplied aero service into, and out of, Warri International Aeroport had a pilot named Bob.

Bob wasn’t Russian.  Matter-of-fact, Bob would go on at length — in a nigh-unintelligible Russian accent, usually while potted on vodka, and waving his arms with their Cyrillic tattoos — as to his not-Russian-ness.

This being West Africa at the time, the old hands simply agreed with him, and ignored his singing of Soviet marching songs at the top of his lungs at three in the AM.

Bob was also an excellent pilot, and his baby was a C-119 Flying Boxcar that was the major hauling aeroplane for our little patch of the jungle.

The company that Bob worked for had an extremely logical training process.  If you were brand-new to Africa, you would fly with an old Africa hand until said worthy decided you were less-inclined to prang an expensive aeroplane (and kill yourself in the process, but that wasn’t as important), and you got a plane.

Well, Bob got this new kid with a brand-new pilot’s licence and a hankering to see Africa — and it was not a happy match.

Seems like Africa wasn’t exactly matching up to the kid’s expectations; high on the list being the fact that Bob was frequently one-and-a-half sheets to the wind when flying.

One day the kid stomps onto the ‘plane past the locals, the livestock, something angry in a sack (Fact:  if you get on a bush cargo plane with bunch of locals, there is always something angry in a burlap sack.) up to the flight deck, where he learns that Bob isn’t aboard.

Short search finds Bob — completely and totally fit-shaced — asleep in the pilot/radio shack/tower.

This is the Last Straw as far as Junior is concerned.  There are regulations, damn it!

Junior goes and grabs another newbie — this one apparently still with egg yolk behind his ears — and our intrepid birdmen mount their steed for the trip into Lagos.

The locals, who aren’t exactly gormless, immediately grab Co-Pilot Egg-Tooth, gently loft him out the back door, carry Bob from the pilot shack, plant him in the left seat and begin to ply him with coffee, all much to the sputtered indignation of Junior.

Bob surfaces enough to figure out ‘up’ from ‘down’ (fairly important for a pilot, I’m told), and they take off.

Not very long in the air, and the locals decide to celebrate their victory by building a fire on the back deck and spit-roasting Angry Sack for brekkie.  Angry Sack apparently held opinions most firm about this, and as soon as the sack came open, did a runner.

This, of course, led to the locals snatching up machetes and tear-arsing off after their breakfast.

Angry Sack made three laps through the flight-deck (the locals only made two) before Junior Lost His Tiny Little Mind, screamed, leapt to his feet, vaulted into the back and uttered thundering denunciations of Africa in general, and the passengers in particular.  Fingers were waved!  Regulations were cited!  Heritage, manners, sexual proclivities, and level of civilization were denounced in fine rolling language to the deep appreciation of the locals, who were passing a gurgling jug around the back deck in silent admiration of a fine oration.

Unfortunately, Junior didn’t realize that his vault into the back of the aerocraft had landed him standing four-square in the campfire built for the roasting of Angry Sack.

When the C-119 landed in Lagos, Junior was carried off in a litter to a standing ovation — which he apparently didn’t appreciate in the least — but before being loaded into the ambulance managed to snarl a series of promises to Bob, not the least of which was that Junior believed that not even the Nigerian government would let Bob fly anywhere without a co-pilot, and that would give Junior enough time to have Bob’s licence to fly yanked.

Bob belched meditatively, and while the plane was being refueled, he wandered over to the edge of the tarmac, paid ten Naira for a chimpanzee and another Naira for the gimme hat the chimp’s previous owner was wearing.

He then boarded the plane, buckled the ape into the co-pilot’s seat, crammed the gimme hat onto the chimpanzee’s head, clamped the radio headset over the hat, and took off for Warri International.

Fast-forward to the landing, my father and his best friend are in the radio shack, just kind of chilling.  Dad is sipping his first cup of coffee and Tom is swearing creatively at his whiz wheel.  In comes Bob’s plane and my father comments, thoughtfully, “I wonder where the chimp got that hat?”

Tom immediately bounds to his feet in shock.  “Honestly, Jim!  You Yanks!  I can’t believe you just … Bedamned.  That’s a monkey.”

Dad takes another sip, “Bet he’s sober.”

“Huh.  Good point.”


Africa Wins Again.


Small town Law Enforcement
Mood music for today

35 thoughts on “Umm, what?”

  1. Book, now!

    Actually, make that back dated a couple of years. (I know, time travel. But somebody is working on it. :D)

  2. Based on your previous tales from Africa and reading a few former white hunters/professional hunters I would not be willing to place a bet either way regarding the chimp's sobriety.

  3. And Bob and his impending hangover was probably glad the copilot was no longer trying to touch the controls and pontificating on some perfectly regulated world.

    Though I suppose this puts the lie to the oft-stated claim that flying is no monkey business…

  4. Note to self: never read LawDog's blog immediately after eating a large meal. Laughed so hard I think I may puke…

  5. 3 more round trip flights, and a go/no go test, and the Chimp would either be the Chief Pilot of Nigerian Air, or busted back to navigator.

  6. Ha! I've enjoyed all your stories about growing up in Africa. (I've lurked on your blog off and on before; first time commenting.)

    This one reminded me of a funny British radio show called Cabin Pressure, which you might enjoy. It's about a small charter airline.

  7. It has been all too long sir, I love your Africa stories. Thank you for giving a tired paramedic a chuckle to end a very bummer of a shift.

  8. Sadly in that case I do feel sorry for Junior.
    Bob couldve waited until after the flight to be so hung over.

  9. Note to self, check for the chimp in the right seat.

    Ulises from CA

  10. Your tales never cease to amaze and amuse, sir. Just one question: what is a "whiz wheel"?

  11. Ted: whiz wheel = E6-B = Flight computer = circular slide rule specifically created for computing headwind vs. tailwind components, fuel burn, time en route, etc.

    If you get the aluminum one, it's near indestructible, and good for smacking things.

  12. The rule is "Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing. If the aircraft can be re-used, that's a bonus."

  13. You know, I just recently read (aloud, the way the best stories are) the entire Ratel Saga to a friend of mine, who howlingly agreed that the best part of that one was the Trebuchet Incident in the middle.

    She's gonna love this one.

  14. >On a Wing and a Whim said…
    >Ted: whiz wheel = E6-B = Flight computer = circular slide rule specifically created for >computing headwind vs. tailwind components, fuel burn, time en route, etc.

    However it is worth noting that as late as 2250+- AD Spock was seen using a Whiz Wheel on the Bridge of the Enterprise.


  15. Ya know, I do feel kinda sorry for Junior but it was partly his own fault for putting on rose-tinted glasses before taking the job. And not getting out when he had the chance.

  16. Ted:

    did you notice the brand name on it? Jeppesen. I think they originated flight data systems.

  17. If you ever do decide to write a book, perhaps "Africa Wins Again" would be an appropriate title – or you could open it up to your readership as a book-naming contest?

  18. I'm still stuck at the "fire on the airplane" bit, and that apparently the pilot didn't care about it? How could you build a bonfire in an airplane and land with a roof over the cargo area? What am I missing?

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