04 October 2016

Straighten Up. Fly Right.


Nobody knows what would have gone through your minds in those moments between heaven and earth.
Such experiences are the hallows of the privileged few who have encountered emergencies and system failures in the Nuri and brought the old bird back to ground without taking precious lives in the wake of the only means of reacting they had.
It is enough that you breathe yet. It is enough that you are all alive as a crew.
Whatever the political and service shenanigans may be that you must face, they are secondary to the fact that you're still here and have not lost any of your friends to your handling of a situation gone wrong, and likely unforeseen in the Nuri's aviation history.
Congratulations to the aircraft commander and the crew. Get up, get well. Get past this.
You're more relevant to the aviation world now than many who would stand as judge over you.

15 June 2016

Pissmops and Suspenders

I would be hard pressed to meet anyone from across the ages who isn't familiar with The Jungle Book, whether as a Disney remake or the endearing original works by Rudyard Kipling.

Next to JRR Tolkien, he is my favourite author. His letters from the warfront are eloquently moving. I particularly enjoy his Just So Stories, with How The Whale Got His Throat ranking as amongst the top of these tales. There is a line narrated by the 'Stute Fish to the Whale in describing how to find the shipwrecked Mariner, which runs, "you will find, sitting on a raft, in the middle of the sea, with nothing on but a pair of blue canvas breeches, a pair of suspenders (you must not forget the suspenders, Best Beloved), and a jack-knife, one ship-wrecked Mariner, who, it is only fair to tell you, is a man of infinite-resource-and-sagacity.'' I'd say unashamedly that the best rendition of this tale is in the audiobook snippet by Ralph Fiennes. 
While I wish I were a man of infinite resource and sagacity, one episode in the offshore world sadly revealed that alas, I am not so, mostly because I did forget the suspenders, and had continued to forget for many a sector offshore. Or so the story goes, in a manner of speaking.

Build me a crude oil terminal worthy of Mordor!!!!
It was indeed a fine sunny morning last month, running an inter-rig sector from Kerteh to Lawit to Jerneh Alpha and back. The start-up and taxi to the pick-up point next to the terminal building was uneventful. Dull might have been a better description.
The routine is that once the last passenger has boarded the aircraft and they are all engrossed with strapping in, the non-flying pilot will provide the pre-departure brief. Normally it runs somewhat like this:
"Good morning ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard Weststar 203, with Captain Jack as the aircraft commander and I am Senior First Officer Jeffrey your co-pilot. We'll be flying you soon at 4500 feet and about an hour's cruise flight time to Lawit Alpha. During this time please ensure that you are comfortably seated with your harness on and get to know your emergency exits with further information on your safety leaflets placed underneath your seats. In the unlikely event of an emergency, take directions from the aircrew. If there is something you wish to bring to our attention, please come forward, tap us on our shoulders and we will respond accordingly. We expect fair weather on this flight so sit back and relax. Another brief will be provided before we land. Thank you." 

Silver linings and rose gold. The shore slips away as we head out for night deck landing
This pre-departure brief is given on the tarmac and on every deck when new passengers get on board the aircraft so that everyone is clear as to what to do and expect at any time, outbound from or inbound to mainland.
There are times when the passenger load is light, as was this day with only 7 passengers, leaving little luxury of time for me to provide such a mouthful of a brief before taxying out to line up on the runway became imminent. So after notifying them on the flight duration, I abbreviated the emergency drill to: 
"If there is an emergency, we will brief you as to what to do and if not, just sit back and enjoy the flight. Be talking to you before landing, thank you."
I always believed it covered the pertinent facts. But back to the flight, climb out to 4500 feet was expediently carried out and soon we were cruising through Kuala Terengganu's control zone and giving the air traffic controller our route details for transit clearance and traffic information. Lawit Alpha was indeed just shy of an hour's flight time away, where we were to drop off four lads and pick up another four back to Kerteh, while three were destined for Jerneh Alpha, a rough 16 minutes from Lawit, with approach time extending the inter-rig proceedings to 20 minutes.

The sun sets on a sleepy offshore world
The Lawit drop off also was uneventful. I got down on deck to oversee the passenger exchange while the captain remained on board to set up the flight management system for the next leg and brief the new passengers. I was already hoping that upon landing at Kerteh, this dull turn of events would eventually read as a split duty, meaning I could head back to Kijal with all the chance of a split for good.
Hardly had we settled at a low cruise en route to Jerneh Alpha when we heard voices from the cabin. A Ramli Sarip-ish passenger was beckoning wildly at us as if to pass a message. I gestured to him to write his message down, passing him the only expendible sheet of paper I had on my flight board: the rig weather report. Looking backward to understand the nature of his urgency, I noticed he was crouched over the cabin floor. Soon he was gesturing for more paper. Through vehement waving of arms and other uninhibited gesticulations, I understood that the poor lad had wet himself, and he was using the paper not to write anything down, but to clean up after himself.
The aircraft captain was at sixes and sevens over how to handle this. He suggested that the Helicopter Landing Officer at Jerneh Alpha arrange for rags to clean up the aircraft. I pondered this and realised that was not quite right. I considered that rigs were akin to ships dead in water; a maritime op, and more appropriately a swabbing of the deck would be the better an option. My radio call to Jerneh Alpha for that purpose was greeted with affirmative answers from the HLO and we went steadily in for finals approach.
Once on deck, the guys at Jerneh Alpha were ready to set to work with a drenched mop and to my impressed delight, aerosol Dettol. Our Ramli Sarip Doppelganger helped swab the helicopter cabin floor. He looked ruefully at me and shook his head as he bellowed into my earpiece, "I really couldn't tahan anymore." I nodded. It could happen to any of us. He then rushed below deck to a hurried shower and a change of clothes. We were longer on deck at Jerneh Alpha as we waited for him to return to the aircraft, but everyone, from aircrew to offshore brat, was sympathetic towards him.
I wondered aloud to my aircraft captain why the poor chap didn't just come forward and let us know he needed to take a leak instead of springing one. After all, the drill for us aircrew when facing any passenger with a bellyache is to radio the nearest rig and provide the fellow with speedy relief rather than he burst his bowels. I realised that in fact, he may not have known that options were available to him if the brief given to him did not include the part that he could notify us of any urgency mid-flight, if a brief was in fact given at Lawit Alpha. I do know of some pilots who keep mum while passenger disembarkation and embarkation is in progress. I decided then, that I would never again omit the part of the brief where I tell the passengers what to do if any of them were to have something urgent to bring to the pilots' attention.
Somewhere on the return leg to Kerteh, I clearly heard Ralph Fiennes saying most personally, "now, you know why you were not to forget the suspenders!"

