The Pilot Base

The Mystery of the Gatwick Drone

February 15, 2021 Pilotbase.com feat. Ben Hall & Dave Rogers Season 1 Episode 5
The Pilot Base
The Mystery of the Gatwick Drone
Show Notes Transcript

In Episode Five, we welcome our first non pilot guest! 

Cast your mind back to the end of 2018 when an alleged drone sighting sent Gatwick Airport into complete meltdown; the airport was closed, 1000 flights were either cancelled or redirected, 140,000 passengers had their travel plans put into complete disarray. Arrests were made, conspiracy theories surfaced, it cost millions of pounds but ultimately, nobody was ever charged. Nobody was ever blamed, and nobody ever really got to the bottom of it. 

Fast forward to 2020 when renowned author and journalist Samira Shackle - this week's podcast guest - took a deep dive. She did the long read for The Guardian,  she spent months doing research, she talked to pretty much everyone she could speak to and produced a fabulous piece of journalism. If you've not read it, I recommend you do! On the day it was released, it got so many reads on the Guardian website that the office actually contacted Samira to tell her and I'm told on good authority that very rarely happens. She's a brilliant guest with lots going on and it's a fascinating conversation.

If you want to read her article, you can find it here: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/dec/01/the-mystery-of-the-gatwick-drone

Ben Hall:

Hello, and welcome to the pilot base podcast. I'm Ben and I've been a pilot for over a decade,

Dave Rogers:

and I'm categoric not.

Ben Hall:

Every Monday we'll be chatting to both pilots and non pilots with amazing aviation stories from all around the world. You can find all episodes of the pilot based podcast for free wherever you get your podcasts. If you like what you're hearing, subscribe to our channel and leave us a review.

Dave Rogers:

In Episode Five. We welcome our first non pilot guests now cast your mind back to the end of 2018 when an alleged drone sighting said Gatwick Airport into complete meltdown, the airport was closed 1000 flights were either cancelled or redirected. 140,000 passengers had their travel plans put into complete disarray. arrests were made conspiracy theory surfaced it cost millions of pounds but ultimately, nobody was ever charged. Nobody was ever blamed, and nobody ever really got to the bottom of it. Fast forward to 2020 when renowned author and journalist Samira shackle today's podcast guests, took a deep dive. She did the long read for The Guardian. She spent months doing research she talked to pretty much everyone she could speak to and produced a fabulous piece of journalism. If you've not read it, I recommend you do on the day it was released. It got so many reads on the Guardian website that the office actually contacted Sameera to tell her and I'm told on good authority that very rarely happens. She's a brilliant guest with lots going on and it's a fascinating conversation. So Samira shackle is she is Samir shackell. Welcome to the pilot base. How are you?

Samira Shackle:

I'm good. Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Dave Rogers:

I'm so pleased you're here. Ben, how are you?

Ben Hall:

I'm doing very well. Thanks, Dave. How are you doing?

Dave Rogers:

Yeah, yeah, I'm alright. I'm really excited to have this chat. Firstly, Samira. You're our first non pilot guest on the pilot bass podcast. So that's, that's an exciting thing. But also, I just can't wait to get into this subject matter. And congratulations on the success of the article. By the way, it seems like it's gone. berserk.

Samira Shackle:

Yeah, thanks. It really has seems like lots of people on the internet were as obsessed with the Gatwick drone as I was, which was nice.

Dave Rogers:

But because you've done absolutely loads for The Guardian over the years. I mean, you've got an incredibly diverse career that we'll we'll dig into as the podcast progresses. But why do you think this article in particular really caught people's imaginations?

Samira Shackle:

It's a good question. Actually. I think it's partly that it was such a weird story. And I think it's one of those things that people just everyone sort of remembers it happening fairly recent couple of years ago. And it's one of those things that when you mention it, people are like, Oh, yeah, I remember that what actually happened. And then the fact that there was never any real resolution to this enormous news event, I think, is enough to really get people interested. And then people also love a bit of fast when it comes to news story.

Dave Rogers:

Did you go into it thinking, I'm actually going to get to the bottom of this and find out exactly who did it and exactly when it happened and exactly where they were? Or did you always think it might be a little bit open ended,

Samira Shackle:

I thought it might be a bit open ended, I've wanted to do something about it for ages and my editor at The Guardian who I work with regularly said you're only allowed to do it if you solve it or get close to solving it. So that I did set out to to do that with the awareness that that is actually quite difficult to do. Especially when there's just a real kind of absence of documents or hard evidence, a kind of secondary problem with investigating it, which I hadn't anticipated was just that, given the kind of terrible issues that have hit the aviation industry more broadly this year, I think people were a bit more reluctant about speaking to journalists, even on something that was less current, like the Gatwick drone story, which is from a few years ago, I think there was just a lot of a lot of nervousness from people who've maybe recently lost their jobs or felt their positions were insecure in some way. So that was another kind of problem. See, I guess when you enter into this kind of thing, you always hope that you'll you'll get to the bottom of it or as close to the bottom of it as you can, but you can't always get definitive.

