A car tracking mission one stormy evening, tracking a car fitted with a tracker that allows a degree of remote control, presented the perfect opportunity for Jed and Mikhael to pull off a fantastic prank.
Jed entered the darkened pilot’s lounge and flicked on the light. He blinked as his eyes adjusted to the bright neon glare. He glanced around the empty room and padded to the bar fridge.
As the fridge door creaked open, Mikhael’s voice floated up from the couch, “Someone’s klapped all the coke.”
Jed jerked, “Yoh boet, you spooked me.”
Jed examined the contents of the fridge, “Where’s all this Sprite come from?”
The disembodied voice of the tracker drifted up, “Dunno. It’s a mystery to me. I hope you don’t mind that I took one.”
Jed sat on the chair opposite Mikhael and cracked open a Sprite. He spun the pop tab around, lined it up with the opening of the can and slid his drinking straw through the two holes, into the can.
Mikhael jolted up from the couch and furrowed his brow, “I never knew that the hole in the tab was meant for holding a straw in place.”
Jed chuckled, “Stick with me kiddo, there’s heaps more mysteries of the universe to be revealed. And talking about mysteries of the universe, I’d better get the weather.”
Jed tapped away at the computer keyboard, then sat back and sipped the cold drink while he waited for the browser to load. He skimmed the details of the weather and clicked the print button.
“The TAF looks OK for the night. The area forecast shows that the northern area is quite stormy. The south looks …”
Mikhael’s mobile phone jangled. He put it onto speaker phone, “New case for you guys: White Toyota Corolla heading south towards Soweto from Rivonia.”
Jed and Mikhael dashed out to the R44, got airborne and tracked south-west towards Soweto.
As Jed flew past Sandton, he eyed the sky and muttered, “We’re going to have to keep an eye on these clouds. We could get a few storm cells on the way home.”
Mikhael looked at the clouds, “Have you ever flown through one of those atomic-bomb cauliflower clouds?”
Jed laughed, “Cumulonimbus (CB), and no, you would probably get nuked if you flew through it. It’s a helluva unstable environment, with lots of powerful nastiness happening on the inside of that fluffy white cotton wool: lightning, rain, icing, hail, static charging, updrafts, downdrafts …”
Jed made a radio call and then continued, “There was this hang glider in New Mexico who flew below the dark underbelly of a towering CB and got wrenched in. When his corpse was recovered, they counted lots of layers of ice on his body. He must have rotated through the cloud numerous times before he was spat out in the form of a frozen popsicle.”
Mikhael chuckled, “Poor fella, I wonder if he was nominated for the Darwin Award.”
Jed chortled, “Ja, the irony of freezing to death whilst hang gliding on a scorching hot day.”
Mikhael became serious, “Could we get sucked into one of those clouds if we flew under it?”
Jed scanned his instruments, and satisfied his T’s and P’s were in the green, answered, “It’s not so much as being sucked into a CB, but rather the powerful up and down drafts that can cause structural damage in that severe turbulence. You definitely don’t want to be flying whilst parts of your helicopter are being ripped off in the mayhem. Also, those downdrafts can contain torrential rain, hail and lightning.”
Mikhael’s eyes shot wide open, “Could we lose the rotors?”
Jed nodded, “Rotors, tail rotor, doors … plus the blades could get shot to hell if they were caught in a deluge of hail stones.”
Mikhael chewed on his finger nail, “Sometimes when I fly with Donny, he gets excited about the clouds and flies through them. I reckon they are the safe clouds as they are quite flat.”
Jed looked at Mikhael, “You’ve got to be careful. You might fly into some innocuous looking stratiform cloud and literally bump into a monstrous CB. Then you could have a problem.”
Mikhael shuddered, “Sometimes I get nervous flying with Donny. Man, he takes some risks! But being a tracker, as you know, I can’t choose my pilot.”
Jed sensed Mikhael’s trepidation and eased the focus of the conversation away from the negative, “Last night when I was on duty, I flew around a huge storm cell. The lightning in the cell was dramatic, but then I saw a red flash of light above the clouds.”