And the pictures herein are like the plot of Whose Line Is It Anyway? They don't matter and their relevance to the post is utterly made up.

02 June 2016

Silence Isn't Always Golden

Sometimes, it is just plain yellow.
My mind and heart have had their hands at the plough for the last three months. Three months of fear and worry congealed into night after night of dreamlessness and timelessness, without texture or taste. I have not had the time to look back on my flying life as it took a back seat to Brenda's tussle with the possible Big C, just as I had with my episode with glue ear. In her case, it was a thymoma, and she is still recovering. She is however, a model patient and is progressing better than expected except for pain management. We will know more in three months.
And now that life seems to be creeping back to normal, I can finally break this silence.
Sunset for the EC225?
The helicopter world, especially those involved in offshore operations would have been shocked by yet another incident involving the EC225 about a moth back, this one being fatal, at Bergen Norway. An EC225 was returning to Bergen and on finals approach, the main rotorhead separated from the fuselage. All 13 persons on board perished. The horror of the tragedy carries with it the second time that the EC225 gets scourged by a media nightmare. Offshore workers' unions have been clamouring for the expungement of the entire Super Puma lineage from offshore operations, Those in the industry would remember the 11 months of grounding the aircraft type underwent in 2012, although the two ditchings were safe with the passengers literally stepping out of the buoyant aircraft directly into the rescue boats.
What this means for us across the tarmac is that we have now got to shoulder the vacuum left by our competitor's stop-flight instructions as the offshore flight ban has been applied across the world fleet. I'm not lamenting, as I do enjoy flying two sectors a day and raking up the offshore hours, especially since I haven't had profitable hours recently. The local oil and gas industry has reduced the intensity of flight scheduling in keeping with the global slowdown, keeping parallel with the world crude oil freefall. Even though the price of Brent crude has clawed up to 50 USD a barrel, the slowdown has not converted into an upswing yet. I do wish for enough time to cycle regularly though. With my annual aircrew medical coming up, I will have to cram in some miles on the Apollo Exceed even at the risk of heatstroke because sweltering evenings are all I have left, if I get evenings at all.
I can't imagine the offshore world without this workhorse
In fact I feel bad for my friends in what is now my rival company. I have been exactly where they are now, facing uncertainty. I was a pilot in their fleet back then. I remember the insanity of month after month of waiting for a lift to the grounding, the frustration at how our authorities played the waiting game, watching for who across the globe would set foot offshore first before letting us off the hook. I recall disillusionment, hopelessness and loitering at the company simply because I couldn't bear being inside the walls of home. I pray that they can remain calm and patient in this most trying of times. With any luck, this will not be an extended wait, since the industry rumour is that the investigation board has wound up their findings and concluded that it is not a design fault that led to this catastrophic rotorhead failure.
These doldrums are not unusual in the flying profession. It happened to Dreamliner pilots circa the same period the EC225 was facing problems in 2012 to 2013. Pilots faced loss of currency, loss of license and joblessness, with no marketability as their aircraft type was not flyable. These same sentiments were expressed by my old stablemates as they saw the almighty unions in the North Sea succeeding in their push to extinguish the Super Puma from the aviation world.
Let's hope that non-aviators do not prevail in determining what flies and what does not.

08 March 2016


The church at midnight mass 24 Dec 2015. Looking like gingerbread by moonlight.

How quickly we have moved away from the hushed celebration of Christmas, whizzed past the Chinese New Year and now we are squat in the middle of a rather un-austere Lent.
The acclimatisation from east coast to west coast takes its toll differently on each one of us, predominately in the availability of choices, and whilst we were all enrapt within ourselves, we overlooked the totem truth that what we are to each other matters more than what we can get out of the place we are situated in.
Antonio. So named was this kitten of a stray when he walked in,
 reasons being obvious
Eleven days of anguish visited us when Antonio took his late night walk on the 18th last month and failed to turn up at his usual spot at the front door the morning after.
Such agony over a pet, and the unimaginable horror over anyone's loss of a loved one formed the chromatography of emotions and memories that flogged our minds, such that the passing of another great life from my own, that of my grandmother, ran in somewhat muted parallel while we hoped and lost hope over Antonio. The fact is, I know what my grandmother's troubled life did to her, and this eternal rest was given in such timeliness at her laudable age of 92, to nobody better deserving within my little circle of kith and kin. I found more peace in being resigned to her going than the void of not knowing what happened to that infuriating but sweet feline. How true it is then that closure is a means to coping with, while not mitigating the sting of, loss.
My grandmother, the grand matriarch on my mother's side of the family, passed into the great beyond on the 17th of February, after a very brief struggle for breath, having survived a failing heart from as far back as 2008. With her departure, went also the only ally I ever had on my mother's side of the family. She may have needed someone better sighted than herself for the passage ahead, and took Antonio along with her as a seeing eye cat. The timing thereof seemed logical.
Or perhaps, as Brenda would put it in her irreverently macabre way, that Granny had already begun interceding for her grandson without so much as a siesta upon reaching the other shores. She would be in the know from her current seat, that the rosaries I offered during the nightly prayers for her over the week were rife with entreaties for Antonio rather than for her soul, which I knew had already found a good place in paradise. At least that would explain the utterly bizarre manner in which one week after Granny's funeral, Antonio meowed indignantly outside our bedroom window on the roof ledge no less, at 0300 Sunday morning. Just the night before, not four hours back did we toast the cat replete with a deserved eulogy, and awakened by an unbelievably familiar voice, we both literally leapt out of bed to reel him in through the window. Presented for proof before the court comprising our well awakened children, there were tears of relief and joy.
Life sucks. We really ought to be glad when it doesn't. And utterly jubilant when she beams at us.