Ben Hall:

Yeah, I know from from a pilot's point of view. All of my colleagues at the moment have been just keeping under the radar and you know, that nobody wants to put their head above the parapet because people are getting chopped right, left, right and centre so that they don't want any excuse to, to sort of be on the firing line.

Samira Shackle:

Yes, exactly. You I actually spoke to someone I was at university with his pilot now to sort of ask his advice about reaching out to people and I think he he said it's like a pilot Armageddon at the moment. might be difficult.

Dave Rogers:

Do you did at any point you feel as though I'm getting close here, I might crack this?

Samira Shackle:

Um, I think I there are a few things which felt like good breakthroughs. One was finding kind of community of people who I'm sure we'll get into this kind of very enthusiastic drone hobbyists who had been filing lots of fo eyes and, and kind of doing quite a lot of that legwork over the years. So that felt like a really good, good moment. And I think actually, increasingly, as I looked into it, rather than a kind of gotcha moment, it felt a bit like it might be harder to prove, because I became more convinced of the kind of argument that there was at least a healthy portion of human error in there. And it's basically impossible to prove a negative. But there were definitely a few, a few interviews in particular, that changed my thinking. And I thought, Okay, well, that's quite convincing. Well, the

Dave Rogers:

human error thing in particular, so it was like, it was almost like a human condition investigation. Wasn't it? Like people's minds playing tricks on them? What was the photographer's name was Eddie Eddie?

Samira Shackle:

Eddie Eddie Mitchell. Yeah,

Dave Rogers:

when he thought he'd nailed the photo. And it turns out, it was just a helicopter. Goodness knows how many miles away?

Samira Shackle:

Yeah, exactly. That was one of the one of the quite early interviews I did. And I just found that quite, quite convincing, basically, that he obviously knew about drones had a clear incentive to getting a photo of it as a professional photographer, and it spent pretty much the whole 33 hours, barring time sleeping. They're trying to photograph it and had not spotted it. So he just seemed very kind of reliable. He wasn't sort of conspiratorial in his thinking at all. He's just, you know, kind of jobbing news photographer who happens to be really into drones. And so yeah, that I just found immediately kind of rang true, I guess that interview and he said, No, but he'd thought that he'd seen it. And if he's able to make that mistake, and he flies drones two or three times a week minimum, then there's obviously a lot of scope for other people to think they've seen a drone when they haven't.

Dave Rogers:

Let's take it back to December 2018, then Ben, who were you flying for at the time?

Ben Hall:

So I was flying, some special mission work. So I was based in Bournemouth airport, flying little private jets,

Dave Rogers:

it's a good life, isn't it? And but you weren't. So you weren't involved? You weren't with an airline at the time, but I'm sure you sort of still had your finger on the pulse and a lot of connections with commercial pilots and the commercial airline industry, what was the general feeling around it all.

Ben Hall:

I wasn't with an airline at the time, but I was I was still actively flying and Bournemouth, obviously not a million miles away from Gatwick. So when you do your flight planning, you obviously check the weather you check the condition of your aircraft, good stuff, but you also get these things called notams which is notice to airman So basically, if it basically covers absolutely everything that might be unusual during your flight. So it might be a light that doesn't work on the airport. But also it's like Gatwick is closed because of drone activity. That kind of piqued your attention a little bit and then obviously it comes out on the news very quickly. And did

Dave Rogers:

did you sort of get on the on the text or the WhatsApp or the phone or whatever and try and find out what was going on for yourself

Ben Hall:

and it didn't it didn't directly affects me because guess it's just a little bit too far away for me for it to be an alternate for me. But it was we kind of followed it with interest from the crew room because sort of any aviation story like that when planes getting diverted left right and centre is interesting and actually I think some people came into Bournemouth as well so you get some extra activity so it does affect your day to day life.

Dave Rogers:

Will you actually on a flight going into Gatwick or have I or vice invented that? No, no, you would be directly affected by was Yeah,

Samira Shackle:

I was on a I was on a flight. I was coming back from Pakistan. I'd been on a research trip there. I do lots of work in Pakistan. And I'd been there for like two and a half weeks kind of working pretty much every day and was just really keen to get home. It was the it was in December, just before Christmas on the 19th of December. And I had been travelling for about 12 hours or so. So I didn't know that any of this was happening. And I was sort of asleep and woke up to an announcement on the plane and they were saying over the Tannoy that we're not able to land because there's drone activity at Gatwick and I was just like what I've kind of thought maybe I was is dreaming it and then you obviously can't really get onto plane Wi Fi very easily. There's just that little kind of function on the back of the back of the seat screens where you can see the headlines and it just said to drone sighted over Gatwick. Now, this was the morning. And so it's been going on for hours at this point, which I didn't know. But my plane sort of circled for a couple of hours and then eventually landed at Heathrow, which is quite lucky because I think some flights got diverted to Manchester or even Amsterdam, pretty far afield. See, I got I landed at Heathrow maybe a couple of hours late. And there was a lot of people at Heathrow and kind of Yeah, pretty, pretty chaotic situation.

