“The plane was a real mess; hadn’t been flown for a year and
a half. But we were lucky that the engines had been covered.” Then
he added with a characteristic expression, “ let’s back up
a while and get this lined up right.” Referring back to the phone
call, Taylor said Demos could not say much more than that the flying would
be in Africa and Europe, and he had to know at once if Taylor was available.
The response was affirmative. But almost as soon as he hung up the phone,
Taylor encountered a possible snag. Getting out his passport, he realized
it had run out, beyond the expiration date. So like other knowledgeable
Minnesotans who encounter such problems, Taylor contacted Senator Hubert
Humphrey’s local office in the Federal Courts building in Minneapolis;
and the renewal was arranged about as fast as Taylor could get downtown
to pick up a new passport. He then caught an airline flight, as instructed
by Demos, and reached Zurich on August 26.
The big rush turns into a long wait.
DESPITE the frantic effort up to that point, the situation reverted quickly
to a pattern that is all too familiar to corporate pilots. It might be
“fly on demand” sometimes; but it is just as likely to mean
"wait on demand” or “hurry up and wait" from the
military jargon. For the next four days, everything was at a standstill.
Demos and Taylor stood around waiting for instructions, and even sneaked
in a short sightseeing trip. Then they got word to proceed, again by telephone.
That call was from the international contact man whom Taylor refers to
as "the broker in Zurich." The two fliers were told where to
pick up necessary documents, maps, landing data, clearance papers, and
permits to get fuel at several points, specifically including Khartoum
in the Sudan and Luxor in Egypt. In addition, they were directed to what
seemed like a round-about itinerary. That’s nothing new for corporate
pilots, who often are ordered to go from A to B by way of C in the opposite
direction. It did, however serve to confirm that the forthcoming mission
was out of the ordinary. “That was August 31,” says Taylor,
referring to penciled notes in his black covered notebook. “The
word from the broker’s office was for us to go to London and then
get over to Sanstad, an airport used by the military and by some foreign
airlines that carry mostly cargo and do not operate through Heathrow.
We flew commercial to London and hired a taxi for the ride to Sanstad,
about 60 miles, I'd say." There the two Americans boarded a 707 of
Uganda Airlines for the long flight to Entebbe. At the central African
airport they saw first-hand some remaining evidence of what newspapers
all over the world had been reporting for several weeks. There was wreckage
and building damage from the July 4 commando action, and Russian planes
as well as Soviet personnel all over the airport. “Our contact was
with the Entebbe airport director, who told us he was a commander in the
Uganda air force and a special aide to Idi Amin, the country's strongman
president," Taylor told Pro Pilot. “And we were introduced
to a mechanic who also was there on instructions from Zurich to help us
get the Westwind ready to fly again.” Taylor thought the airport
commander 50 seemed well aware of the arrangements to “ repossess”
the airplane and get it out of the country. But most other airport personnel
in lower echelon jobs apparently didn't knowwhat was going on. They went
about their usual tasks without paying any particular attention to the
newly- arrived foreign "crew" working on Amin's jet. “We
did run into some people who said they had been around Entebbe about the
time of the July 4 raid that got out the hijack hostages, but most of
the Ugandans were edgy and we didn't press anyone for details. It didn’t
look like the smart thing to do, and we had plenty of a job ahead with
that airplane,” Taylor said. Aware or not of what was happening,
nobody interfered with the work and some were helpful when asked to assist
with errands or specific duties. Taylor thought the mechanic was competent,
but rather slow and not too familiar with the Westwind or 1121 Jet Commander.