Thank you, Grandma.

25 October 2015

The Coolest Guy

The arrow pointing to The Coolest Guy
This little panel is technically called the guidance controller.
It is used to arm the "upper modes" or preselected altitudes, tracks, runway approaches, navigational modes and various other autopilot functions for hands-off flying.
A closer look at the panel, just above the captain's finger will reveal a button etched as PFD with a little green backlit arrow. In the picture, the arrow is backlit in the direction of the right-hand seated pilot or the aircraft captain. Jabbing the button will change the backlit arrow to the left-hand seated pilot, moi. Jab it again and the reversion occurs. Simply speaking, the arrow indicates which pilot's Primary Flight Display's references are being used to arm and capture the autopilot parameters for automated flight, navigation and corrections thereto.
In our offshore world, we take turns flying the aircraft. If the captain flies outbound to the rigs or barges as the flight detail for the day may be, then the co-pilot customarily gets to fly inbound and executes the approach to the heliport. This builds proficiency and hands-on hours for the co-pilot, as well as provides for a fair distribution of the workload.

Clockwise from bottom left: Clarity Aloft, David Clarke, Bose and Zulu Lightspeed. Courtesy of the web, and moi.
It was my first flight with an Argentinian Captain, Alfredo. He is husky voiced, and bears his own style in the cockpit, wearing the Clarity Aloft headset instead of the company-issued David Clark or the status symbols of Bose or Zulu Lightspeed, and graduated Ray Bans, making him look as if he were not wearing a headset at all. He works out religiously, attested to by the veins popping out of his biceps, showcased by his tight jeans and S sized company Polo T-shirt. As Goldmember would say, "Yesh. Toight. Like a toiger." Captain Alfredo is cool. You get it.
We flew outbound, with light banter and my headset filled with an accent akin to a male version of Sofia Vergara. 20 miles before the rig location I made the all-stations descent call and requested for the local weather at the rig. It was all clockwork, all routine. The aircraft seemed to be amicably cooperative.
On the rig, the nice Captain volunteered to get on the deck and supervise the passenger disembarkation and embarkation. Customarily, when it is the Captain's landing at the deck, he also does the take-off because the visible obstacles such as cranes or flues or masts, are on his side. As such, the co-pilot would have to get on deck and do the work. Some nice lads, such as Captain Alfredo is, take it upon themselves to get on deck, as they see that even though it is the Captain's take-off, there will be an in-flight handover to the co-pilot to fly home.
While Captain Alfredo was on deck, I did the paperwork. I calculated the take-off weight, entered the flight times and prepared the Flight Management System and navigation inputs for the ride home. With all the homebound passengers on board, the Captain hopped in and we lifted off uneventfully. As the aircraft was climbing steadily to 4000 feet, he confirmed that I was ready to assume control of the aircraft, and he jabbed the PFD button.
Now who's the Coolest Guy?
The green arrow pointed my way for all of half a second and then it jumped back to point towards the right. We looked at each other for a minute. Then he raised his index finger at me to gesture "Un minuto" and depressed the PFD button again to effect the PFD switchover to my side. Again, the left green arrow only engaged for a second before the right green arrow resumed referring to the Captain's PFD.
Captain Alfredo took an audibly deep breath which fed through his Clarity Alofts into my David-Clarks.
"Jeffrey, what does that green arrow indicate?"
"It indicates that the guidance controller has been handed over to me for autopilot selections sir."
Captain Alfredo turned in his harness to face me fully. "That is not correct. Try again. What does that green arrow indicate?"
I was wondering what technical language to use. "It indicates that both FMS systems feed the on-side pilot's PFD for autopilot purposes?"
With his graduated lenses hiding all emotion, Captain Alfredo shook his head and pouted his disapproval. "One last chance Jeffrey. Tell me the truth. Either you know or you don't know the correct answer."
I decided to play along and admitted my ignorance.

"Since you do not know the correct answer, listen carefully to me and never forget this." I nodded compliantly. "The green arrow indicates the location of the coolest guy in the cockpit. Flying out here I was the coolest guy. I thought that flying back, I would let you be the coolest guy, but somehow it cannot happen. You cannot be the coolest guy. I tried hard, but I am sorry, I just am the coolest guy all the time."

I digested this slowly and deliberately. I knew he had set me up for this, dismissing the actual answer to dub himself as The Coolest Guy.

Actually, there is a much deeper implication to this than the premise thus presented.

The Captain can only remain The Coolest Guy with a malfunctioning aircraft.

18 July 2015

Oxfords Not Brogues

Eggsy, this country is going to SHITE!!!!!!!!
It's been a long long time since I have been here.

My absence has not been due to idleness. Nor was it a demise on anyone's part....unless it is my faith in leadership of course.
Last month, some ninety days after I submitted the answers to a questionnaire, the training captain finally had the time to peruse my answer and in exasperation that I could not yet understand, withdrew my line proficiency status. Well, the grapevine had it that the clients were curious about our landing fuel state and wondered why we had ample fuel consistently after every return to base. I became the first experiment to identify the prevailing fuel calculation by way of a scenario pop quiz to be written and submitted, and I had in a spell of blind-sidedness, under duress from tinnitus owing to a profanity-spewing menopausal right-hand-seat fellow screaming at me during my FAMs, inversed the formula and then glory be!! did they come down hard on me. As the scramble to identify whose fault it was that a non-novice to offshore flying could miscalculate so gloriously grew in urgency, I was placed on the training managers' remedies. It wasn't pretty, but I pulled through. Hence my absence.
And in the meantime, we have had to suffer indignity after indignity of failed leadership in media exposes amidst a personal scuffle between a former and serving Prime Minister.
The worst precipitation of this leadership event-horizon came in the form of the Low Yatt Plaza brawl and its attendant copycat crimes buoyant in its wake. I am appalled that any social experiment or mobilisation exercise would be at the cost of blood upon the fabric of our society. What makes it worse, is the disregard for humanity that such sleight of hand incurs. This isn't the first nor will it be the last time for flashpoints, as hate crimes have been with us a while now. The impunity thereof, is telling. If I were to place my trust in social media alone, I am worried that the hatemongers have outbred the peacemakers. There are so many of them under the employment of ill-intended NGOs, and my beef is that our taxes are funding such hatred. What a bunch of masochists we must be that we pay so much to be flogged with regular social scourges such as this.
I cannot harbour this rivalry of Cain. I am a racist of sorts, most assuredly, but I am a racist in humour. There are racial and cultural stereotypes that form a lose and disputable ethnic set of properties for each one of us, at which we can learn to laugh at ourselves with the next bloke in a massive icebreaker, or carry it as an indelible insult like a permanent chip on our shoulders.