Dave Rogers:

Yeah, Carnage, really. And all you want to do is get home and have a nice Christmas. And this might sound a stupid question. But how dangerous is a drone to a commercial plane? What what are the risks, what can happen?

Ben Hall:

Mainly it's to do with impacts are a direct hit on the drone. If it hits your windscreen, obviously, that could be a bit of an issue. But the engines have a main problem. So even a relatively small drone, I mean, there's a lot of metal in there, quite dense, that goes through your engine, you've probably lost your engine. And then you get as soon as you lose an engine, you start losing hydraulics and you lose sort of air bleed pressure and, and all sorts of secondary repercussions. So that's really the main concern there.

Samira Shackle:

I went, I went down a bit of a rabbit hole on this actually, because I at one point was thinking, well, there's lots of birds hit planes and lots of you know, birds have the same kind of size as drones. And there's actually funnily I've been academic studies on that comparing the impact of birds and drones on planes. So basically, similarly, just what just what Ben said that it's to do with the metal and the batteries in particular, that can be a risk of collision or going into the engine. Also, the Gatwick press office, when I spoke to them said that another risk is evasive action by pilots. So if they're trying to avoid collision, then that could also cause risk to anyone on the aircraft if they're kind of forced to swerve or whatever it is. Yeah, that's the those are the kind of main risks and someone who I interviewed described the bird versus drones thing to me in a really gross way, which was like bird bones or pliable.

Ben Hall:

bird strikes are quite common Actually, I've had my fair share of birds in my life. Usually, I mean, they if you go in the engine, most birds will just integrate to be honest.

Samira Shackle:

Yeah, you

Ben Hall:

still need maintenance to go and check everything through and clean the engines make sure the fan blades aren't chipped and everything like that. Whereas for drone impacts the aircraft. I mean, that's Yeah,

Samira Shackle:

and a battery can cause a fire as well. And, you know, there's all of that. But there hasn't been actually like a huge amount of kind of tests and so on done on it. But yeah, the kind of it's quite intuitive, I guess, to guess, to see why that would pose a risk. And the other thing that was it was ruled out quite early with Gatwick. But initially, when it happened, there were there was a kind of fear that it could be terror related in some way. And they've been they've been some reports from around the world of terror groups or kind of guerrilla groups repurposing consumer drones and using them to transport explosives. And so it's not like that's not a kind of hugely common risk. But it is something that can be done with drones, which is when you have an apparent drone sighting over a sensitive piece of infrastructure, like an airport, that is obviously a worry as well, the air collisions,

Dave Rogers:

the main thing do you have because drone is just such a broad term these days, isn't it? You can you can go to our gas and buy a drone for 100 quid or you can be the, I don't know the US Air Force using drones to cause all kinds of things. So if you read a headline that says drones at an airport, that could mean any number of things. Have you ever sort of had a close call with one banner? Have you ever spotted one from any of the planes you've flown?

Ben Hall:

Yeah, I've had a couple of I mean, not super close calls. It's not like I'm dodging them. But when I did do the private jet work down in Bournemouth, we quite often used to fly home, sort of down the coast at not particularly high altitudes. I mean, I'm not sort of scared running at this point, but at sort of one to 2000 feet where the drones are not meant to be flying but I've had a couple of times where, you know, they're not very big, but At the point where you can see them, you know, they're too close for comfort. So I've had it a few times down, sort of the south coast of England.

Dave Rogers:

Right? What I'm really interested in here is what happens after an article like this gets released because I saw a picture of you, you were very proud of it. You were holding the newspaper and see the byline and everything. And but but what kind of response do you get? And is it is it a personal response to people get in touch with you afterwards to either congratulate you or the opposite as social media tends to be these days?

Samira Shackle:

Yeah, when something has a big reach like that, and obviously chimed with lots of people, I think because it was this sort of mystery that lots of people were were curious about, obviously, get lots of comments on social media, and had some people emailing me, spending broadly pretty positive response to this piece actually. haven't really had strangers shouting at me on the internet, had a few people on the first day, and sort of complaining that I said, I'd had fun reporting it and say, Well, I didn't have fun when my flight was delayed. You know, whatever. My flight was delayed to get over it, pal. I've had some some people who are people who are very up in arms that I didn't investigate the possibility that it was UFOs or aliens. And I was gonna ask about this actually.

Ben Hall:

Tin hat brigade coming out. Yeah.

Samira Shackle:

Oh, yeah. I love it. I love it. I've had a good few, quite long emails about that. And some tweets as well.