"We were on Entebbe from September 1 through September 3," said
Taylor, referring again to his notes. "It took us all of three days
to get the plane ready to fly, including a short test hop. That plane
needs a lot of power for starting, and the batteries had been out of use
for so long that they weren't much good. We finally got it started with
a battery borrowed from one of the Russian aircraft.” The test was
hardly an ordinary flight, either, according to the pilots. One thing
that may explain it, Taylor thinks, was that on Friday, September 3, he
and Demos brought their suitcases from the hotel and stowed them in the
aircraft. They still didn’t have the go-ahead or specific orders,
but wanted to be ready, like good corporate pilots. The natural effect,
however, was that some airport workers got the idea they were about to
leave for good. “We had been cleared for the test by the airport
commander,” Taylor said, “but the operations people probably
didn’t know that and certainly didn’t act like anyone who
wanted to release the aircraft. If they really knew their stuff, they
would have realized there wasn’t enough fuel in the tanks to go
very far anyway.”\
It took a little discussion to convince them that the trial flight would
be OK, and Taylor began to move the plane. But before they got to a takeoff
position, a car pulled alongside and four huskies in Uganda army uniforms
got out and announced that they had been assigned as bodyguards for the
two fliers. "Looking at those four guys, with their guns at the ready,
what could we do but welcome them aboard?” Taylor asks philosophically.
“Of course, we did try to explain and warn them that there might
be some risk because the airplane hadn’t been flown for such a long
time, so we couldn’t be absolutely sure everything was in good working
order. They didn’t take our advice, and all four of them got into
the airplane anyway, with their guns in hand. “I checked with the
tower and was taxiing for take-off when all of a sudden a MiG-21 whipped
into position ahead of us. Then we spotted this other MiG waiting on our
tail, like ready to follow,” Taylor added.
Test flight proceeds with MiG escort
“THE CONTROLLER assigned us a quadrant out over the water, from
170 to 220 degrees. Those guys in the MiG’s were up there flying
around us all the time,” he said. According to Taylor’s notes,
the test hop lasted 45 minutes and they only went to about 14,000 feet
when they were satisfied with the aircraft’s performance. Returning
to Entebbe airport, the Westwind was escorted right down to the deck behind
one of the Russian MiG’s. “The other guy behind us didn’t
land right away, but he really buzzed us with a low pass over our runway,"
Taylor recalls. Summarizing the situation up to that point, Taylor said
he and Demos weren't getting much information about what to do or when,
but they were “traveling first class” all the time around
Entebbe. After the test, Taylor figured they might as well go back to
their hotel, the Lakeview, within three miles of the airport and overlooking
famous Lake Victoria. They described it as a beauty spot, and the attention
given to them personally was “Class A.” That was apparently
a result of the word going around that the two foreigners were guests
of Idi Amin himself. As the pilots were about to leave the airport, the
commander said a casual “goodnight” then added, “I’ll
see you at “0830 tomorrow.” Meager information though that
was, it had a kind of professional and official sound. Adding that later
to what they could surmise from newspaper and television reports, Demos
and Taylor figured there would be some activity around the airport the
following day, and they were not disappointed. Back at the terminal by
the suggested time Saturday morning, September 4, the pilots faced reporters,
TV cameramen, and “official” photographers for Uganda TV.
The airport commander managed to advise them against talking too much
to the media people, but they did get pretty thorough photographic coverage.
Finally the activity around them subsided, and they got into the aircraft
again, this time without any volunteer bodyguards. Taylor was in the left
seat, and they filed for Khartoum and Luxor as likely fueling stops and
Athens as their destination. They intended to top off the tanks frequently,
figuring that fuel cells had been dry so long, they couldn’t be
too sure about taking on the actual volume for which that plane is rated
with its extra tanks for long range. The morning was practically gone
when the tower assigned them a runway about 11 am. The Westwind made a
routine takeoff without being sandwiched between any other planes. Taylor’s
log shows that they covered the first leg, 980 nautical miles from Entebbe
to Khartoum, in two hours, twenty-six minutes. After a quick fueling,
they were soon airborne again on the way to Luxor, about 700 miles and
one and a half hours flying time. “We did negotiate an equatorial
front on that segment,” Taylor said, “but everything went
pretty good. Radars worked OK, and everything else. We used 41,000 a good
part of the time.
Another hijacking, and flight plan is changed IT WAS RON at Luxor, and
departure from Egypt the next day with the tanks again topped off by using
the credit arrangements and fuel permits that they had been carrying from
Zurich. Winging over the Mediterranean, everything had to be changed as
they encountered a situation that was making radios crackle in every country
of that area but had no direct relationship to the Demos-Taylor operation.