Just as we love picking the least sonorous amongst us to be semi-permanently assigned the karaoke microphone for comic relief, I have been dragged in kicking and screaming to represent my squadron in the annual heated sepak takraw tournament, kononnya Cina tak boleh main sepak takraw la tu. And while it was in my case evidently true judging from the resounding laughter at my martial-arts kicks in the court, I will never forget the supportive cheering each time I kicked the rattan ball across the net, and the wild congratulations when my team actually won. Heck, way back, my Non-Commissioned Officers who tortured me well and good in the Royal Military College would yell all forms of racial slurs at me and my other friends till we weren't sure whether we should just surrender and laugh out loud to our peril, or surrender to the desire to hurl what horrid breakfasts we had as we floundered out of breath at the obstacle course.
"Woi Melayu pemalas, panjat tali pun tak boleh ke?!!!" they would erroneously bellow at me, themselves being Malay seeming to be irrelevant to their agenda.
"Saya Cina staf!!!!"
"Busuk punya Cina, berak tak basuh! Cepat panjat tali, jangan buang masa jurulatih ni. Bukan adik adik saya kamu ni semua!"
And then as they whipped us with their whistle lanyards to hasten us, all my upper body strength faltered as I struggled to contain my laughter and shimmy up the rope at the same time.
But the days where our racial tendencies were merely for a good neighbourly laugh have suffered a tragic demise. We have lost the openness of being able to call each other by race with a lame insult and walk home together arms across the other's shoulder with no bitterness. The loss of being able to be secure in our collective inadequacies, is to be disabled towards fortifying each other. Repeatedly, the contra-rotating seeds of suspicion and entitlement have been sown to deeply fragment our society, and create the perception of the haves and have-nots along lines where they do not exist, to blind us to the actual areas where the haves stand apart from the have-nots. Add to this tinderbox the agents of anarchy, and there we get 13 July 2015. 

With this disquieting aura veiling the passing week, I proceeded offshore on Hari Raya pertama to FSO Bunga Kertas, then to Tinggi Alpha with a final pick up from Bekok Charlie. The ship was festive, with every light on the deck, the masts, the exhaust stack and the helideck turned up to full brightness, while the rigs looked for all the world like oil lamps. The Helideck Landing Officers handed us doggie bags of my favourite goodies: lemang with serunding, saffron rice with chicken and beef rendang. In all these, were glimmers of hope.
Seligi Alpha. Should we sing, "warm smell of pelitas, rising up through the air"?
Which brings me to a bone I have to pick with a certain sector of our populace who with smug perpetuity go mantric about how in their states exist inter-religious and inter-racial harmony so unlike what we have this side of the South China Sea. We should all be careful about speaking prematurely about racial and religious harmony. What you think is a reflection of idyllic harmony is but the sheen of the sea without ripples, the dead calm of a boat that has not faced the tempest.

You cannot afford such naivety to blindside you to the fact that there is a difference between tolerance untested and integration fought for. The apparition of a breakdown in racial harmony is on the other hand the struggle for sensibility and inclusivity. Amidst what many believe to be covertly state-acquiesced flashpoints, the true face of what Malaysians are comes forth. There will be the agents of evil squared off against the people who will not see their friends clobbered streetside just on the basis of their skin colour. This pays logic to the fact that peace is not simply the absence of conflict. Indeed we are awake to the sower of weeds amongst the wheat, and we toil that the wheat never gets choked by the evil planted amongst us.

Rowan Gorilla II jack-up rig alongside FOIS Tembikai and Rescue Boat
As regards the hatemongers they are a lot who are oblivious over how the Creator will call them away from this life, and are preparing for it to be a most unsavoury farewell. Of course, the Universal Law of Depravity sees to it that a disproportionate number of evildoers live far better lives, rife with temporal reward, than the lesser numbers of field workers, who endeavour toward and pay the price for peace. Yet, I believe that the least we could do before all eventualities are summed up and concluded, is to forge goodwill, so that should grand misfortune and celestial cock-up have it that our deaths be excruciating, remarks may be passed that we deserve better.

There is no good in allowing hatemongers take centre stage, even, nay, especially if they are state-sponsored. There are none of us who should count the bloodying of a face we know not, as a victory. We are all a part of this teeming social fabric. I rather we were a tapestry than crimson bandages.

Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri, maaf zahir dan batin.

