The Only War We've Got

Snapshots from an incredible journey

Maurice's adventures in Liberty Girl and Liberty Girl II would need a book to chronicle. But here are some snapshots retrieved from the web and from the "Wayback Machine" of the Internet Archive, since Maurice's Flying Vet website disappeared some years ago. We begin with his own account of the first 7,000 miles, as he told the story to a reporter in Thailand.

From Biggen Hill to Phukett in his own words, 2001

an interview by the Phukett Insider magazine

Maurice: The French authorities had threatened me 20 years ago [1981?] that if they caught me, they'd jail me. The trouble is, my name's written across the aeroplane - G-KIRK - named after my daughter, who's two.... The weather was appalling. The radio we'd put in stopped working and the artificial horizon, which is the main instrument for blind flying, turned upside down. I eventually got into central France and I'd flown for an hour and a half in thick cloud, and I was tired, so I landed at St Florentaine, near Auxerre, and they remembered me. I hadn't been there for 20 years, but they said, "Ah! Le vetrinaire volant!" - the flying vet with the little wheels in the head. Mad as a hatter.

They remembered me from 30 years ago, when I was a young boy, buying French aeroplanes and flying them into Britain without papers, in the dark, and trebling my money. [Maurice would have been 26 in 1971.] They were burning old aeroplanes - beautiful old biplanes, and I said, "Take my money. That's a classic French biplane. If you burn it, nobody will ever fly it again." "But you have no papers!" "Bugger the papers. Here, have another glass of wine." And we got all these aeroplanes out of there.

Anyway, I left them and I pressed on and landed in a ploughed field in the dark, near Lyons. I met a wonderful family and we had a wonderful meal. Then I went on to Cannes, and I said, "I'm not staying, 'cos les flics [the cops] will catch up with me. I'll go to Naples." They said, "No. that's too far. It's illegal." Rome? Florence? No. Genoa? "Okay, we'll let you go to Genoa." In the wrong direction, but I had to get out of France because I knew that the flics would catch up with me.

Insider: For exporting planes illegally 30 years ago?

Maurice: No, no. For landing in the ploughed field. So I went to Genoa. But I had no maps - I was going to get maps in Cannes from the guys in the race, but I'd missed them. So I had to go from Genoa to Naples to Crete without a map. I went into Crete in the dark. The Air traffic controller was about 21 years old, and she kept talking to me on the radio, and her voice went up and up and up as it got darker, and I wouldn't answer because it would flatten my batteries.

I then flew into Cairo, and I flew over the original airfield where the Kangaroo Route [from London to Sydney] used to land, in the heart of Cairo. It was closed due to an accident three months ago and it was full of derelict aeroplanes - about a hundred of them. I couldn't resist it. I flew in and landed, and they came to me with a cup of hot tea and they sat me down and they spoke English better than you and I and they said, "We'll take you down to the casbah, and we'll show you the town." But just as we were leaving, a man in a suit came across the runway, with papers in his hand. Trouble with a big T.

Ten hours of interrogation, from half past three until half past one in the morning. I had to deal with four sets of uniformed people and 15 civilians, and I had to write out, in English, four times, why I was there. So I put my bow tie on, got into my corduroy trousers at 100 degrees, and they let me go.

That morning, when I got airborne, the air traffic controller told me to turn onto 200. And I thought, that's not the way to Luxor. That's the way for the pyramids. Somebody in air traffic control had thought, "Let's send him over the pyramids." No one else is allowed over the pyramids.

From Luxor I flew to Hail in Saudi Arabia, ten hours' flying. The wind was so bad that I went down to BCL. Below Camel Level. Because of the head-wind I flew right across Saudi Arabia on the deck. Four feet off the ground. The goats were waving at me, and the camels.

When I got to Hail, I landed across the runway because of the wind. I said, what a wonderful runway, and isn't it wide! They greeted me and took me by the hand, with my bow tie on. I was a bit worried, but they treated me like royalty. Wonderful people.

Then I headed for India. I was supposed to go to Delhi. But I ran out of light, airspeed, money, all at the same time, so I landed in Jaipur, the Pink City of Rajasthan. And they grilled me for three hours. So I kept counting everybody, and finally they asked, "Why are you doing that?" And I said, "I'm trying to beat my record of 21 people [interrogating me], but there are only 15 of you." They gave in, and found me a bed and some food and beer and petrol.

I got to Calcutta, and none of the flyers could leave because they couldn't get fuel. And I said, "Well, I'm going down to the petrol station to get some petrol," and I was the only one that left.