Dave Rogers:

When they get in touch, then do they offer you any evidence or any alternatives to what you've reported? Or is it quite simply, this was UFOs. Or you should have investigated UFOs. Sorry to put on my psychopaths voice there. But, you know,

Samira Shackle:

well, I had one. I had a couple of quite quite sort of plaintive sounding tweets that were like, well, he could have at least looked at, you know, in something of that length, he could have at least considered whether it was UFOs and an email a couple of emails, like pointing me towards some documentaries about UFOs that are available online. Yeah, but there's obviously not like clear new information to offer that makes it more likely that it's UFOs. I think, from speaking to some of the, the sort of amateur sleuth drone hobbyists who I interviewed with a piece some of them have had some tips about, about the drones and more people who've got photos from the evening and cross referencing timestamps and that kind of thing. So there's a bit a bit of activity there, which is quite fun.

Dave Rogers:

The truth is out there.

Samira Shackle:

Yeah. Hopefully.

Dave Rogers:

The UFO stuff is is amazing, because it's only UFOs. And that and that sort of subculture for it's completely passed me by I don't know anything about it. Isn't? Is the aviation world full of it. Ben, do you get people getting in touch all the time, I don't see any UFO is good.

Ben Hall:

I've never had it at all. I've heard of sort of the occasional fighter pilot here and there. And occasionally airline pilot who kind of recall seeing something a bit weird. But you know, when you're when you're flying in the cockpit, and you, you know, it's the middle of the night and you've been flying for the last 14 hours or something. Your eyes can play tricks on you very, very easily. I mean, there's lots of sort of physiological effects that you get trained for. For example, there's one where if you stare at a stationary light for too long, it looks like it starts moving

Samira Shackle:

really well. Okay.

Ben Hall:

And there's lots of little ones like that. So I said, I mean, I'm not a conspiracy theorist at all. So I suspect, anybody that sees stuff like that is just these, either your mind playing tricks on your, you know, lens flare, or, you know, whatever.

Dave Rogers:

And I suppose in its broadest sense, a UFO is simply an unidentified flying object. It's something that you you don't know what it is, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's aliens or so. I suppose. I suppose in its broadest sense, these drones are UFOs or is that a stress?

Samira Shackle:

bozo? Yeah. Yeah. in that, in that broad definition, and it's interesting to hear you talk about that, that and the kind of the way that your eyes play tricks on you, because that's something that definitely came up a lot in my reporting. And I think was one of the flaws with the police investigation into the drone sightings was the the the kind of foundation of the evidence and of the investigation was if people if any sightings were Could be cross referenced with each other. So if people had kind of cited the same thing, but that doesn't really account for the fact that our eyes can be quite bad at identifying what something is, especially if the light is not great, especially if it's far away and and so on. So actually just you know, several people seeing a light in the sky doesn't mean that that light in the sky is a drone. And, you know, there's a whole kind of whole thing about once you're really training your attention on something in a way that you're not normally you, you put a lot of, you might put more weight on something innocuous that was there all along, but you're suddenly seeing so it actually turned out that one cluster of sightings which had been initially clusters credible, they turned out to have been a black a light on a crane. And did you know lots of people had seen it was high up and seem far away. And it's a kind of you can see how that would happen. Kind of optical illusion, much like Eddie the photographer, taking a picture and then loading it up and realising it's actually a helicopter. They must have been devastated. He was like on his way to sending it sending it off to his editors, and I think would have made us he was thinking he was thinking about a new car a lot extension. Yeah, he's

Ben Hall:

already planning this holiday.

Dave Rogers:

My favourite sentence in the whole piece was they weren't in fact, the idiots that ruined Christmas. Yeah. Those poor people.

Samira Shackle:

Yeah, they had a horrible time. Yes, that was Paul, Paul gate and Elaine Kirk are a couple who lived in Crawley a couple of miles away from the airport. And they were not only arrested, I mean, they had 12 armed police officers descend on their house, which is crazy. And they were then their names were leaked to the press. And they were everywhere. And as you say, on a very memorable front page in the mail, their photos and the headline Are these the morons who ruined Christmas. And it turned out not only were they at work, while the while the sightings were happening. They didn't even have a drone. He was oh my goodness. He was a model aircraft enthusiast, but they didn't have didn't have drones. So when they send

Ben Hall:

like armed police there was there was well, when there was the threat of it might be a terrorist risk and stuff.

Samira Shackle:

Well, no, they ruled out the terrorist risk while the while it was still going on. So I don't really know what the rationale is for sending armed police officers. I guess that this was about a day or so after it had all stopped. And I think there was kind of anxiety that it was like a sophisticated and malicious attack. And maybe there was some involvement of organised crime or some kind of nefarious aim. But, you know, seem seems kind of crazy, really to storm in like that.

Dave Rogers:

Absolutely. I've been just terrifying as well, because even if they've been able to do enough of a background check on those people to know that they're just a married couple who live in a modest house.

Samira Shackle:

Yeah, yeah, he was a window fitter than a soldier. Just piping had a load of model aircrafts and model helicopters and things like that. But yeah, we think the worst thing for them, it seems as their their names being leaked. So they got got a big payout from the police for wrongful arrest in June, this year. Or shall I say in June 2020. Because it's going out next year.