05 May 2015

From The Frying Pan Onto The Griddle

Capt Latt Armeda
Meet my friend, Capt Latt Armeda. He has flown in quite a few places, from Iraq to Bahrain after the United States, and is now amongst us in the company. We often talk at length when our rosters overlap, and it is good to see the United States through the eyes of someone who has served under the military in various parts of the world. As with anyone, from whichever country, who takes pains to step outside his comfort zone, psychologically as well as geographically, fences are dissolved when this happens, and our chats are always refreshing. He is a big fellow, and there are ample cartoon references when we are seen walking together.
Capt Abel Alvarez, with SFO Jay Kumar and Capt Latt
We also have Abel Alvarez, from Spain, who has taught me a few tricks on the aircraft, and we have had a few chats over the history of Spain, her wars with Britain and how she minimised the scourges of WWII.
Senior First Officer Ugo. Never call him Boss.
The new company is a place full of different faces. There are foreign pilots from America, Spain, Italy, the Emirates, Colombia and the UK amongst others. The conversation is always varied, and there are many conspiracy theories being trashed about at any one time over coffee. Then there is SFO Ugo from Italy. Yes, I have heard ribbings and jokes over this too, but cultural ignorance fatally mistaken for humour runs the risk of falling flat on the comedian's face because from each of these persons I have learned of individual struggles to travel anywhere to earn a buck and fend for a family in the carving of better opportunities and futures for their children. In the end, when the coffee cup has been drained, we are all simply tired daddies trying the best we can for the ones we love.
The contenders gathering at the starting line called Intersection Bravo
The regimen of flying in the new place is tighter than in the old place. I find keeping up my cycling programme ever the harder, as snatching time in the morning is just impossible when the first wave mustering is 0630H. You may land and be lucky to be on split duties and skip home for a nap or no mind-load to deal with till the next reporting time at 1400H, or be plain blessed and find that there is no second wave for you at 1400H. Routinely though, your second wave waits for you at 1045H even as you prepare the trim sheet and manifest load at 0630H. Yes, a 1045H second wave means you are back at 1400H or sorts, and the rest of the day is either standby or go home. Still, wait as I may till 1745H, I cannot muster the courage to try cycling under the relentlessly scorching heat of the past three months to date. My prayers are sometimes answered when I get a few days of consecutive mustering times at 0930H. I get to sleep an extra 45 minutes compared to most mornings by waking up at 0615H, starting the ride at 0715H to return by 0830H for a rushed shower before shooting off to work by 0900H.

The mega structured Guntung Delta complex
The past three months have been good months to fly with the prevailing North-Easterly winds giving me ample opportunity to sharpen my approaches using this aircraft. This week, the winds have died down, to pick up feebly from headings exceeding 100 degrees. The aircraft captains have taken over the approaches, and I get to kick back a little and catch up on other aspects of the aircraft, such as reading, which is subservient to Newton's first law of motion.

Angsi Alpha as viewed from the deck of the Tender 10 barge
I have settled down a bit more, in the cockpit, and have begun carrying coffee in a flask to sip between radio calls and entries into the navigation log. The door slots accommodate less than the EC225's but I will have to make do. While the cockpit doesn't feel particularly small, it really is compared to the old French bird, and you will find it to be so when you have things to carry with you. The door pocket will not take a David Clark headset bag; in fact it cannot take any regular bag. Relegating a bag behind the collective control also means it is not rapidly accessible in flight, but I have learned to make do with a smaller bag crammed into the door pocket and have maximised the creature comforts of a smaller cockpit by not taking the kitchen sink along with me.

Have I walked out of the frying pan into the fire?

Not entirely. All employees, and I suppose this applies to any profession, must concede that there is no such thing as a perfect company. Every single one of them has their own brand of politics, and the further the distance an employee keeps from this fatiguing embroilment, the lower the frustration floor. That is the first pillar of truth that must be swallowed. The second, invariably, is that HR is the virally malignant department of any company hell bent of fixing what isn't broken. By both extrapolating as well as interpolating between these pillars, we can either tie our hammocks for a rest or yank the roof upon ourselves as did Samson after his crew cut grew out.

I am just going to have to bite down here till captaincy comes, because I just can't hop companies again at my age. It is not easy absorbing bitch-screaming at maximum amplitude with my already strained tympanic membranes.