It was the kind of coincidence that could hardly be imagined and could
not have been controlled even if they had anticipated it. Taylor’s
recollections of Sunday, September 5, are much like the news reports for
that day. They were getting warnings of one airport after another being
closed throughout the region. The reason for the shutdowns, however, was
on the ground at Laranica airport on Cyprus; and that’s where Taylor
and Demos put the West- wind down. A KLM DC-9 was being held there after
considerable wandering under control of hijackers over Spain, France and
other countries. “We were waiting there when the DC-9 got cleared
to take off. It must have been 1100 hours, because that’s when anything
and everything seemed to happen to us. The DC-9 headed down the runway,
and from the chatter we could pick up nobody seemed to know where they
were going, but there were rumors about Tel Aviv,” Taylor said.
“We got cleared to go next and were rolling on a taxiway when operations
called us right back. They said Tel Aviv, which we had requested, was
shut down tight. (News reports for that day said Israel had denied landing
to the DC-9 because of a bombing threat and had blocked all airports with
trucks and tanks parked on the runways.) We just sat around at Laranica
a couple of hours, to around 1400 hours, when there comes the KLM DC-9
back. As soon as it landed, that airport was shut down tight, too.”
Newspaper reporters and TV crews crowded around as close as they could
get to the hijacked DC-9, and they were kept so busy that Idi Amin’s
personal jet and its American bizav pilots got rather slight attention.
Actually, the news media had gone to Cyprus to cover a hot political election,
and the hijacked KLM flight was just an extra bonus of news for them.
Before that day was done, release of the passengers was negotiated there.
Taylor still gets a chuckle from a sideline incident reported in a newspaper
he collected during the Mediterranean adventure. The report was that the
KLM captain recognized one of the hijackers and said to him, “I
think I’ve seen you before.” The hijacker was quoted as replying.
“you probably did. I hijacked you about four years ago on a flight
to Tel Aviv.” That story is perhaps typical of the kind of events
that kept newsmen busy at one spot and prevented most of them from thinking
of the Westwind as anything more than one more transient aircraft tied
up on Cyprus. By Monday, September 6, the hijack problem of that weekend
had been cleaned up, and planes were being allowed to leave when ready.
Again the action must have been around 11 am when the Westwind took off
for a short flight to Tel Aviv. Once under Israeli control, however, Taylor
and Demos were kept circling in a holding pattern for a good 35 minutes.
Lod tower was plainly upset and let them know it. They had not filed 24
hours ahead as required by Israeli security. “But the delay disappeared
as soon as we were on the ground,” Taylor said. “Two guys
greeted us and they had already taken care of the details in customs.
They steered us around the news media people, sort of through the back
door at immigration, and we got through in no more than 10 minutes. In
plenty of time for lunch in Tel Aviv,” said Taylor as a windup of
his Uganda-lsrael mission. With the Westwind “repossessed”
by the Israelis, the job of the "corporate” pilots from MSP
was terminated. They took airline flights again, Demos to Zurich and Taylor
to Frankfurt. From there he continued on schedules, flying Lufthansa to
Chicago and making a connection for home in Minneapolis.
Taylor had nothing but good words for the Westwind, saying it functioned
almost perfectly for a plane that had been sitting idle for so long that
the dirt looked like birds' nests on it. As to political background of
the mission, he preferred to keep low but did deny newspaper reports about
big payments to him and Demos through mysterious Swiss bank accounts.
On Friday, September 10, Taylor was having lunch with pals in the Minnesota
Business Aircraft Association who were at their regular monthly meeting
that day. He was wearing a dark blue blazer and gray slacks, the kind
of outfit that has given Carl Taylor a reputation as a natty but modest
dresser. The joking that went on about hurried international phone calls,
skimpy orders and flight plan changes sounded typical of the “fly
on demand" nature of corporate aviation. Only the international implications
made it different from “your everyday corporate job,” to repeat
Taylor’s description. One pilot quipped that Taylor hadn’t
even been gone long enough to quality for the 14-day excursion fare. Taylor
did bring back one souvenir, a picture of Idi Amin that he took off the
wall panel of the Westwind. He was pretty sure the Israelis wouldn’t
care, as long as they had their jet back.
PROFESSIONAL PILOT / December 1976.