Dave Rogers:

Sorry, the magic of podcasting. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So

Samira Shackle:

yeah, so they got a big payout for wrongful arrest from Sussex police in June 2020. And, you know, they're their identities are out there and they can't really do anything about that. And they're often referred to as the Gatwick couple. And you know, it's not not great for them. They didn't ask for any of that attention.

Ben Hall:

No tarnished. The name is tarnished for life, isn't it?

Samira Shackle:

Yeah. Yeah. It kind of comes up forever on your Google searches, doesn't

Dave Rogers:

it? infamy isn't the friend of many people. Is it but you know, good. Good luck to them. Hopefully they can. I don't know. Just Just be happy. What a terrible experience for us to go through. Oh,

Samira Shackle:

yeah. Yeah, seems like from Yeah, from talking to people from the local area, like just people who had drones and model aircraft and live near Gatwick. Got ya got a call?

Dave Rogers:

You talked about the sort of amateur sleuths and the and the drone enthusiasts, it was Ian Hudson. He was the sort of ringleader of those was me. They did some pretty good work by the looks of things.

Samira Shackle:

Yeah, yeah, they did in had done lots and lots of Freedom of Information requests. And those are for anyone not familiar, pretty arduous process. So under the Freedom of Information Act, public bodies have to sort of respond to these requests for freedom of information, which anyone can can put in. So it's not just journalists or organisations any citizen can can request but the wild public is obligated to answer they've, they've got quite a lot of leeway to get out of giving the information. So they can say it will want some of the most common ones, they can say it will take too long to get this information for you. So it's not kind of reasonable request in terms of the manpower it will take. Or they can say it's a national security risk, or, or so on. So that normally get some kind of refusal. And it's they have to respond within I think it's 28 days or something like that. And so it's often a bit of a process like they might say, not be able to give you all the information. So you give you part of it, then you refine, go back with a more refined and more specific question and use that to find out what documents they've got. And then you can request the documents. So it can take months, something that investigative journalists do a lot but people working on on longer deadlines can't do and Ian had just been kind of off his own steam, filing Freedom of Information requests. So he'd been finding them started off sort of generally around drones, and wanting to show that, that fears about drone technology are overstated. And that while there are these kind of high profile cases where they've been used to take contraband into prisons, or whatever it is that they that that's actually quite where and there aren't really that many kind of legal cases and arrests and prosecutions actually brought over drone misuse. So he was already kind of in the habit of it and then following the Gatwick stuff, he sort of felt that there were discrepancies and as lots of people did, I think watching it that it didn't all quite make sense. So he started Yeah, started filing fly to Sussex police and the Department for Transport and even the Civil Aviation Authority as well, I think getting getting mixed results. So yeah, what he found on the others filing fly is is that Sussex police in particular just really really unresponsive.

Dave Rogers:

I love it when enthusiasts about anything, get the bit between their teeth, when they feel as though the thing that they love is being given a hard time. So whether it's him with the drones, or people with a with a particular passion for certain animals, like there was that that what's the what's the name of the fella from ease in love, actually, and he's in taken Liam Neeson and he's in if he's in a film where he has fistfights with wolves, have you ever seen it know what it's called, although fist fights with Wolves would be a great sign. So and a lot of wolf enthusiasts are like, this is completely unfair. Wolves are great kinda animals, and they go out of their way to prove that and there was the there was the whole thing with when Steve Irwin got killed by the Stingray as well. Well, now we're painting sting rays in a bad light. They're fantastic animals or whatever, I like people with a, with a genuine passion going out of their way to sort of prove that what they love isn't, isn't an evil thing. So quick questions here, both with all of the terrible things that drones do like dropping off drugs in prisons, and being doctored. So they can drop grenades, and of course, all of the military stuff. And there are great things as well. So they can be used to drop off medicines, and you've got people using them to save money by looking at damaged roofs. If you could use a drone for good. What would you use it for?

Ben Hall:

Who's first? No. I've got a good one, actually. So I've got quite a few friends in South Africa. And they use drones really effectively to patrol perimeters of game reserves and stuff.

Samira Shackle:

Nice.

Ben Hall:

Yeah, so they can and they can also track the animals with them a lot more efficiently than if I did it in person. So I really like applications like that.

Dave Rogers:

Yeah, use them to catch poachers. Yeah, good

Samira Shackle:

one. Yeah, that's a really good one using the kind of camera technology. I think a good ones kind of a classic, which is that they can be used really effectively, like in wildfires, or in any kind of big fire. So just kind of going over and above and surveying. surveying the situation and just sort of making sure they're making sure they're safe. And using that to inform rescue missions. Think that's probably like a really good use of drones, which you could probably see more of, sadly, as we're likely to get more things like wildfires.

Dave Rogers:

Hashtag drones for good.

