This story has nothing to do with flying airplanes other than a lesson on dealing with the people who own the aircraft. As a military pilot, I worked for the chain of command and the U.S. taxpayer. We had to be very careful about appearances. As a civilian, I sometimes forget that, as this story shows.

— James Albright




Fraud [frawd]
- Noun
Deceit, trickery, sharp practice, or break of confidence, perpetrated for profit or to gain some unfair or dishonest advantage.
A particular instance of such deceit or trickery.
A person who makes deceitful pretenses; sham; poseur.

Fraud is such a loaded word, full of negative connotations. Okay, those loaded connotations are deserved. But fraud? We’ll have to see. It all started in China.


I took this photo, standing on the Great Wall of China, when Nigel said, “All you need now is a GV in the background and you’ll be happy.” Indeed.

It seemed innocent enough, that night in the hotel, behind a locked door with a copy of Photoshop and a hard drive packed with photos of our Gulfstream V. I was driven, even the thought of a country of 1,324,655,000 communists on the other side of my hotel door couldn’t deter me.


I sent my work to a chosen few and before we even left China I was flooded with emails. “How did you get permission to do that?” “Who took the photo?” “Did the charter pay for the fuel?”


Not to be outdone, my Photoshop partner decided to up the ante.


“Were you scared?”

Nigel noticed right away the fighter was actually an American airplane with a red star painted on it. I guess the fact he didn’t remember flying over the Great Wall was a dead giveaway too.


Speaking of Nigel: he will go to great lengths to avoid great lengths in his pants. I have been denied entrance at a few dining establishments and kicked out of one or two because he refused to wear long pants. So there we were, on the top of Mauna Kea, me with long pants and jacket and still cold. Nigel? He was wearing shorts and short sleeves. We were at 4,000 feet and it was cold. If you look carefully, you will notice there is snow in that picture.


This photo has not been retouched in any way, shape, or form. But pay attention, it will come back.

Months later Nigel and I were in Tanzania with five days to kill and one desire, to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. The government cracked down on high speed tourists because of a few deaths from altitude sickness. Nobody would let us ascend the 14,764 feet in less than seven days. No exceptions. We arranged to see a travel expert in the town of Arusha to plead our case. Overnight I found out the Tanzania government was imprisoning guides who ignored the minimum time requirements. I knew it was a lost cause. Still, the photo of a British tourist beating the mountain captivated me.


Still jet lagged, I spent the night with Photoshop.

The next day in Arusha the guide began right off with the bad news, “I am so very sorry, but we cannot permit you travel to Kilimanjaro in only five days.”

“No problem,” I said, “we decided to do it on our own, so we climbed the mountain yesterday and just got back this morning.”


I showed him the picture. He was incredulous. The photo flew through the travel agency and from the looks on their faces I could tell, they were impressed by the strange American tourists. Our guide agreed to take us on safari to the Serengeti instead. I think he knew he was dealing with travel professionals. I wonder if he spotted the airplane in the top, left corner of the picture. I wonder if Nigel ever gets cold in those short pants. It took me an hour to draw in those shadows.


The boss’s assistant never likes to hear from us on the road, when we have an international charter I think she fears news. The Gulfstream V charters for $10,000 an hour and this trip would net the company a cool quarter of a million dollars. The only news she wanted was when we coasted back into the United States and deposited our passengers back at White Plains, where they were no longer our responsibility. Still, I couldn’t resist sending the picture.

“Nigel and I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro yesterday,” I emailed, “it wasn’t so tough.”

“That’s nice,” she said, “you boys have a good time.”

While on safari our driver ended up losing control of the land cruiser and we ended up in a ditch. It seemed like a tame anecdote in need of spicing up. (Spicing up. See “fraud” above.) Wandering around we wondered where our next meal was coming from or if we were going to be the next meal. I took this picture:


Sitting in a hut in the Serengeti may sound adventurous and daring, but this hut had a 220V generator and I was traveling with my laptop. Time to spice things up:


When you are a jet setting international professional tourist, you learn to dress the same way wherever you go: the volcanoes of Mauna Kea, the top of Kilimanjaro, or the plains of Tanzania. Nigel loves those shorts. Now the only error in judgment I will admit to here is that I sent the photo to the boss’s assistant. What I got when we got back was predictable: an old fashion ass chewing.

“You boys must never again take such big chances when you are on a charter! Sure, it sounds fun and exciting. But what are we going to do with our airplane halfway around the world after our pilots get eaten by lions?”

Well, I have to admit, she had a point.