Michael McCafferty - European Biplane Tour


Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England

Last night, the TV weather forecast for today showed clouds and lightning bolts and rain all over Ireland and England, except for a thin band of lovely clear green over the east coast of England and Scotland, which is exactly where I wanted to go. Now you know you can't believe everything you see on TV, especially when it comes to weather forecasts, and even more especially when they use those magnetic stick-on cartoon clouds, lightning bolts, and raindrops. How accurate could it possibly be?

I know this, you know this. But I was ready to get out of the Duxford/Cambridge area, so I just ignored the stupidity of it all and focused on that little green band of clear area that they probably missed with their magnetic nasties.

In the morning, I woke with full resolve to fly to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, on the Scotland/England border, on the east coast, about 200 miles north of Duxford. I kept ignoring the very gray skies, the low ceilings, the cold and wet air which made me wonder where the summer had gone.

I checked out of the hotel, but told them I might be back in a couple of hours. It all depended on the weather. The streets in front of the hotel were still wet from the rain. By the time I arrived in Duxford, it was looking better, maybe even flyable.

I went right to the tower, and requested a forecast for Newcastle, and points along the way. It sure didn't look like the TV forecast from last night, indicating chances of rain showers all the way. It was obvious that it was going to be one of those flights where it is a waste of time to draw a course line on the charts, as I would be weaving and dodging the weather the whole way, and hoping that it didn't close in behind me and cut off the possibility of retreat.

The only good thing was that the visibility was excellent. I would be able to see rain showers from a long way off. On the horizon to the west, I noticed a slice of sky which was clear and blue, headed my way, and thought how nice it would be if I could fly north in that opening. I decided to go. By the time I was rolling down the runway for takeoff, that clear blue sky had disappeared, covered over by a congealed mass of low and fast moving rain clouds.

For the next two hours I was flying in a sky that looked as if it had been the result of an explosion in a cloud factory. It was the worst mess of a sky I have seen, with dark pewter gray clouds at every level, broken and scattered patches of cumulus mixed with active towering mountains of bright white cumulonimbus. It seemed as if the hand of God had reached into a cosmic bowl of cloud-slop and flung it far and wide and up and down. There was haze, and ground fog, and mist and virga and even areas of bilious yellowish-green pollution layers overlying some industrialized areas. YUK!

I was constantly changing my altitude to stay above or below these random layers, always trying to second guess what I would encounter next. And at the same time, I was being vectored around by traffic controllers to avoid traffic, or some restricted area.

The flight did have some redeeming qualities. There was a tailwind of about 15 to 20 knots, and since there was a high overcast, the air was very smooth for the entire trip. In summary, although it was busy, it was an easy flight. By the time I landed in Newcastle I was ready to fly some more. It was exciting. I was energized!

I wanted to come to Newcastle to visit the headquarters of The Sage Group, the software company which bought my software company in October of 1992. I had been growing my TeleMagic software package and its dealer network for over 7 years, and it was time for me to convert my paper equity into something more real, and to relax for a while. The pain in my side had been growing worse for more than two years, and it was the only option. The pain disappeared completely two days after the sale. Stress can be a real killer.

So my plan was to stop in and say hello to the nice people at Sage Group and to thank them once more for their confidence in the future of my company, and especially for making it possible for me to retire. About 6 months ago I let them know that I might be stopping in on my tour of Europe, but I couldn't tell them exactly when. They didn't know I was coming today, so I wasn't disappointed when I called from the airport and found that the people I knew at Sage were either out of town, or on vacation.

The Sage Group is a real success story. Prior to 1981, Paul Goldman had a small printing company and decided he needed a more efficient way to calculate price estimates. He contracted with Graham Wylie to write a computer program to automate the process for his own needs but quickly discovered that they could sell the software to other printers. Next they worked together to write software to automate the accounting for small businesses and formed Sage.

They have been very successful. For the last full year of operations, they sold more than $200 million of software and services, with a 15% bottom line profit, a 30 percent increase from the year before. In the 5 years since they bought my company, the value of their shares (London Exchange) has increased more than eight-fold.

It's a first class operation in every respect, and it was a good visit. I met with Aidan Hughes, the Finance Director, and we toured their customer service operations had a polite cup of coffee in the board room. Then he drove me back to my hotel. I have always had the highest respect for the people at Sage.

It's a shame that the people I know here were on vacation, I would have liked to take them for a ride in my biplane.

Hmmm.... do you think they knew that?

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