Samira Shackle:

Yeah, well, people who people who are into drones are really into them and the kind of positive applications. You've seen them used to, like get medicines to hard to reach areas and that kind of stuff as well. But I mean, do you think all of that said most people like them because they take really cool photos?

Dave Rogers:

Yeah, yeah, exactly. They're a toy that you can spend money on.

Ben Hall:

I own a drone actually, was just a small one. Just a little hobbyist one. Okay, and actually I don't use it that often but it is a great bit of kit.

Dave Rogers:

You can't use it to record the podcast it be too noisy.

Samira Shackle:

Yeah. A really hum

Ben Hall:

some lovely, lovely footage from it.

Dave Rogers:

Okay, well, I look forward to the pilot base YouTube channel with all of you your great drone footage

Ben Hall:

with that as well, so the footage isn't great.

Dave Rogers:

Oh my god, are you telling me an actual pilot can't fly a drone? Please put Yeah, when

Ben Hall:

I was growing up, I wasn't I never really used computer games that much or remote control cars. So it's a little bit of a different skill set to be honest.

Dave Rogers:

If at any point, you get on a flight in the next few years, and you're here. Good afternoon, everyone. This is your captain speaking Benjamin Hall just chill just just for the duration of the flight.

Ben Hall:

So I don't know if you guys have seen recently, but I think it was in October I saw it in the news that there was an aircraft coming into lax. So this is one of the busiest international airports in the world. And they record reported a man flying in a jet pack up 6000 feet. Oh, yes. A lot just hovering around the ground. They were four to 6000 feet.

Samira Shackle:

Oh my god. Yes. Wow.

Ben Hall:

It's not a drone. But I think if you're impacted man in a jet suit, you're gonna have some problems

Samira Shackle:

for both of you are gonna he's gonna have some problems. That is terrifying. Can you imagine? Yeah,

Ben Hall:

I mean, I've seen a few guys that are kind of creating jet pack kind of kits. I mean, there's a there's a really cool application in the UK. There's a guy called Richard browning, who owns gravity, Inc. So basically, he connects little jet engines to his arms. And he's using them for sort of search and rescue mission fins and helping out in the military and stuff. So that's

Samira Shackle:

growl.

Ben Hall:

I think there's also some hobbyists who have basically strapped a jet engine to their back popped a little wing on their body and go flying around a little bit.

Samira Shackle:

dangerous.

Ben Hall:

Yeah, like ridiculously dangerous. If you're gonna go and do that head out into the desert where there's no aircraft in sight. Just go to an app, and just risk your own life. Not not 500 people on there.

Dave Rogers:

Oh, my goodness. Do you know what the what the repercussions were in terms of legality?

Ben Hall:

Well, they're definitely not allowed to be flying around. at 6000 feet near an airport. That's 100%. But I don't think they ever caught the bloke and I think there's been a few different sightings as well. So I don't think it's a one off event.

Dave Rogers:

Which you are this a cat look. Welcome. Yes, behind you. Would you would you ever go at that severe would you? strategy? Absolutely not. I'm

Samira Shackle:

a huge coward. I can barely even ride a bike.

Dave Rogers:

A ban.

Ben Hall:

Ah, not not a 6000 feet I wouldn't.

Dave Rogers:

I've got another close to the ground. I've got another friend who's a pilot. And this isn't one of the I've got another friend when it's actually you, Ben. But I've got another friend who who is a pilot in the forces. And on a stag do we went on a gorge walk? And there was a 20 foot cliff jump that he wouldn't do. So he flies 25 3035 40,000 feet in the air, but wouldn't jump 20 feet into water. Human beings a very good Oh, well, right then Sameera, we've, we've kept you for a long time. But I'm going to keep you for a little bit longer. Because now I'd like to blow some sunshine up your backside. Let's talk numbers because I've congratulated you on the success. But in the first week, there were hundreds of 1000s of views and reads on this article. Can you say exactly how many?

Samira Shackle:

Yeah, well, in the first 24 hours that it was up, it was getting on for half a million, which was amazing. I think. I don't know how it's been done since then. But it was a really big, big numbers hit so yeah, I guess people, people like drones or maybe people like mysteries. I was that.

Dave Rogers:

Was that just online? Or was that with a circulation of money that

Samira Shackle:

was just that was just online. So plus the circulation of the newspaper, which I'm not sure exactly where the circulation of the newspaper is now. But yeah, there's a lot of a lot of interest.

Dave Rogers:

salutely absolutely amazing. And I know you you regularly write for for The Guardian, among many other things, and I don't necessarily want you to give me the numbers of other things that you've written. But this is higher than previous articles. Yeah,

Samira Shackle:

definitely. I mean, I don't normally get the numbers as a freelancer and this was was sort of significant enough to get kind of excited. Ah, how many numbers? This is So, as you know, I had a sense from from Twitter. But that's not always the two things don't always necessarily go together, you might get lots of noise about something on social media without it translating into that many readers, especially for such a big long thing.

