Our Britannia turboprop was flying empty – no passengers, only the crew on board. We had left Bermuda well before dawn, and were climbing on our way west towards Richmond in Virginia to pick up a group of American tourists who had chartered the aircraft for a holiday in Bermuda. No one had told them Bermuda was not a sunny Caribbean island and was due to receive a deluge in a few hours’ time! On the Met forecast at flight briefing, we had seen the front lying across our intended track and had discussed how best to fly round it. A deepening low had left New York and was moving out into the Atlantic. A vigorous cold front stretched down nearly as far as The Bahamas. The thunder tops were reported to be well above 35,000 ft. There was no way a Britannia, designed in the late ’40s and which first flew in 1952, could climb that high; we would have to set off and see if there was a way round. Passing 18,000 ft, the captain turned towards the south and settled the aircraft onto its new heading. “What’s the heading now skipper?” I asked. “230. We’ll stay on that for a while, I’ll tell you when we change.” He went back to the radar searching for a gap in the massive wall of clouds ahead. The stars had long gone, obscured by high clouds above. Great ribbons of lightning darted between the cloud tops ominously close on our right. Some, lit from within, glowed brown. Purple flashes struck bright down to the sea, others wriggled and writhed in jagged lines along the whole front as far as we could see. “The brown ones are the worst,” muttered the flight engineer. “You should see ’em over India in the monsoon.” If they were as bad as this, I shuddered at the thought.
From: SKY TALK by Philip Hogge. £19.99 reduced from £30. www.burntash.eu/sky-talk