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ECHIDNA

WHAT IS ECHIDNA?

The Echidna is a native Australian

The idea, the design, the construction and

the soul.

This is the story of a very unique helicopter. The machine, the people who designed it, sold it and flew it and those who will go to extreme lengths to steal its secrets and ensure it fails.

‘When Ian Jay kicks tyres and lights the fires, you’d better strap in and hang on tight!’ Phil Smith, author of Shooting Script and Tiger Stripe.

Entertaining and exciting.’ P. R. Harper, author of Decision and Dilemma.

In Store Price: $AU34.95 
Online Price:   $AU33.95

ISBN:   978-1-921240-36-2
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 469
Genre: Fiction
Cover: Clive Dalkins

 


Author: Ian Jay 
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2007
Language: English

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Biography    

Ian Jay served as a flight engineer and weapons systems technician in the Royal Australian Air Force for over 22 years. In that time he operated as a flight engineer on several different aircraft types including the C–130 Hercules, the HS 748 and the Chinook helicopter. He now works for a major Australian aerospace company.  

He lives with his family in Queensland , and Echidna is his second novel.      

Also by Ian Jay  

To Do or Die (Zeus Publications, 2004)

Chapter 1  

1983  

He strained his eyes, squinting slightly to improve his vision. He could just hear it, but he knew the echo might give a false heading. There, a speck in the distance. It wasn’t coming from the direction of the noise, but from the east.

The approach was higher than he expected it to be. Normally, the pilots would fly in lower, use the runway as an excuse to low fly and then turn sharply into the parking area. For some reason, this pilot was descending from about one thousand feet straight to the tarmac entrance. Maybe he was practising some sort of special emergency approach.

The din created by the aircraft’s rotor increased as it got closer. Now he could hear the echo coming off the hangar doors as well, the distinctive slapping noise the blades made as they sliced their way through the air. It was called the ‘wok’ and the Iroquois helicopter had a very unique and unmistakable wok.

The pilot halted the descent as he approached the taxiway and held the aircraft at a three-foot hover. The side door was slid back and the crewman, on his knees, checked the landing area for obstructions as the chopper was manoeuvred to the spot. He heard the engine whine change as the bleed band opened when the pilot wound down the throttle to ground idle. The engine was shut down and the machine slowly returned to rest. That’s when he walked over to it.

‘G’day Danny,’ the crewman said as he approached.

‘Jimmy. What’s the story?’

‘She’s good I think. Check with the boss.’

Danny nodded. He stood back allowing the orange-suited passengers, three in total, to walk away. Observation mission, Danny presumed.

The boss finally climbed out and stretched. Danny held back a bit. He was never comfortable around officers and this officer was the biggest. Not in size, but in rank. The boss was the CO and a Wing Commander. As he collected his helmet and nav bag, he continued debriefing the co-pilot, a Pinkie, who’d just arrived on the most recent changeover. ‘Normally, we like to come in low. It’s good practice over here, just in case. However, you’ll need to maintain your instrument approach techniques,’ he was saying.

The co-pilot nodded, looking through the aircraft from the other side. ‘I didn’t know there was a threat from SAMs. I thought it was safe airspace.’

The boss smiled. ‘Safe today, who knows about tomorrow? Besides, flying a Huey above five hundred feet brings on nose bleeds.’

They both chuckled in knowledge of the hidden meaning: helicopters were to be flown at low altitude at all times or there’s no point in flying one.

The boss turned to Danny. ‘Sorry, son. I suppose you want to know if you’ll be missing the barbecue?’

Danny smiled weakly. ‘I hope not, sir.’

‘Well, don’t worry, she’s good. Slight vibration in the pedals but this one always does.’

‘Thanks, sir.’

Danny climbed straight up onto the roof, anxious to get away from further chitchat with the officers. He didn’t notice the three aircrew walking away towards the flight line hut. Daniel Crane, Leading Aircraftsman and airframe fitter, was already consumed by his tasks of inspection and checks.

 

Danny had been ‘in country’ for over three months. In country in this case was Egypt , as a member of the ACMFO or Australian Contingent to the Multinational Force and Observers. Danny was part of a team that consisted of about one hundred Australians and thirty New Zealanders. That group made up the Rotary Wing Aviation Unit. Australia had put up, in addition to the personnel, eight white Iroquois helicopters, or Hueys, as they were known. The Kiwis contributed two aircraft, but they were leased. Danny liked the white paint job on the aircraft; it made oil leaks more evident.

The MFO’s brief was simple: make sure the Egyptians and Israelis played nicely. Israel had handed back the Sinai Peninsula to its original owners and the peace accord was being monitored by the MFO. The orange-suited gentlemen that Danny had seen getting off the Huey were US State Department observers. Danny presumed they’d been out counting tanks in one of the zones into which the peninsula was divided.

Danny’s after-flight inspection was quick and thorough. He knew the procedures and limits of wear, verbatim. His hands and eyes worked in a well-practiced sequence. He noticed only one abnormality: the rotor head stabilisation bar damper recovery time was close to limits. It would go a few more flights yet before it needed replacing. While he continued his inspection, the fuel truck arrived along with another fitter to perform the refuelling operation.

