Two cows, three men and a Buffalo
My next tale comes from the deserts of Oman where a chance encounter caused my colleague and I some considerable pain and distress.
Every year, His Royal Highness Sultan Qaboos bin Said, The Sultan of Oman, sets out with his ministers and entourage on a tour of his nation to meet the people, communicate his development plans and listen to his subjects. This mammoth undertaking is performed by creating a Royal Convoy and travelling overland with everything they are likely to need packed aboard trucks. The convoy had/has two main elements that leapfrog each other ensuring that a tented village always awaits the Royal party at each stop.
Tented village it may be, but unlike a village most of us are ever likely to have seen. Straight from the Arabian nights, sumptuously and traditionally bedecked, the encampment is supplied mostly from its own resources only occasionally relying on resupply by air. The ‘air’ side of the equation was supplied by us, The Royal Oman Police Air Wing, ROPAW for short as it was then.
I strolled down to Operations having been called for a trip that had been mounted at short notice. Apparently there was an urgent requirement to resupply the convoy. We were a little confused by the nature of the cargo, but the suspicion at the time was that His Majesty had probably passed the comment, “Really enjoyed my Cornflakes this morning!” to a breakfast guest. By the time the story had ricocheted around the tent, past the Palace stewards, Protocol and down to Police HQ, the meaning of that statement of delight had been lost in translation. The three of us walked across the shimmering apron to our Buffalo to fly two lovely, doe eyed Guernsey cows down to the desert convoy.
The De-Havilland DHC-5D Buffalo is a superb machine and couldn’t be better suited to desert operations which was handy because our task on this day was to land at a position in the sandy wastes of the central area of the country, an unprepared strip marked for us after careful inspection and surveying by the ‘jaish’ (army). There we would offload our ‘girls’ and other sundry items, pick up a few bits and pieces that were no longer required, turn around and fly home.
We wandered around the ‘cab’, made sure our passengers were secure and comfortable with their hay nets and water accessible, then launched for our rendezvous with the (now stationary) Convoy.
After settling down in the cruise I suggested to Mohammed, our Loadmaster, that it might be an idea to pop back and check out ‘Daisy’ and ‘Buttercup’. In the process of being loaded they had begun to look progressively less and less sure about the enterprise that had ripped them at short notice from their comfy stables. In fact Daisy had looked terrified, bellowing occasionally to let us know she was not totally on-side with the plan. Buttercup, obviously a frequent flier looked pretty relaxed.
Mo hopped out of his jump-seat behind us and disappeared into the hold sliding the cockpit door closed behind him while we entering a revised convoy position obtained across HF from Ops into the Omega and briefed to land in the sand.
After around twenty minutes or so, I began to wonder what had happened to our Mo’ as we heard a short bellow and some movement in the hold. He didn’t have that much to do back there other than check out the cargo restraint lashings, perhaps refill their hay nets, top up the water – that sort of thing.
A short time later we relaxed as we could hear him clambering towards the cockpit across a couple of packing cases of Cornflakes – or something.
The door slid back to reveal a creature we could barely recognise. It was Mo, but not as we knew him, he was plastered from head to foot in cowshit. I can tell you now – I do not elaborate; had the autopilot not been engaged we might have lost control of the aircraft. I don’t ever remember laughing so much in the entirety of my existence. It got worse, the more we laughed, the more angry Mo’ became and the more we laughed. You must have been in this position surely; hysterical, uncontrolled mirth rushing – no bursting out of every orifice, tears coursing down your cheeks.
Mo eventually calmed down and managed to get the story out after cleaning himself up a bit.
It’s obvious really, he had been diligently checking over the ladies – Buttercup was fine chewing the cud and he made his way around the back of their crates to check the rear lashings. As he passed behind Daisy she breathed in, lifted her tail and then let rip hitting him square in the chest with a sustained blast from the ‘brown lazer’. Unless she’d developed sense of humour or an instinct for revenge, he must have taken her by surprise and reaped the reward.
We found the strip, dropped them both off and would have left Mo’ behind as well had we not needed him. It might have been a balmy mid winter day in Oman, but it was still pretty hot in the desert and he honked to high heaven. Not that disgusting you understand, just a little too ‘farmyard’ for our liking. On the return sector we kept breaking into fits every time he looked at us or we looked at each other. Before we landed back at Seeb (Muscat) even he had seen the funny side – what a star!
Oh yes – the ‘pain and distress’ from the opening lines. When I awoke the following day from a good nights sleep it felt as though I had been given a severe beating around my stomach, trunk and neck. I obviously hadn’t done enough in the humour department recently as I clearly used muscles that were not used to such work.
Daisy and Buttercup never did produce any milk during there time with the convoy. They (The Palace) didn’t say as much, but I wouldn’t be have surprised if they had used them in other ways. They provided, if not milk for His Majesty, a decent story for us, let’s hope they avoided the butchers knife and died of old age.
Hiding in the shadow of the other ‘Buff’, A40-CD. Ron Hope is grinning at the camera.
As for Mo’, he saved my bacon a few months later. We were tasked wit carrying a large consignment of Police motorbikes to Salallah; during the take-off roll and as we rotated we had a load shift. Mo, from his station in the back called across the intercom, ‘STOP, STOP, STOP, LOADSHIFT“. Needless to say I ‘un’rotated and stopped…. gently.
Mo’ was an ex-SOAF (Sultan of Oman’s Air Force) crewman/loadmaster and SOAF had a experienced a similar event during takeoff with a Caribou loaded with 45 gallon drums full of AVGAS in the hold. The result was awful with the aircraft tail sliding back to the runway from several hundred feet. The crash and explosion left no survivors – it did leave a salutary lesson that remained in place for us through the quick witted Mohammed.
Ten years after leaving Oman my job took me back with an L1011. I walked into the Royal Flight Social Club to see only one familiar face. Mo’ put his beer down, rushed up and embraced me. For a microsecond, being British, I was a little embarrassed but I needn’t have been. ”So you have come back to fly with us?“ said Mo’. Neither of us had bone dry eyes – it must have been the humidity – or happy memories.