Dave Rogers:

I love Twitter, but it is the ultimate false equivalence, isn't it?

Samira Shackle:

Yes, actually, I got some good messages, got some good messages saying, good article, but a bit long, which is funny, since it's called the long read.

Dave Rogers:

So give us an idea of exactly how long a long read takes from inception and initial ideas to publication.

Samira Shackle:

It's pretty slow process, actually. And that's partly because of doing it around other things. But at least a few months. And I think for this, it's probably getting on for six months with some gaps, you know, like doing other things for for quite long spells. I mean, if I kind of compressed it all, it would have been quicker. But that's, you know, when you want to do something that's in depth, you really want to the thing that makes it different is really trying to talk to everyone that you can and just kind of getting hold of all those different people. And all of that can just, it's just quite time consuming. That's the really kind of unglamorous bit just sending lots of kind of messages and emails and calling people and trying to get people to talk to you. And then there's the whole kind of writing it and being edited to have quite an intensive editing process. just good for something of that length. You want it to have a real kind of narrative. be easy to read. It's well

Dave Rogers:

worth it. Yeah.

Samira Shackle:

Yeah, definitely. I enjoy it. I find it very satisfying. Good. Yeah, it's fun.

Dave Rogers:

Well, I certainly I did. Yeah. I thought it was absolutely fantastic. Well, let's talk about sort of you and other projects you've got so in terms of your career, if I've left anything out or added anything in just just correct me now I've got writer, journalist, editor of the New humanist, documentarian, and a word that I don't like, but I have to use podcaster. What if I, what if I added or miss there? If I just

Samira Shackle:

nailed it? I think you got everything. Yeah. documentarians. quite generous, because I've only made one documentary. But you know, I'll take it. Oh, that counts.

Dave Rogers:

What would you call somebody who's only made one documentary? And how many documentaries Do you have to have made to be it?

Samira Shackle:

I'll take it.

Dave Rogers:

But that was, that was a success, too, wasn't it? But I don't want to talk about that. today. I want to talk about things that are fresh and new and exciting. So I'm going to toss a coin in the air heads, we talk podcast tails, we talk book heads or tails. Heads. What's that podcast?

Samira Shackle:

I don't remember.

Dave Rogers:

So as editor of the New humanist, you have cooked up a new podcast project. I've got exploring faith and fraternity, intimacy and technology, charity and virtue, black feminism, race and belonging, work and desire in late capitalism. So Ben, I don't think we're getting the call to be guests on that one in particular. But sounds like an amazing new project taught me taught me through that.

Samira Shackle:

Yeah, so the those are the themes that you just read off for the kind of areas and the different episodes we're exploring. So our tagline is intelligent thinking in turbulent times, the name of the podcast is with reason. And it's basically just a space for new research and thinkers. So the kind of simplest elevator pitch, I guess, is having a really detailed conversation with someone who's done loads of research about an interesting thing, and just getting them to tell us about the interesting thing that they know loads about. And so it's been really interesting. It's quite Yeah, quite a wide variety. We've got people talking about, like, charity, and he talks about stuff from, from the kind of poppy appeal and clap for carers and right through to the more kind of theoretical ways that we relate to charity. got someone talking about the future of sex tech and sex robots and machines that can give you a hug. And yeah, just a really big range. So it's been, it's been great fun. We've done an initial series of six episodes and be putting out another series next year. Hopefully,

Dave Rogers:

I'm so glad you said give you a hug, then. Also, intelligent thinking in turbulent times would have been such a good tagline for this podcast, Ben. Yeah. But did you enjoy the process of making it? Yeah,

Samira Shackle:

yeah. It was quite new for me doing a podcast. Yeah, it's fun kind of thinking. thinking a bit differently. Working in a different medium. Kind of interesting learning how to do that in the middle of a pandemic when you're at home and not in a studio.

Dave Rogers:

Sounds very familiar. Yeah. Is that available for subscribers of new humans available to

Samira Shackle:

everyone? It's on every every podcast app. It's on Spotify. It's free. There are subscription offers for neohumanist on the podcast, but you don't have to subscribe to to listen.

Dave Rogers:

Awesome. I very much hoping that people have listened to you today. And I'll be straight on that. Because if it's anywhere near as interesting as this chat we, I mean, I can't wait to have to have a good listen. And Bobby straight on it. So great. You've got broadcasts to do with us first, may you you wind your neck. Oh, yeah. Karachi vice?

Samira Shackle:

Yes, yeah. So that's my book. That's actually what I was researching when I got stuck on the plane circling over Gatwick. 2018. So full circle in this conversation. And yeah, that's my first book, which is coming out on the fourth of February. And it is a nonfiction book about Pakistan's largest city. And it kind of tells the story of different urban conflicts in the city through human stories. That's a close focus on five ordinary people who've lived through this really crazy period of violence, and political upheaval, and so on. And just kind of, I went into a lot of detail with these five amazing people who were very patient about having lots and lots of questions asked and having me follow them around. And kind of just just told their their stories unfolded in the wider political changes in Pakistan. And around that. So yeah, that will be out in February, it was quite strange, and you have something living in your head for years,

Dave Rogers:

you must get such a huge amount of satisfaction from the vast majority of your work.