With the aircraft refuelled, Danny and the other members of the duty crew team towed the Huey into the hangar. There had been a severe wind alert issued earlier and they had decided to put all the aircraft away. It was almost 1830 hours when the sun, a big red ball in the west, cast its final shadows across El Gorah airfield.

 

The barbecue was in full swing by the time the duty crew team arrived at the Surf Club (Danny always thought it strange to call the recreation and bar a surf club given it was miles from the sea. However, it was in fact a registered surf club in Australia and training was routinely conducted in the Mediterranean Sea ). A weekly tradition was the contingent barbecue. Every Thursday a couple of blokes would take a contingent vehicle and drive across the border into Israel to shop at the Beersheba markets. Steak, salad, chicken and bread were purchased. Tons of fresh bread. The bread the guys brought back was considered a food group in its own right but with Aussie Vegemite spread on liberally, it was pure luxury.

Pushing through a group, Danny grabbed a couple of slices and made his way to the bar.

‘The usual?’ the barman, an RAAF supplier, asked.

Danny smiled, ‘Are we out of Tooheys already?’

The barman nodded. ‘’Fraid so, ran out yesterday. I can offer you a Kiwi Double Brown if you like.’

Danny raised his eyebrows. ‘In your dreams.’

‘Okay then, one Heineken coming up.’

The New Zealand beer was only popular with the Kiwis, and then only after whatever Australian beer brought in by Hercules every six weeks was all gone, or so it seemed to the Aussies anyway.

With his can of Heineken, Danny looked out over the beer garden. The BBQ was working hard with steak and chicken frying away and permeating the air with an unusual blend of exotic odours. It appeared the designated cooks had dreamed up yet another new marinade. Most of the contingent was there, standing around in small circles, drinking and laughing. The standard groups were evident: pilots in one, crewmen in another, ‘framies’ or airframe fitters with engine fitters in a large circle, ‘queer traders’ (avionics fitters) in yet another. There were a few interlopers though, fellas who didn’t care who they drank with. Danny was an interloper, but as he didn’t drink a lot, he generally found himself with other blokes who drank with restraint. That represented about five percent of the contingent.

Tonight the decision was made for him. He would join the home team, the ‘backhanders’, the framies and sumpies. He looked at the group: Bill Paterson, Col Planter, whose nickname was Wart, and the new sergeant to name a few. And of course, his roomie, ‘Macca’ McKay.

‘Hey, Danny boy!’

Oh God, he thought, here we go again. He forced a smile and walked over to the group.

‘Macca,’ he said as he approached.

‘Dan, Dan, the airframe man! How the fuck are ya?’

‘Great.’

Macca put his arm around his shoulders. ‘Where ya been, mate?’ he slurred, obviously a few beers already under his belt.

‘Duty crew.’

‘Duty crew! And is all well with the fleet of turbine-powered peace keepers?’

Danny half smiled. ‘Yeah, pretty much, except for the oil leak on 395. Looks pretty bad.’

Macca’s eyes widened. ‘Oil leak? From where?’

‘Turbine, rear seal. They lost two quarts in an hour.’

Macca, being an engine fitter, was shocked by the news, the prospect of work looming through the groggy haze. ‘You’re joking!’

Danny looked at his roommate and nodded slightly, ‘Yeah, Macca, I’m joking.’

Macca smiled, the go-ahead to keep drinking now issued.

‘You’re a shit, mate,’ he remarked draining his can. ‘But I’ll forgive you if you buy me another beer.’

‘Sorry, mate, I need food.’ With that, Danny turned away and joined the queue for barbecued chicken and salad.

 

Half an hour later, Danny opened the door to his and Macca’s room. The airconditioning had been on all day and it was almost too cold for comfort. He ditched his carry bag and then searched for his shower kit and clean shorts. The room was a contrast with Macca’s side reasonably tidy and Danny’s a mess of paper, pencils and chip packets. After finding his kit under a discarded Rotorcraft magazine, he made his way to the ablution block. He needed to wash away the red dust that had collected on his skin and in his hair so he could think straight and be ready to tackle the problem that he had identified with the design.

 

Daniel John Crane was born on the 18th of November 1960 in Launceston , Tasmania . His father was a process worker at the Waverley blanket factory and Danny grew up in a Housing Commission environment. Unable to afford a private school education, the naturally gifted student completed his secondary education at sixteen with one of the highest results ever recorded at East Launceston High School . His sister, two years younger, would just beat him. But being the smartest kid at school had its downside. Friends had been hard to find and keep. Not many wanted to hang out with the straight ‘A’ Daniel Crane. Instead of playing football or catching eels in the South Esk River , Danny would read, and the only thing he read was aviation, anything about aircraft and flying. He possessed a unique ability to remember facts without study, thus his high academic achievements. He never studied a day in his life, but he could quote facts and figures about aircraft and anything else he wanted to from an early age.