Mikhael cut in, “I’ve seen that. That red glow after that bright flash was amazing. Any idea what it is?”
Jed nodded, “Ja, I Googled it and discovered they are called Red Sprites. I watched a video of them on YouTube. Because they are illusive and flash for just fractions of a second, this group of guys rigged up a high-speed camera from a plane and filmed it. It was incredible. There’s a whole lot of intriguing stuff that causes those majestic showers of red light above a thunderstorm.”
Jed lapsed into silence as he recalled his awe. Then the control radio disrupted the silence, “Suspect headed towards FNB Stadium.”
Jed altered course, and flew towards the stadium.
The control radio crackled again, “Suspect travelling on N12 towards Potchestroom.”
Jed headed for the N12. Mikhael gently swung the tracking antennae. The LED flicked into life as he picked up signals from the unit in the stolen car.
As Jed snaked above the N12, the signals gained in strength.
Jed pressed the radio button on his cyclic and contacted control, “We’ve picked up signals …”
Mikhael burst out, “There they are. We’ve got a visual on the car.”
The control radio hissed, “Sorry guys, ground crew are at least 20 minutes away. Can you keep on the case until they get there?”
Jed responded, “No prob. We’re onto it.”
As he ended his transmission on the control radio, Jed and Mikhael groaned in unison, “Twenty minutes!”
Mikhael studied the display screen of his tracking device. “OK, this could be fun. The car has got one of those older tracking units. I’ve never tracked a car with one of these units, but I believe that you can control the car from up here.”
Jed perked up, “Let’s give it a whirl.”
Mikhael remained focused on the display panel and muttered, “I wonder what this function does.”
Jed watched the Corolla and exclaimed, “Hey look, the car’s come to a dead stop.”
Mikhael cackled, “Aah, that must be the fuel starvation function. Let’s see how they like their speedy getaway now.”
After a few seconds, the four suspects opened their car doors, jumped out and huddled around the open bonnet.
Mikhael selected another function on the tracker unit – the emergency lights pulsed conspicuously in the twilight. The suspects jumped away from the car as if they had been zapped by an electric current.
Jed chortled, “Bet they are freaking out with the flashing lights drawing attention to them.”
Mikhael reverted both the functions; the emergency lights stopped flashing and the fuel supply was restored.
The one guy slammed the bonnet down and hopped back into the car; the other three followed. The car started, and the driver sped along on his way.
A few minutes later Mikhael cut the fuel supply again. The car came to a stand-still, and again, all four suspects sprang out of the car and peered into the engine.
The headlights burst into powerful beams of light. The villains leaped away from the car. One lost his footing and sprawled backwards onto the ground. Moments later he picked himself up, sprinted towards the field and vaulted over the barrier. In an unsuccessful hurdle, his back foot hooked on the crossbar and he plummeted smack onto his face. Like a Duracell bunny, he got up again and tore off into the evening shadows.
Mikhael doubled up with laughter, “Oooph, that must have hurt. I’m going to revert everything again and see what they do.”
With the headlights switched off the three suspects cautiously approached the car. They climbed in and slowly drove off. They gathered speed and after a kilometre of steady driving they put foot and raced off.
Tears of laughter ran from Jed eyes, “OK, cut the fuel now.”
The white Corolla ground to a halt in the dusk gloom. The driver remained inside the car; the two remaining passengers got out and hunched over the engine.
The radio crackled, “Choppie, Choppie, it’s Johan from ground crew here. We’ve got strong signals but no visual yet.”
Jed gulped back his laughter, “Hey Johan. You will get a visual v-e-r-y soon.”
Mikhael kick-started the Corolla disco session: the emergency lights pulsated, and the bright beam lights flicked on and off.
The ground crew swerved their car in front of the Corolla, bounded out and aimed their automatic weapons at the three suspects. The two thugs standing by the engine sprawled onto the ground, their hands spread open on either side of their heads in surrender.
Johan spoke into the radio, “Hey Choppie, great job.”