Samira Shackle:

Yes, yeah, I really enjoy it. It's great. Just getting to as with the podcast, and also with the book in different ways, just getting getting interesting people to tell me lots of things, it's really good. That's the best part of it.

Dave Rogers:

Just just talking about the people, you you follow around there. And you were saying that you that you asked them a lot of questions, and that you had to spend a lot of time with them. Do you ever? And this is a strange question, but it's sort of on purpose. Do you ever feel guilty about taking people's time even though it's for a grater goes at a great project and something that's going to be brilliant, and? And hopefully last a long time beyond you them?

Samira Shackle:

Yeah, I think so. And definitely, with something like a book where you really do if you're kind of reconstructing someone's experiences for the last 10 years through interviews, you really do have to interview them a lot to make that accurate and a lot of time for them. And you're probably not going to use a lot of what you get from the interview. They don't have any kind of clear benefit to doing it really, it's not like they're getting paid or they immediately become famous, or you know what I mean, they don't have any clear benefits I definitely conscious of of people's time that they're giving the I just tried to be kind of accommodating and respectful. And yeah, respect people's boundaries, really. But yeah, I'm definitely aware of it. Good.

Dave Rogers:

And are there any future projects, long reads books, films that we can look forward to any ideas that you cooking up?

Samira Shackle:

At the moment, I just want to sleep for a long time is a year. But hopefully some more ideas soon. It makes me think of a fighter told you this already, Dave but I did. I went to a careers fair at my old school. And they kind of they set you up in like this sort of like a speed dating thing. And they could see like, oh, there's a journalist, there's a lawyer and they could come and sit down and ask questions. Most of them were just asking, oh, what a levels do I need to do if I want to be a journalist or whatever, and one girl came and she said, her first question was, how much creative freedom have you got? I was like, quite a lot. You know, I come up with all the ideas of the stuff I do blah, blah, blah. And her second question. And last question was, what are you going to do if the ideas stop?

Dave Rogers:

I'm actually just going to spiral into existential dread now, so thank you have a great evening.

Samira Shackle:

Yeah. Oh, my

Dave Rogers:

God.

Samira Shackle:

subconscious is that you

Dave Rogers:

know, no, it's not a person or a mirror. Ah. And then they just moved on. Fantastic. That was it.

Samira Shackle:

Yeah. She didn't have any further questions.

Dave Rogers:

16

Samira Shackle:

Yeah, 17 tops.

Dave Rogers:

Ah, amazing. I'd love for you to catch up with her in tears. Well, what does happen if the idea stop? Don't answer that I've got. I've got one final question before we say thank you to Samira ban. Have you got any?

Ben Hall:

No, I've just got a little detachably. That just reminded me when you're talking about Karachi vice, and when I worked at the Middle East, I used to fly into Pakistan quite frequently, it was just returning around so we didn't get to stay over. But I always hoped you'd have a really good memory because you would land all the passengers would disembark and then the ground crew Come on, and the engineers would sort of fix everything up and you'll get refuelled and then all of the staff, it must have been sort of 50 per turn around, would line up in front of your aircraft and salute you as you push back.

Samira Shackle:

Really?

Ben Hall:

Yeah, it's the only place in the world I've ever seen. It's like a really nice touch though. Because usually, I mean, the engineers and stuff are so busy that i'll come on your plane, fix something and go straight to the next one. Huh, but just happens to be in Pakistan. You just get this really nice send off every time.

Samira Shackle:

Oh, nice.

Dave Rogers:

That's really nice. Really, really nice. Okay, as Samir, thank you so much. This has been such a brilliant, brilliant chat. And it's it's nice. It's nice to chat to you sort of professionally about work because I'm fascinated by by what you do and keep doing a brilliant job. Essentially. God, I hope the ideas keep coming. If not, you've got a lovely cat.

Samira Shackle:

So She's good. She's a good girl.

Dave Rogers:

Okay, final question. Ben. You get to answer this first. Samira. You've got a bit more time to think about it even though I think you've got an answer for it already. Was there a drone Yes or no? Yes. Samira.

Samira Shackle:

Oh, I'm a reporter. I'm gonna say on the balance of probabilities. No. Or maybe I should say that there isn't much evidence for Yes.

Dave Rogers:

Very journalistic answer, which means you'll probably be getting victory again. Yeah. Samir, thank you so much. This has been absolutely brilliant look after yourself.

Samira Shackle:

Cool. Thanks for having me.

Ben Hall:

Thanks for listening to the pilot based podcast. We'll be back next week with another great guest from the aviation industry. Don't forget to check out our new career platform at pilot base COMM And all the socials at pilot base HQ. If you enjoyed this podcast, don't forget to subscribe and write this review