14 January 2015

Je Ne Suis Pas Major Zaidi

I knew Major Zaidi as an unassuming young officer in Butterworth. I used to see him pop into the bar at the officers' mess to tapau chilled canned drinks on his way between places. Prior my event with the then Major Fajim Juffa, pilots not from my generation, more so the post-communism era fighter jocks, would not give me a second glance save to ascertain if I was worth being ragged, and upon perceiving my grey hair, would quickly move quietly on with their business. With the sight of the squadron insignia of a helicopter pilot on my flying suit sleeve, the fighter boys deemed me beneath worthiness of a conversation.
I therefore do not know enough about Major Zaidi to say anything enlightening about the unwarranted glare of the public eye his court martial has garnered. I cannot fathom what brought matters this far dragged out into the distance. It should not have happened, not to a fellow officer. And no longer being in service, I should not know. It is always a sad event when an officer, especially one whose rank would make him an Executive Officer of the squadron, a potential squadron commander and eligible for the rank of Leftenant Colonel in his youth when we chopper boys past our prime are trying to assassinate each other for that same rank, is faced with a court martial.
A court martial is a sign of shit having hit the fan. Either what was a minor offense was not met with admission of guilt on the part of the accused and he elected to prove a point via a court martial, or the offense was of such gravity that no summary dealing via trial by subordinate commander is allowed, so that sweeping the dust under the carpet cannot happen.
I am horrified to see that everyone on fb and the alternative media portals have resounded in such an obscene baying over how it is a crime to tell the truth in Malaysia because it will make you a victim of a corrupt government. If you really want to call a spade a spade, then what earth-shaking, ground-breaking or life-altering "truth" is it that Major Zaidi brought to the table that had not already been known and debated to death other than for getting a Division 1 military officer to flog this indelible ink dead horse? The self-righteous alternative media portray Major Zaidi as the hero that the country needs, and that we should all stand by him. In clichéd cyber trending, fb profile pictures now have been changed to bear the banner that reads Je Suis Major Zaidi. Yet, every rebuttal I have placed in alternative media to straighten the lopsided picture frames has not been published. Not that it matters to me, but it is telling about their selective treatment of how some truths are more truthful than others.
However, this is not about Major Zaidi. It is about ignoring the relevant items which would nullify the governmental-injustice-poster-boy aura that has been conjured to legitimise what in fact is little more than a red herring. It concerns the politicising of a court martial, which does not fall under the normal rules that civilians assume to understand. The vitriol splashed upon the pages of the alternative news portals has little to do with concern over injustice. Rather, it is the manifestation of a mass hysterical fist-shaking at the military establishment which is perceived, but not verified in any way, as being an extension of a government we feel, for whatever reason we breed and fester, as ill-deserving of the mandate to rule, corrupt to the core and impervious to whatever criticism we hurl at it.
The rules as of 31 years ago when I signed up for service were made clear, that under no circumstance could I organise a press conference. Were I standing at a terrorist attack site while shopping and accosted by the paparazzi for comment, I would be liable to be charged for contravening Armed Forces Council Instructions for not clearing with MINDEF PR before opening my opinionated mouth, though I believe circumstantially nobody in the armed forces would do it. But the rule still stands, even if I weren't prosecuted.
Now this is altogether several shades different from organising a press conference to air one's convictions over a perceived miscarriage of justice. This takes knowing full well what the rules say. It takes a subsequent electing to disregard those rules, for whatever reason. It also means either taking cognisance that there will be repercussions and being ready for those consequences, or worse, presuming that such consequences will die a natural death before their reverberations are audible.
A soldier cannot have an amnesiac lapse towards the principle of service before self. The military will not tolerate it any more than it will tolerate insubordination. Courts martial of the past dealing with insubordination have always ended with the accused losing his wager. The gravity of such an offense only gains mass as its committal tracks up the ranks, seeing that from commissioning as a Second Leftenant, officers must observe and enforce military law. Breaches of said law voids a soldier of whatever traits and qualities that made him a soldier in the first place. What may those be? First and foremost, it is the surrender of personal liberties. Following these will come the pledge of allegiance to King and Country, reticence and securing the nation's secrets in conjunction with her interests. This is a soldier's life. He is subject to civil law, but over and above that, not subsequently or consequently, military law. Transgressing military law never makes a hero out of an offender.
The court martial was never about the truth that Major Zaidi intended to spill. Besides the fact that many voters already reported the same, two other service personnel from Butterworth base also made police reports in conjunction with the adulterated indelible ink, but they were not charged with any offense. Therefore the court was about transgressing rules wilfully.
Consider this: a fighter pilot with all the right tactical qualifications is assigned the task of taking out a vital point, let's say, a power plant tucked away in the hills. It is to be conducted by night and with night vision goggles. At tea time, this fighter jock has an epiphany that so strikes his conscience that he decides to get dressed in full ceremonial regalia adorned with all his gallantry medals and collar decorations and calls a press conference to report that an underhand plot is afoot to destabilise another state. Would any of this constitute a national warrior? Many, many more deeds of courage go unsung actually.
A court martial is quite different from a civil sitting. Forgive me for using "we" by force of habit, but we do not have the luxury of being so large in number that the President of the Court and the accused are unacquainted from Adam. Indeed, we are intertwined. This can be useful, in that we know the character of the man whose fate we are presiding over. There is something rather special about soldiers. We know each other's worst secrets. We consider some of those amongst us as individuals we wouldn't trust the sanctity of our granny's knickers with. Yet because he is a soldier, we would brawl in the streets to protect or avenge him. We will have his back. And sometimes, we draw the line. Because much as we do not want the worst to befall one of us, there is something much larger we are duty bound to preserve. That in this instance, is the fitness of an officer to continue to keep his commission in service to His Majesty.
I will likely never know what could have led to all this. After all, the truth is the first casualty of war. None of us know if Major Zaidi in fact did meet with his Commanding Officer and was advised on other means of dealing with his grievances as an officer. He may have been trivialised and could not accept that his passions did not warrant the pursuit he deemed them fit for. None of us have found his courage questionable. However, our virtually scantily understood lives in the officer's corps in lame attempt at living as a organisation that should be beyond reproach amidst all the other injuries it has had to suffer thus far has been further tormented by the very people and parties who have publicly claimed to be defending a man of integrity while glossing over the fact that his integrity is not in question. Attention has been diverted from the fact that while we are a part of you, we must also stand apart from you as we serve an interest that will almost always be in conflict with our own, but we have not the liberty to take our grievances to the street.
Let the truth be told, that the military justice system is fair. It places no stock in fanfare or dramatics. If a senior officer is facing a court martial for striking a junior officer for instance, his sentiments or his temperament at the time of the incident, or provocation on the part of the junior officer does not alter the fact that an offence has been committed. The question of "guilt" then is strictly over whether he committed the offense or not, full stop, where striking (ill treatment of) a junior officer is an offence under the Armed Forces Act 1972.
Furthermore, in case it has eluded all and sundry, a soldier should be vigilant towards anyone, individual or group, who would so manipulate his grievances to drive him to choose against his fellow soldiers. This very method of picking on the already agonised in defeat to convince him that he is a victim of a corrupt and repressive government was used on us in the infancy of this nation for recruitment in a war that lasted 40-odd years in our jungles and terrorism in our streets and villages. Really, if anyone were interested in Major Zaidi's welfare and future, they would help him move on rather than reinforce his frustrations into irreversible bitterness. He deserves a fresh start or else he risks turning out like the many petulant others who have not got their way, left with little but an oversized axe to grind.
Therefore, without a foundation of good service in His Majesty's Armed Forces, public comments on this court martial which ignore the surrender of an individual's liberties when signing up to serve King and country, do little more than reflect ignorance over the uncompromising intricacies of military conduct. They do not enlighten anyone on military justice, nor serve the future interests of Major Zaidi.
I say with regret and with honesty, that I am not Major Zaidi. And neither are many amongst you.


It is now the second week of the new year.
Leading up to Christmas, I was placed on a rush order of training programmes, starting with the AW139 Simulator training at PWNE Subang, followed by the type technical examination, then my recurrent aircrew medical check at Twin Towers and ending with the BOSET which entailed of course, HUET. Altogether, not accounting for ground school, that was two-and-a-half weeks in the city.

