12 May 2024

Say A Little Prayer

 23 April 2024.

A sad day. During a Royal Malaysian Navy Day parade rehearsal flypass, there was a mid air collision between an Agusta Westland AW139 and an Airbus Helicopters Fennec. There were no survivors.

Aircraft crashes attract a lot of attention. That's a universal fact. Flying machines command awe, in the air and on the ground. And certainly irresistibly draw the mind's eye when they come flailing to earth.

It is always and invariably, a tragedy.

The officers and men involved were too far downstream of my generation for me to have encountered them, but I regard their passing into the next with the same sense of loss and regret as I feel in regard of the many of my friends who have perished in service to the nation.

It is also in such times when the remotest of peoples suddenly remember that I am a pilot but it's not to ask if I am alright.

They text me for comment with an opening salvo of the most unsavoury presumptions.

The abrupt loss of life is a standalone tragedy. But adding insult to the crew's training, their knowledge, skills, aircraft and even straying so far as to insult the navy's hardware by quoting submarines which can't submerge is the hubris of those whose breadwinning is from the shelter of a coccoon. And by the way those submarines are fully operational and have been since their purchase in the early 2000s.

I have nothing to offer to even the curious, let alone the judgemental.

Too many, way too many pass the most brain dead comments such as "obviously human error", from watching a 15-second cellphone video capture of that dreadful mid air collision. If that's all it takes to identify the root cause and probable cause of an air mishap, I should burn my certificates in aircraft incident and accident investigation. Besides, that professional market is obviously saturated judging from the many air accident investigators mushrooming all over my phone display. I'll never be able to pull off a side hustle in this field.

Here's the best you can offer the dead who had to leave not knowing it would be their last sortie: say a prayer if you have one to offer. Do not disseminate the video amongst your group chats. Do not judge. I do believe these take less effort than the kilojoules expended in spreading falsehood and prejudice regarding a profession so fraught with risk even in the highly regulated world of civl aviation, let alone military aviation where the undertaking of risk is inherent with flying an aircraft to its full envelope, because the aircraft is their weapon in war.

I have always held the belief that a pilot involved in an air incident is a true asset to his wing, or his squadron. He has seen and experienced something and carries a learning value which has come at cost. Yes, I have had a few of my own and they are in earlier blogposts from before 2010. And perhaps a few after.

I believe that the deceased in this incident are the same. It is sad that we will not be privileged with learning about flying from their incident directly from their account. I am sure they would want to for the benefit of all other same type operators. On that token, may they find their peace where they are now.

08 May 2024

New-Awakened

Dark have been my dreams of late (image courtesy of the web)

I have been away from my blog for eight months now. For most times, an absence from writing reflects an absence from flying. This is in part true, as from September of last year the oil and gas clients took advantage of the calmer waters over here to mobilise their workers by the more economical Fast Crew Boats rather than our aircraft. Let's remember that "fast" is relative, just as are cost savings. Then came the monsoon and the pace picked up rapidly around November. 

The restart of the offshore routine was mundane and gave me little to write about. Weather remained predictable. The drilling vessel Noble Viking wandered into our waters once again, operating up north in the Pekaka oil field. One aircraft captain had resigned from our tiny livery, upsetting the delicate balance of aircrew manning. HQ sent us a single set of crew to help on a rotational detachment basis while considering whether to make it a permanent transfer as uncertainties continued to hover over the longevity of our contract. Yes I hope you noticed what I did there.

But dark have been my dreams of late, since the final day of this leap year's February.

And I have since learned several important lessons. I have learned who my real friends are, as they kept in touch throughout this rather tempestuous time, providing encouragement when none was apparent. Accompanying that, perhaps friends in the place of those whom I believed to be, traditionally, lurking foes.

I have learned that many are those who present themselves as friends but when you are faced with calamity, they feed you to the sharks. Whatever has happenned to you is magically reinterprteted into being about how good they are, how elemental they are in the due process which determines your fate; how you have screwed up in a way that they could never have. Okay, admittedly it isn't "they". It's just one person actually but he's so full of himself he counts as "they". Pronouns, anyone?

Dark indeed have been my dreams of late. I have not slept. Each day rolled into the other in a tunnel with seemingly no end and no light thereat. 

I have seen what can happen to those who have faced the rigours of this unforgiving industry and paced hither and tither in their dungeons of depression. There is the being overtaken by health complaints, the refuge of comfort eating and the lives they share with loved ones coming to a standstill with no vista of rejuvenation. It is all too easy for an incident to take over the kind of life we should be living. However, Gollum was right.
But we mustn't let him have it!


Other than for training being a soldier's best welfare, mapping a busy routine breaks the chokehold adversity has on you. I know I am no longer a soldier but as I fade away, the tennets of soldierly foundation guide me. Yeah right.