The organizers were terrified that I was going to get to Rangoon, and that I was going to win [the leg]. I thought, I can't embarrass these people, so I landed at a place called Sitwe. Totally illegal; I had no flight plan. I showed them photographs of my Burma Auster [aeroplane] and the old men said, "Oh yes! We remember this with the English Army during the war." They loved it. I had enough daylight, so I got to Rangoon. Just. Then I came to Thailand. The thunderclouds were horrendous, just as we got to the border. And I watched this great thing, and I thought, I'll get there before it, but no, and I hit it and it threw me all over the place and I thought, "Bugger this, I'm getting out of here." And I turned round and flew back.

I went down to sea level - I'm talking ten feet - then the engine misfired, oil all over the windscreen and smoke coming out of the exhaust, so I saw a little jungle clearing and I landed.

I checked the oil level, the mags, ran the engine. By this time about a hundred people had gathered. One girl spoke English. So I asked her, "Where is Phuket?" She said, "That way." And I shouted, "Where's Phuket?" And everyone pointed in the same direction, so I thought, Okay, I'll go in that direction. I persuaded the locals to cut down the low bushes so the propeller wouldn't break. And I flew out. I shouldn't have done, because that engine was rough. That's what kills pilots: Get-home-itis. But I was tired. I scraped the trees on the way out. There was no allowing for mechanical hiccups. But I lived to tell the tale.

Remains - A Story of the Flying Tigers

Back to Oz by way of Norfolk Island, 2004

Weary pilot lands in Oz
Maurice reached Australia on November 8, 2004, after an incredible 11-hour flight over the open ocean from lonely Norfolk Island. He's wearing a survival suit and flying from the back seat. Overhead is a modified wing tank adding some capacity over what he carried on the London-Sydney race, and in the front seat is one of the 20-liter jerry jugs that provided additional fuel. Note the plexiglass tubes that complete the fuel system.

After completing the London-Sydney trek in April 2001, Maurice took some time off to regroup and raise money. Since Liberty Girl was already south of the equator, he shipped her to New Zealand for an around-the-island race. I can't find anything online about that adventure, but we do know about his decision to return to Oz by air.

On November 5, 2004, Liberty Girl made a formal takeoff from New Zealand's North Island. After a clandestine landing to add a wee bit more fuel to his considerable hoard, Maurice flew northwest to Norfolk Island, which measures a scant 5x8 kilometers (3x5 miles) in size. He found it okay, though he lost GPS coverage for an anxious half-hour.

Worse yet, he discovered that transferring fuel from his 20-liter jerry jugs to the Cub's 12 gallon fuselage tank was far more difficult than he'd anticipated. The first problem was a vapor lock in the hose. He got around that by blowing into the jugs, resting a bit, then taking another blow. But when that was done, he found that he couldn't jettison the jugs as he had hoped: he sent one astern on a line, but it kept getting hung up in the flying wires on the Cub's tail—and then of course he had a devil of a time getting it back into the cockpit. As a result, with the empty jugs between him and the last full ones, he just wasn't strong enough to raise them high enough to transfer their contents.

Norfolk Island No matter! He made it, and spent three days on Norfolk, meeting descendants of the HMS Bounty mutineers who were transferred there a couple centuries ago. On Monday, November 8, he took off from Norfolk's World War Two airfield for the even longer flight, west to Australia. He was 11 hours and 30 minutes en route. (Maurice believed that with maximum fuel, Liberty Girl was good for 15 hours! What buttocks he must have!)

Maurice says his total fuel capacity (and you'd better believe he was at full capacity when he took off from Norfolk) is 75 Imperial gallons. That equates to 90 U.S. gallons, or 720 pounds of fuel! Using the lat/lon of Norfolk Island and Brisbane, I make the crow's-flight distance to be 788 nautical miles. Obviously he flew more than 800 NM. He averaged about 60 knots, not a bad speed at his weight. The fuel burn was high because of Liberty Girl's weight and nose-high attitude for the first half of the trip—something on the order of 5 Imperial gallons (6 gallons U.S.) per hour.

He landed near Brisbane to find the airport empty of anyone who had the slightest interest in his astonishing feat. Nothing daunted, he flew up to Darwin and put Liberty Girl in safe storage at an aviation museum, and himself went home to Wales to again raise money and acquire permissions for the next leg of his journey. He was determined now to fly home by flying east to North America.