XL Xmas tree at the Holiday Villa's lobby
It was back to Subang Jaya's Holiday Villa for my 8 days of simulator training at PWN Excellence. I'm sorry. I cannot unearth the meaning of that baffling acronym and I am certain it is in Italian. I heard the W is for Westland, as in Agusta-Westland 139.
Having spent two weeks in the Villa earlier during ground school at Agusta Westland Academy at Sapura Kencana's Hangar, I was quite at home and looking forward to the makcik's nasi lemak just across the junction from the villa. I must admit that this was the beginning of my winter weight gain, and my later return to Kerteh during the worst of the monsoon did not spell a rapid return to my pre-Christmas mass. Being surrounded by all the delights of the Klang Valley's delicacies, I made it a very festive Yuletide indeed.
But now, it was time to take a mighty leap into the dark of the simulator cockpit and see who would emerge victorious, moi or the nasty computer-aided aircraft simile.
I was at the gate of the simulator premises, within the perimeter fence of RMAF Subang, at 0500H. It was beginning to look like a parade joke. I was alone there, at the dead end of the road, face illuminated by the lights of my Elantra's instrument cluster, but no sign of anyone who would show up to open the gate. I was to learn over the next number of days, that the provost only opened up between 0530H and 0600H. To be fair, the provost changeover meant handing-over/taking-over briefs and guard dismounts. But the arrangement of my simulator slots by PWNE vis-à-vis gate opening times and the terse instructor assigned to me set the stage for pre-flight tension in my mind, which, as it was, already lumbered under performance anxiety over flying the new bird.
This is what pilots call the torture chamber. Pic from PWNE's website
My first three days in this beast tore my self esteem to shreds. I could barely hover, and my over-corrections were so laboured that I longed for an hour's Thai massage every day to assuage my sore muscles from my neck down to my feet arches. My 68-year old Italian instructor mocked my agonised grimaces and body posture in twisted struggle against the controls on all three axes, dragging my self-esteem to the basement of utter remorse.
I returned home to the villa at the end of the third day in no mood for a conversation with anyone. I was crushed by mental fatigue over summoning all I had gained over 21 years of helicopter flying seemingly gone to dust.
The fourth day, and my session started at 1200H to 1400H. I woke up at late morning and went deliberately early to the simulator centre. I was delighted to find that at 1100H, lunch was served for an eighteen ringgit fee, so I sat in the crew room slowly stuffing my face whilst watching a mindless documentary on the telly. My instructor turned up at 1130H for our pre-flight brief and we stepped into the torture chamber.
I was surprised to find the cursed contraption somewhat compliant to my control inputs this time around. My instructor began progressing me rapidly through the exercises, throwing tail rotor control failures and instrument approaches at me, and the two-hour session was concluded before I knew it. I suppose it wasn't just the simulator that had mellowed towards me. My instructor too, took on a change in personality. The post-flight brief this time shifted away from announcing the next sortie's schedule and ridding himself of me, to explaining the differences in go-around criteria between a precision approach and non-precision approach. I decided not to rock the boat by over-thinking this one. The remaining 5 days in the simulator were more enjoyable, with me looking forward to the next session and ultimately, the end of the course, with my instructor cheerfully saying, "Captain Jeffrey. You are still with us at the end of this course. Congratulations!!"

I'll just take it that it was a good thing.

Much relieved, I headed back to the villa to ponder the upcoming events. I was even feeling like my personal storm clouds were dissipating. My buoyant attitude was just my way of psyching up for the Type Technical exam coming up in haste at 1400H. I hit the showers and headed for the Malaysian Aviation Academy, confident that Garmin would get me there well before time.

There was a festive air at the examinations hall, as there were many acquaintances and friends taking DCA exams that were lined up for the day. The aviation community, it ironically appeared, was growing ever smaller even as it expanded. I made some new friends, and even discovered that my reputation had preceded me, undisputedly manifest when, after I introduced myself to a private pilot, he remarked, "So you're the one the other guys were talking about...." Thanks Colonel Fajim!
This is Christmas?
I endured the examination by sheer relief of discovering my preparations were adequate in averting blanking out when looking at the exam paper. Everything looked like I had read about it somewhere, and in due time I handed over my papers, knowing I could do no more about the inevitable outcome two weeks down the line.
A room, and a view!
I had three more days at the villa before having to pack up and move over to The Concorde, sitting in the heart of the city, and closer to my next training centre, Consist College, Ampang for Basic Offshore Safety Induction and Emergency Training. It was time to face my demons awaiting me in the form of another torture chamber: the helicopter simulator meant for HUET. I was in for a surprise after the first few lectures, because the instructors inspired such confidence in me that I was no longer morbidly afraid of underwater escape. Once they showed me that I could breathe using the apparatus, I was no longer frantic. I realised that apart from my perennial fear of water, my last HUET in 2011 saw me panic when my Emergency Breathing System failed and I took water into my lungs, leading to this sense of dread I felt when faced with HUET. Now that it was somewhat rationalised, I think that demon has been rebuked.
A Helicopter Underwater Escape Training simulator. Pic courtesy of TSTC's website.
The sea survival module ended on 24 Dec 2014. My arms were worn from the furious rowing during the human raft training. Being the only pilot in the course, whenever the instructors asked, "Who will jump into the pool first for winching?" or "Who wants to try this first?", there was this unanimous chant and turning of eyes and index fingers towards me phrased with "The captain will jump first!"

High waters
My return home was virtually uneventful, save for a hint of the horror of what hit Kuala Krai and Gua Musang reflected in the streams that had long burst their banks making the new highway home from Jabor look like a causeway.

Curtains drew to a dismal close on 2014.

26 November 2014

Let The Games Begin!

I had expected some amount of fanfare and swashbuckling antics as I entered my new phase of flying life a hop across the fence, being a marketable 1200-hours offshore pilot, but it turned out to be more of squirming and struggling over my misunderstood medical status for a season yet before the ball finally began rolling this month.

