We refueled in Madrid as planned and had lousy airport food at the restaurant. Then we began the two planes 8 hour trek across the Atlantic. The airport was so busy Vance did the takeoff this time and I was glad of it. The wheels left the runway at 7 PM.
Vance flew at a reduced speed until Josh and Vicky caught up to us, then we flew in a staggered side by side formation with a mile between the planes. The winds were more favorable at 45,000, close to the maximum ceiling the G5’s could fly.
Vance sent me to the back to lie down and rest; it had been a long day. Tomorrow would not be any better and would be a lot more stressful. Vance had napped during the day while I was at the embassy. I checked emails and did a quick VCATS with the office; it was one in the afternoon there.
I slept for two hours then I went back to the co-pilots seat to let Vance get up, stretch his legs and hit the head.
“BJ, it’s on autopilot; if you touch any of the controls it goes to manual and you will be flying the plane,” he said as he climbed out of his seat.
Twenty minutes later Vance was back with two cups of coffee. “We left at seven Madrid time and it is an 8 hour flight which would put us on the ground at Morton Field at three tomorrow morning. But, because we are crossing 5 time zones we need to back up the clock up. We should be landing around ten pm eastern time by any luck,” he said.
“Good, we will be able to get a good night’s sleep in our own beds,” I replied.
I sent a text to the girls to tell them the new arrival time. I then texted Jake and Mindy incase Jake wanted to see his plane land the first time.
They were very long hours sitting in that right seat. I took breaks every other hour to break the boredom. I worked on emails and typed up my notes from all the embassies we had visited on this trip.
I even reread the new guidance directive from Victor and Amy. In light of the Morocco incident, they were requesting advanced training and capabilities from JBG employees. I wondered if we had made a mistake and we were trying to grow too fast now.
By swapping every hour it gave Vance a chance to walk around. The first time he was only gone 20 minutes. The third time he was gone almost an hour. I was sure he was sitting in a position where he could watch over my shoulder to keep an eye on what was going on up front.
I understood why pilots always had books and magazines with them to read. With the plane on auto-pilot and computers monitoring everything else there was little to do, sometimes hours on end. I even resorted to looking through the operating manual that was in the console between the seats.
The more I read and looked through the operating manual and looked for that particular item and read the explanation of what it did and why, the less intimidating the instrument panel looked to me.
With an hour to go Vance took his seat, “BJ, take a quick break and come back. When you do we should soon be able to see the lights of the east coast as clear as it is and I will walk you through everything we need to do to set up for landing at Morton Field.”
When I was back in the seat Vance produced a cheat sheet for landing, pointed out where each item was, what it did for the landing, and even more – why it was necessary.
I could see the glow of the New York City lights at over 200 miles away. Vance was talking to Josh on the company frequency and our radar had him on our screen. They were coordinating the approach and landing as I was sitting in the copilot’s seat.
A hundred miles from the coast Vance pulled the power back and set us up on a long descending glide. He then called Morton field.
“Morton Tower N397G in bound for landing,” Vance said.
“N397G this is Morton tower, set transponder to 1294.”
“Roger, Morton 1294,” Vance replied as I set the transponder digits.
“N397G we show you to be 90 miles out at 40000 feet and descending. Continue on present course and descend to 10000 feet,” the controller replied.
A moment later we heard Josh call in and he received the same instructions with a different transponder number and a different altitude, along with instructions to maintain a 3 mile separation from us.
“Inform the tower we are at 10000 heading 250,” Vance said.
“Morton tower November 397 Golf we are at 10000 with a heading 250,” I replied.
“N397G this is Morton tower. Reduce altitude to 4000 ft, heading 249 intersect the glide slope at point Yankee, heading change to 150 then follow glide slope.”
I repeated the instructions back to the controller. Then Vance explained what it all meant as he dialed in the electronics to detect the glide slope and set up the GPS for point Yankee alert.
Vance explained to me what the computers were doing and how they controlled the plane as the computers followed the guide slope to the 15 runway at Morton field. As we reached 50 feet Vance turned the auto landing system off. “I like to do it from here myself,” he said.
The touchdown was smooth, barely a chirp out of the tires as the weight firmly set them on the runway. Vance let the plane coast out on the runway all the way to the end of the runway and the turn around ‘P’ loop.
“N397G make the ‘P’ turn and hold – welcome home boss,” the ground controller replied.
“Roger control – and thank you,” I replied.
We watched the landing lights of N297A as it made the approach and landed, rolling to the end of the runway. Then we both taxied back to the terminal tarmac.
As we taxied I asked Vance what he thought, “Did we got our money’s worth on the plane:”
“It’s a beauty and flies like a brand new one but only you girls and Jake can decide if you got your money’s worth,” he relied.
“You mean Marcy,” I corrected.
“Yeah, you are probably right on that,” he replied with a chuckle.
As we taxied to the terminal, I saw Jake, Mindy, Mom, Dad and the girls waiting for us looking out the front windows. As I stepped off the stairs with my go – bags and my mobile office computer bag I was surrounded.
“She is a beauty; go take a look,” I said. And they did.
I was expecting the girls to be there but not the crowd that was there with them – I guessed them to be honor guards and others working at the airport. Besides the girls, Mom, Dad, Jake, Mindy and some of the agency guys, there were about 50 JBG employees from various college sites.
As I got off the plane, I had a better appreciation for Mother Nature, for the last five days Vicky and I really enjoyed the 100 degree weather, now we were back home in the middle of winter, in my nicest voice I could muster – “can we move our reunion into the terminal building please?”
The last thing I was expecting and it was a bit of a surprise, seeing two customs officers standing with the group – they were never in their office in the terminal. Sidney Armstrong – the senior Customs official – pulled me aside with a clipboard.
“BJ, do you have any gold, silver or other precious metals, antiquities, cash, electronics, or clothing to declare?” he asked.
“No, I didn’t buy any of those things on this trip,” I replied to his question.
“No contraband, drugs, ivory or restricted lumber or lumber products, animals as pets or insects?” he asked.
“No, nothing on that list either,” I replied.
“OK, sign at the bottom,” he replied. And I did.
He never asked about the 50 million dollar plane I had just stepped off of and I never volunteered anything about it either. I just signed the sheet as he instructed.
I met everyone in the cafeteria, shook the hands of all the security guys and talked with them while we waited for the folks to finish looking at the plane.
Jake and the girls were ecstatic when they came back in from looking at the plane.
It was good to be home with my mates, but Ching Lee was the only one missing at the moment. There was a lot of missing affection to be made up for, but we did our best.
Edit by Alfmeister
Proof read by Joe H.