Poland's Daughter

From East Timor to Borneo, April

by Maurice Kirk (Flying Vet website)

Route from Darwin to Hokkaido
Flying north to Japan was another ambitious project, but at least Maurice could take his own sweet time -- more than five months, as it happened. See the route map at left, from Darwin in Australia to the island of Hokkaido in Japan. (Even flying from Brisbane to the start line at Darwin would have stretched my own Piper Cub endurance.) Maurice's account of the legs from Timor Island to Indonesia to Malaysia is reposted from his Flying Vet website, which alas has vanished from the internet, another victim of his zigzag path through life. I retrieved it thanks to the Internet Archives "Wayback Machine." -- Dan Ford

~ ~ ~

Out over the blue yonder and I am already suffering aches and pains and alter flight plan via Ujung Padang (WAAA, HASANUDDIN) to DCT (direct) to save fuel, as the wind is in my favour and almost non existent; later to be against me. Flying at flight level 45 I cross some idyllic coral islands and atolls both large and small. I consider landing on the silver sand beaches for a swim but fuel needed to get to Borneo dictates.

Soon I have used up all fuel inboard, now there's no fire hazard so I can light up a King Edward but that is one thing I do not need, nicotine, when enjoying myself. I creep round the prohibited zones north of WAAA (Hasanuddin) only to find myself in an 8000ft mountain range with low stratus cloud sometimes down to 3000 ft. I spend a sweaty hour of trying to break through various valleys and then, giving up, climb 200ft a minute through lighter cloud, 30 percent of the effort is lost due to severe down draughts. Eventually over the top, I break cloud at around 9000ft with cold tootsies and a pound or too lighter!

Out across the Celebes Sea I now have a 10 to 15 knot head wind so it is down to 5 ft for 200miles. At 50 ft the GPS registered a 16 knot head wind but, at 5 ft it only indicated 8knots on the nose. Continual concentration now, not to kiss the waves or hit a whale as I so nearly did in Timor, unable to take my eyes off the sea for but a fraction of a second.

Balikpapn would not answer until I was overhead the field at 2000 ft. 30 minutes later. It took tight turns over the Control Tower and 'hovering' on half throttle at 35 mph, indicated on the air speed indicator, before I received a green light to land. I taxied to a stop and just wanted to sleep there and then, after 11 hours in the air. But oh no, no photos allowed and I am marched off to an office with a motley entourage of variously uniformed and tee-shirt clad gentlemen. Interrogation went on for hours and a lot longer if was not for the gold braid and hair cut.

En route to Malaysia
This does not appear to be the gaggle of bureaucrats Maurice encountered on Borneo, but it does show the white shirt and gold braid with which he impressed them. Besides, it answers the perennial question: why fly around the world? Clearly, the answer is not: "Because it's there!"

Problem 1 - No military clearance had been obtained by our man in Jakarta! I needed both civilian and military to enter Indonesia.

Problem 2 - No Flight plan had been received.

Problem 3 - No radio contact as the transponder worked but drained the power each time I tried to transmit.

`They are only doing their job', Kirstie said on the mobile, in a snatched chance to speak to anyone else, whilst I was searched and camera film was viewed from Darwin to Suluesi by air force security.

I finally reached a Hotel some time after 11pm, dragging around my entire luggage for fear of theft, only to have a sleepless night due to the ankle and a bed crawling with ants!

Around 8 in the morning, after a futile trip round the town trying to buy a battery and an adaptor for my computer, I arrive back at the aircraft only to be greeted by the Commanding Officer of the Air Base of an F16 fighter aircraft, four of them parked nearby. By his direct questions he had established in a minute or so just who taught me to fly, how little and old the aircraft really was and my side of the problems on radio and clearances, now before me. A few chosen words by the CO of the Base to all around and appropriate arm gestures for action and I was having the battery charged, fuel tanker called and clearance to fly on to Malaysia and a photo together, to boot.

My flight plan to Lubuan, Sabah Provence of Malaysia, 400 odd miles north was to be by airways corridors. This meant flying at a dizzy flight level 85 for nearly 2 hours at 90 degrees of track on Whisky 36 Airway, before turning on to a northerly Airway roughly in the direction of China.

Just as I left the airfield `Control Zone' the height detecting part of my transponder appeared to stop emitting its signal to the Tower, causing the Controller, to wish me a 'good flight`. Left prematurely unguided I had to cancel my Airways route for safety reasons and fly VFR (Visual flight rules) direct to Lubuan.

It was far from direct as I was skirting around jungle clad mountains for 5 hours, almost touching a branch on one occasion due to a severe down draught. As usual it was a battle between a head wind component causing me to stay `low and slow' or to fly in safer conditions 300 ft higher, even slower with the diminished chance of arriving before dark. I cannot over emphasise the effect on surface wind by mountains...vertically downwards!!

"Look after thine airflow least the ground come up and smite thee"

Other Maurice stories on this site:

Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

Taildragger Tales

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