It began, with the much anticipated ground school in the Agusta Westland Malaysia Academy at the Sapura Hangar in Subang, once known as D'Nest Hangar. The joining instructions I received had the name as Agusta Westland Training Academy AWTA, and I chuckled that none of the Malaysian staff had advised against such an acronym. However, later on in the course, it was referred to as AWM, Agusta Westland Malaysia Academy.
I remembered the D'Nest hangar well, having taken my Bell206B Type Rating under Sabah Air in situ. I remembered the canteen, and the level of security in the area had now been tightened up to reflect the presence of some very costly aircraft including the famous one that serves as alternative media fodder, the Airbus ACJ319. For clarity and as an aide memoir to alternative media bashings, here is an image I gleaned from bigdogdotcom.
Pretty bird, this one.
The Agusta Academy ran a tight ship. Classes began on time at 0830H, and I suspect that this had to do with the fact that the other 6 coursemates I had were all foreigners, the lineup of which with the right rhythm and tune sounded vaguely familiar at this end of the year. There were two Indonesians, two French guys, two Australians and the sole Malaysian was me.
In the reading sense, Greg and Ben, from Oz
I may have been lucky with all this. The whole bunch was an incorrigible lot, with all the racist jokes and slurs thrown in for good measure, keeping boredom well at bay in spite of how information-laden our lectures were. I have since been re-educated into seeing that around the world, from Europe to Down Under, we all have derogatory jokes about our neighbours, whether across the gutter or across the national boundaries, and there was a time when these jokes were cracked in good humour without invoking racial sensitivities. But here, we had enough humour to move within a trust that nobody was out to get anybody. There was not a single coffee break where we were not yakking over the very good but insufficient brew and nyonya cakes, enjoyed during the only fully-waking moments of our course. Being the only local, I had my ten cents worth doing the Gordon Ramsay, discussing the cakes' names and contents as I chewed into them, to the amusement and approval of the Caucasians. The Indonesians of course, just spent their energies eating as they were well familiar with our food. They were stationed up in Kota Bharu anyways.
And I love how just a spattering of five foreign words can build bridges that endured two weeks. On the very first coffee break I marched briskly along with Pierre (oh can it ever get more French than that?), hoping for the first cuppa as I was so caffeine depleted. I lost out of course to the taller Pierre, who being the first to grab the flask, was so Continentally polite as to offer to fill my cup for me. When I quipped, "Merci beacoup", he gasped, jaw-dropped. "You speak French?"
While I confessed that I most certainly did not, my avid attention to Inspector Clouseau helped me get by in Marseilles, and once again in the company of this Gallic pair. Chacha (as in Shasha, not the ballroom dance) was quick to quiz me on which was the first non-French city that the contestants in the Paris-Dakkar Rally barged into after crossing from Africa. Yes, Marseilles. While Pierre was reticent about his French pride, Chacha made it clear that I had not enjoyed the more pristine and civilised portions of his country. I did agree, especially as I had missed out on fine wine counties by being planted in immigrant-infested Marseilles where seeking kebabs and coffee gave me the creeps.
The debonaire Pierre, and behind him the ever delightfully salacious Chacha
On the first day, the chief lecturer Rajoo was gracious enough to end the class early at 1530H, taking into account that jet lag must have overwhelmed the Caucasian half of the attendees. In fact, I began to believe that jet lag was contagious. Over the days I grew sleepier and sleepier in class. There was a point where mints were of no help. Reaching for coffee would hold me up for 5 minutes, just enough for the preamble of the new chapter and insistent slumber during the content proper. The daily grind of early mornings to beat the jam in pursuit of the queue for security passes and back at day's end to return them merely added to the unpleasantries of  crawling through interminable jams incurring a toll on my wakefulness. The weekend and its late mornings did help revive me for the following three days of the second week terminating in a depressingly tricky written examination.
On the examinations day, we were set to join another class of students in the exam hall. It was peculiar being placed alongside the uncreased faces of youth with an invisible line running down the middle of the hall past which we seasoned aviation dogs sat, almost certain the young chaps would outscore us. Save that is, for the Aussies who were already current on the Agusta 109, thereby being familiar with the manufacturer's design architecture and philosophies. Along with their youth were the typical manifestations of examinationitis that only the young exhibit: parade-dressing pencils along the desk, chewing gum and sweets, sharpening pencils at the last minute....sigh. The older ones were resigned to whatever the examiners told us, and we knew nothing we did at this hour would save us from our irreversible fate. One by defeated one, we called in a reluctant truce.
We were instructed to wait in the canteen after we finished our exams to wait for those of us valiantly scribbling to the final seconds of the exam period and to adjourn once everyone had conceded defeat, together to the classroom to receive our results. I took comfort in a hot cup of coffee with a generous dose of condensed milk.
A woebegone Pierre joined me at the table for coffee. "You know," he said ruefully. "Before the exam I would have been happy to get 85 percent. But now I am thinking, if I get 75 percent, I would be very happy!!" Right, and he as a Heli Union candidate had to sit for the 100 questions, while I faced 60, and yet I felt exactly as he did.
Anyway, it was the last day. A half hour later we were gathered in the classroom, and a beaming Rajoo came in with our results. Nobody looked at anyone else's results. But without question everybody passed, evidenced by the handout of graduation certificates. At this stage of the game, that was all that mattered.
Photography sessions were spartanly unceremonious. The cameraman was an accosted technical student armed with almost everyone's cellphones.
It is almost with certainty that I felt nobody would use any of the exchanged e-mail addresses to write to each other. It is wafer-thin enough a commitment to keep afloat even with our workmates let alone people whom we know will be inundated with the scourges of everyday worklife, me included. It was with this thought that I decided to lead all 6 of them on a merry treacle chase through the Friday mosque jams to a dingy mamak shop in TTDI Jaya, intending for a true-blue Indian food shop with delectable dishes but it had vanished in my many years of absence from their patronage. So Restoran Subhani it was in lieu. And to my surprise, this joint was scalp-sweatingly good!
This round of indulgent consumption they did appreciate after having "ain't nothing but maggoty bread for ten stinkin' days". Our goodbyes thereafter were brief.
And thus passed my two weeks of ground school in Agusta Westland Training Academy, Subang. I can only conclude that with their current stock of lecturers, being counted amongst the brotherhood of AW Academies is well deserved. My coursemates will agree most heartily.