Looking towards the East, for as far as the eye can see, is nothing. Towards the West is the same; except for the startling crimson sunsets at certain predetermined times each day. Releiving the monotony to the North is a tiny blip on the horizon indicating a range of hills in the far distance but upon turning South to complete the vista, the view returns to a normal nothing. This is the Jafra Desert and our Pit Station is sited in the middle at mile 5 of the white lined, special graded, derubbled and thoroughly pampered track. Squinting through the heat haze, the lake mirage appears to have us surrounded and in the midday 100 degree F sun, the water beckons us to jump in. But we know there is no water; we have just driven in this morning from our overnight camp on the edge of the desert and we are covered in dust to prove it.
However from 500 feet above, the fantasy waterscape is gone, replaced by flat featureless nothing. For me, this is the world's biggest runway. Ten miles long, few obstacles, smooth surface ten miles long whichever way you turn, so the wind direction makes no difference. I want to package it up and return it to my microlight school in Staffordshire. (along with some of this Jordanian sunshine saved up and used frugally next November, or February when things get a little grey.)
Several features though are outstanding and these are my "raison d'etre". The pit station and compound house the only signs of life for miles around. The SSC hides from the sun in its own blow up AireShelta, whilst the Pegasus Quantum 912 is tied securely in the lee of the pit station under a reflective cover for protection against U/V light.
Five hundrend metres away lies the speed track. Ten white lines laid together make a sprint track suitable for a super giant Linford Christe. Each track, fifty feet wide by ten miles long. If the aliens looking down from above spy this symmetrical pattern, they will surely be wary of the giants of Jordan.
Crossing this track at right angles, are numerous Bedouin routes accessing Saudi to the east and Iraq to the north east. These desert highways cause two problems to the SSC project. The much trafficed lanes are rutted and scour the otherwise very smooth desert surface causing the car to loose contact with the ground. An ancient grader is presently used for smoothing these out. Obviously traffic across the speed runway whilst the car is running would be unwise, so the Badir (the desert police) are employed to patrol the main junctions and the microlight can observe a wider view from above.
Just prior to the first run of the SSC, I spotted a vehicle moving into the area and flew down for a closer look. The old battered Mercedes truck may have seen me or the Badir and decided to turn off the track, off the Gha (the flat sun dried mud plain) and into slightly undulating country, and sit and wait it out. As soon as the run was completed and the police had returned towards base, the heavily laden vehicle set off on its way again. Yesterday a group of camels was seen heading towards the track, but were sheperded to another direction after a couple of low passes.
This morning an army vehicle pulled up and requested some assistance from the eye in the sky in finding some lost hardware. We flew most of the morning combining the search with some "air experience" flights for team members. Half way through the 100 square mile grid search pattern I had a strong deja vu - I was back in Leicestershire looking vainly for one of Barry Underwood's hidden markers in a Round of the British Microlight National Championships.
This is a desert plateau at about 3000 feet AMSL combined with the warm temperatures, there is a noticable deterioration in aircraft performance - possibly 30% worse than normal. Track inspection can be very quickly completed and it is possible to fly for ten miles at no higher then ten feet. Care must be taken to look left and right when approaching the "highways". My attention now turns to the Nevada Desert for the next installment of the "Quest for Speed" - no Bedouins, but a new set of circumstances, hopefully a little cooler.
The SSC looks very good at speed.
© Simon Baker
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