His love of aviation began when he had accompanied his father to the Launceston Airport to pick up his Aunt Kath who was arriving from Sydney . He’d been six at the time and was captivated by the noise and action that surrounded the terminal. It would be six more years until he himself would take to the sky: a half-hour flight in a Cessna 172, his combined birthday and Christmas present in 1972. He had pleaded and pleaded with his parents over several months, even forgoing a bicycle. But that flight from Launceston Airport up the Tamar River and back had been a life-changing experience. There was no doubt about it, he would become a pilot.

Unfortunately for Danny, his eyes would not support this plan. At the Air Force Recruiting Centre in Hobart , his dreams of flying crashed when the doctor advised him his visual acuity was below acceptable standard for aircrew, and was very close to the limit for general or officer entry. This not only shattered Danny’s dreams, it placed him in an awkward situation. If he was to have a career in the Air Force, he needed to enlist soon, before his eyesight worsened. He was seventeen and a half and in his final year of matriculation when he decided, against his parents’ and headmaster’s advice, to apply to join up as a technical trainee instead of waiting until he had matriculated. Again he pleaded, over and over, to his father for permission to join. His father, after his headstrong son cautioned he would leave school anyway, finally relented. Danny could have finished matriculation with top marks and joined as an engineering student the following January had he stayed on.

And so, on 5 July 1977, Danny enlisted as a Category Two trainee, his destiny to become an airframe fitter. Eighteen months later, he was posted to 16 Squadron in Canberra as a qualified technician to maintain the Iroquois helicopters. And now, four years further on, he was taking a shower at El Gorah Air Base, Sinai , Egypt .

 

*  *  *

 

At the same time as Danny soaped up his hair, thousands of miles away in a house in Fremantle , Western Australia , a young woman sat at a table cramming for an exam. The desk light illuminated the books, notes and other stationery that littered its surface. Her eyes hurt and she knew that the fatigue was making it even harder to study, but she wasn’t yet satisfied she’d done enough. For her, this was it: the last throw of the dice, the last chance at a pass. Oh, and she needed this pass! This pass was the ticket, the final hurdle to be vaulted.

She muttered, ‘I just don’t get it’, and stood up. Running her fingers through her hair, she looked down at pages. ‘Why can’t I get it?’ she asked of no one but herself. She shook her head. ‘It’s got to be here, somewhere?’ She turned a page or two and then shook her head, picked up her coffee mug and went into the kitchen. The oven clock said 2.10am. God, she thought, no wonder I feel like crap.

The mirror in the bathroom confirmed her fears; she not only felt awful, she looked it as well. Her shoulder-length brown hair was knotted and straggly, her face pale and her eyes circled with dark rings. Splashing water did little to improve her general well-being but the coolness woke her a little.

With another mug of black coffee, Megan Chambers wandered back into the study. Well, it wasn’t really a study but a disused bedroom in the house she shared with her father. She was just one exam away from completing the first year of her degree. A pass in this exam would assure her a spot on the advertising degree course.

Psychology, for Christ’s sake. What good would that do me? she had often asked herself. But as the first year was a general BA syllabus, psychology was compulsory. A Bachelor of Arts majoring in Advertising was her goal and if it meant she had to understand why, according to Freud, Aquinas and Nagel could agree that masturbating over a woman’s shoes was bad, they couldn’t agree why. Who cared? But if it was deemed necessary for her to know, then she’d sit there until she did!

With her father on night shift, she could drink all the coffee she wanted, and have the occasional cigarette or even a joint. He was rarely there to stop her.

 

*  *  *

 

The airconditioning in Daniel Crane and Derek McKay’s room was now silenced and the accommodation block quiet with most of the contingent still at the Surf Club, including Danny’s roommate. The room was brightly illuminated with both the overhead light and desk lamp on. The quiet suited Danny; he thought more clearly in total silence.

The drawing mocked him. He traced the circuit again with his pencil starting at the circuit breaker. Mumbling quietly to himself, he followed the electron flow through the wires and components like tracing a train journey along tracks and through the stations. He knew what he wanted to achieve but he couldn’t prove it on the drawing. He didn’t find it annoying; on the contrary, he found it a challenge. Anything not known to him was simply waiting to be discovered.

His pencil stopped at a relay. He tapped it lightly and then smiled. ‘You, you little bugger,’ he said pushing his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. ‘You’re my challenge.’

Danny rubbed out the schematic representation of the relay with an eraser and drew in another copying it from a Preslite parts catalogue. When he had finished, he traced the circuit again. This time it worked. He smiled again, folded up his diagrams and drawing, placed them inside his metal trunk and slid it under his bed. Switching off the lights, he lay on his bed. Now in darkness, he would design another circuit in his head, until he fell asleep.

*  *  *

In Fremantle, Megan was already asleep, her head resting on her arms, her arms covering Freud. She remained that way until 5.30am when her father came home from his night shift and helped her into bed.

Ten hours later, Megan emerged into the Western Australian sun from the lecture hall at the University of Western Australia , mildly confident of a pass in Psychology. Either way, she was going out tonight. With exams over, for the time being anyway, the fun part of being an attractive eighteen-year-old female could begin. 

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