'From Corfu we flew on south', Stuart King writes. 'The calm of the long steady flight over the sea felt like peace after a storm. Then, far ahead, we made out a distant yellow shoreline – our first ever glimpse of Africa. What would the unknown continent hold for us?'
Story by Stuart King, photos MAF Archive
'With a jolt I noticed something was wrong: ‘Every so often the port engine is missing a beat,’ I shouted to Jack above the engine noise.
‘I’ve heard it,’ he observed drily, looking at the water below us. ‘It makes my heart miss a beat too.’
Touching down in Tunis - 19th January 1948
‘Still complaining, the engine kept going and 40 minutes later we were over land, losing height in the warm skies above Tunis airport.
Our excitement on our first landing in Africa was tempered by the urgent need to get the plane’s engines running properly.
As soon as we had changed into tropical kit, I donned some overalls, removed the engine cowlings, pulled out the spark plugs and checked the magneto and distributor.
The plugs were bad: their points were too close. That was easily rectified. The re-gapped plugs were replaced and the engine ran sweetly.
Arriving in the land of Pharaohs - 20th January 1948
We left Tunis next morning. Two full days and five refuelling stops later, we reached Almaza airport, Cairo.
‘Every so often the port engine is missing a beat,’ I shouted to Jack.
‘I’ve heard it,’ he said, looking at the water below us. ‘It makes my heart miss a beat too.’
The hot Arab market felt foreign and hostile. Stall upon stall crowded together, piled with clothes, food and a jumble of Middle Eastern goods.
We felt conspicuous: white foreigners amidst the jostling Arab crowds, repeatedly obliged to shake ourselves free from the eager traders who grabbed our arms.
At Almaza airport we had been told that, contrary to previous information, our Command transmitter lacked the right frequency for radio communication in the Sudan. None of the correct radio crystals were available in Cairo.
A salvage bargain in Muski Bazaar
We’d made friends, however, with a British Airways foreman based there. ‘Many military planes with Command transmitters came down in the desert during the war,’ he told us.
‘The area is littered with wrecks, bits and pieces of all kinds.’ The Egyptians had salvaged them. So he suggested that we should try the big Muski Bazaar on the edge of the city.
'Far ahead, we made out a distant yellow shoreline – our first ever glimpse of Africa. What would the unknown continent hold for us?'
We eyed each stall carefully until at last we spotted what looked like an untidy military museum: tables loaded with amazing piles of old wartime equipment. Sure enough we discovered some old aircraft radios among the debris.
Under the hopeful gaze of the Egyptian stall-holder we examined them carefully. Here was just what we wanted: a Command transmitter with the frequency we required to get permission to fly on from Cairo to the Sudan.
The price soared as the stall-holder noted our interest. He demanded £2, a fortune to us when we had so little money. But in the end we paid less than £1. Even a pound was worth a lot in those days.
Flying on the right frequency
After much swapping of parts between our original transmitter and the one from the bazaar, and with help from our BA friend, we eventually got a strong signal on the right frequency.
The following morning, after five days in Cairo, we continued our journey southwards.