Chapter One

“I’m bored” roared Space Cadet. The rest of the mess just grunted; it was not his first outburst and would not be the last, and to be frank they were all bored with this seemingly sudden period of utter calm, for these pilots to be so inactive, really was a bore. Being on standby was bad enough but at least that held out the prospect of some action. This was the Dhofar region of Oman, the front line of an unknown war, just a lonely desert airstrip with the small town of Salalah outside the boundary, and where since 1970 when the Foreign Office instigated a Coo! And ousted the sitting Sultan and replaced him with his son; British troops had been fighting Communist insurgents from North Yemen.

It was 1977; the war in Oman across the southern border with Aden was, officially at least, over. These Agusta Bell 205 helicopter and Strikemaster Jet pilots on the front line at Salalah had been fighting an unknown war for nearly 8 years. The area was covered by a Government ‘D’ notice which precluded any reporting in the press back home. They had been putting in many hours each day in support of ground operations and keeping the insurgents back from moving North to the oil fields, well at least that was one story, there had been casualties, but these were never mentioned, just a grand ‘Piss-up’ to ease the passing and the grief.

The flying was what they enjoyed, the adrenaline rush when the radio buzzed and another op was on, support a ground attack, or bring back wounded and all the while flying over some of the most inhospitable terrain known to man. In this region the bad guys carried AK47’s and SAM7 missiles, a missile that was fired from the back of a camel could take out and aircraft up to 7000 feet, which put all the helicopters within range. If you came down in this terrain it could be some while before help arrived and if you were injured it could very well be fatal.

The Dhofar region on the edge of the desert known as The Empty Quarter was as jagged as one could imagine; daytime temperatures could rise well above 40 Celsius and yet at night it was not unknown to drop to single figures, that difference was hard to bear. Strictly for camels and men on foot, it was hot merciless and a long long way from civilisation. For the Adu tribesmen, mostly descendants of East African slaves and Arab girls, this was home; a land they had tamed and survived in for a long time. These tribesmen, who spoke a mixture of Arabic and Swahili, were fiercely proud; they were thin leathery strong framed men who walked upright, clad only in the traditional cloth garment, much like a skirt it wound around their bare torso, sometimes with a belt, most often just folded back on itself, their headgear was a big square of cloth that would cover the head and could be pulled up to cover their faces during sand storms, at night they would wind it around their back and knees and sleep in a partial sitting position. They were in the main bare from the waist up but usually sporting a bandolier and carrying a rifle, some of them quite old, but latterly the Belgian FN was favoured. In this region, it was a place for men on foot and camels, Land Rovers were used, but the deep Wadi’s made vehicular transport hazardous and slow. Helicopters were the usual way in and out, with these hills rising to some 7000 feet; there was now one metalled road through the Salalah hills, the road that led to Thumrait the other front line airfield where the Hunters were based.

In this land were very few motorised vehicles, indeed until 1970 only three vehicles existed in Salalah and these were all owned by the Sultan, he was a benevolent ruler and generally well respected by his people, but during is reign several factions vied for power, the Sultan eventually won over and travelled around meeting all the leaders and gained support and confidence.

But Space Cadet was still bored and it made him restless, he was used to full days so packed that boredom was something he never had to deal with; he desperately needed a project. He was a good pilot who enjoyed a pint, but not when flying, and the mess was certainly well stocked, despite being in a Muslim country, but that was only for some, he was not a big drinker and prided himself on his professionalism as a pilot, he was after all one of the few regular RAF pilots among the other contract types. They had done the beach parties, done the trips to Muscat, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but he wanted something to occupy his time, especially as the maintenance teams were working feverishly to clear the backlog of work on the aircraft.

“We’re going to have a race” he told the assembled mess members.
“A race Space!” someone exclaimed, “What on earth with, and where?” “You may have noticed there are not too many race tracks and even fewer racing cars.”
“We don’t need cars, just look around, there are a great many abandoned military vehicles about, we fly over them daily, and if not I’m sure we can ‘abandon’ some”. The mess waited stunned, no one doubted his intention but had no idea how he might accomplish his mad idea, but all were suddenly keen, the adrenaline was beginning to run. The drowsiness that had laid over the mess lifted, groups formed, conversation levels rose, this sounded like the mess of old.



Lerwick, United Kingdom

  • Artist
  • Artwork Comments 3

Artist's Description

A story about a grand chariot race in the desert country of Salalah, Oman, 1n 1977

Artwork Comments

  • Pastis
  • Twscats
  • Trevor Kersley
desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait
desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait

10% off

for joining the Redbubble mailing list

Receive exclusive deals and awesome artist news and content right to your inbox. Free for your convenience.