We took a trip to Chiang Mai. We explored new eateries. We got all three kids over here on a Raya visit and ate lobster. We walked both ways over the Jambatan Tamparuli. We reaffirmed the value of us

A tail end of life crisis


And "we" bought a bike. After nineteen years of being out of the saddle, it is very daunting sitting on one.  What a terrifying way to deny adversity getting a foothold over our lives. And almost as if by wizardry, I gained an immediate new perspective. I guess it is true what all committed riders claim: their therapist comes on two wheels. Part of me acknowledges that I must at some time, seek a certified therapist, not so much for answers, but to just speak unhesitantly about being cradled in the arms of The Grim Reaper for about 90 minutes on my daughter's birthday, but this Vulcan s650 will do handsomely for now.
It's not what I am. It's who I am. How do I teach that?

In all fairness, I am not slurring my rediscovered therapist on two wheels. I now have an utterly dangerous steed to befriend and in that, something to look forward to which I had long shelved in the name of paternal prudence. Also, I had erred in thinking that there is only one manifestation of myself, that the sum of all my parts, however paltry, or short on dignity, was being a pilot. Having been in this business since 1992, I suffered from Maverick-itis. I had allowed being in the cockpit to define my very being and whence comes my fulfilment. 

We never get over our first love, right? But also, while we don't all and sundry marry our first love, we move along. And we find unumaginable happiness.

That's it for today's waffling. I have a fearsome orange beast being delivered home as I write.

Sleep has returned to my once restless head. Please forgive both the waffling and the Top Gun Maverick/ The Lord Of The Rings references.

That is because dark have been my dreams of late. But I feel as new-awakened.

01 September 2023

Oh Lord Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

I swear my intentions were good. I am safety trained with more than 30 years experience in safety work whether in flight safety or health, safety and environment issues.

In such spirit, I am a keen participant in the base's Hazard Hunts and my safety hazard and reportable incidents quota for both 2022 and 2023 are healthy.

Such was the eager spirit with which I attended the Hazard Hunt as periodically organised by our local HSE Department, 21 August. We assembled first for the FOD Walk, when we marched along our helicopter parking bay at Bay 27 Terminal 2, doing a ground sweep for Foreign Object Debris to prevent possible ingestion into the aircraft engines and the costly resultant, Foreign Object Damage.

After the glamourously named "pungut sampah" was over, our HSE Executive broke us up into groups for the hunt. We were supposed to look around our working areas and offices for various hazards, such as fire extinguishers lacking the periodic checks and annotations, exposed electrical wires, outdated notices, first aid kit expiries and the like.

In so small a working area as ours, I had reached my saturation level in hunting down hazards. Over the preceding year I had reported 5 hazards during my first Hazard hunt in KK and set myself rather above my quota for the first quarter of 2022.

So on this fateful day I did my walkabout with my group comprising the HR Exec and the HSE Exec, both feisty ladies. I wandered into the passenger briefing room and looked around. Nothing valid. To the pantry and well, dingy as it was, it remained spotless so again, nothing. I caught up with the girls in the admin office, meaning the HR Exec's domain and found them rifling through a medical box. The were methodically silent and isolated two vials of clear liquid.

"Sanitiser, Cap. Expire already" they explained. I swear I would never have thought of rummaging through the admin office save for what immediately meets the eye. I go about my business treating individual offices as....well, private spaces.

Just outside the admin office was a Break Glass Call Point. It looked dated and unreliable. On looks alone.

"This seems odd ya?" I mused while opining at the HR Exec. "The glass seems to be in contact with the background, and doesn't even feel like glass. There is no striker for breaking the glass." My finger ran over the centre of what felt like a plastic cover sitting on the call point, hoping to feel the reassuring stud of the alarm button behind it. I shook my head at her and said, "Nah, I wouldn't be surprised if this were a dummy call point."

And right then, to my horror and embarassment the plastic cover cracked and the alarm went off with a loud, continuous and rather outraged ring.

It may as well have been a Untited States nuclear launch, because the Pavolvian response of everyone in sight pouring out of their individual offices was as unstoppable as it was irreversible. As I walked towards the Aviation Security desk to confess, I beheld the enormity of what I had done. This wasn't just my company boys and girls evacuating. I watched with my face turning ever deeper shades of scarlet as offshore passengers, our neighbouring company staff and pilots and virtually everyone in the terminal inclusive of janitors went obediently towards the assembly point. It was as if everyone had fled for their very lives. Which would have been rather the point of the whole drill.

The AFRS boys met with me, relieved that their panic was merely at the hands of a bumbling nitwit. "Panik bah saya tadi Cap!" they sighed and followed up with giggling. This only delayed my face from returning to its usual pallor. They were happy and satisfied at such a simple cause for the alarm and had nothing more for me. Having owned up to being the culprit, I joined the rest at the assembly area to be accounted for. The magnitude of my bumbling hit me for a second time as I saw our neighbouring company's Flight Ops Manager, Chief Operations Officer, Chief Exec Officer, et al, blinking uncomfortably under the glaring sun at their designated assembly point.

Aviation Security met with each group's coordinator and checked the head count. All was rapidly settled and then we were allowed to disperse.

But the meighbour's pilots, who were also my former squadron mates, took it in gentemanly good humour.

"Hey, Captain Jeff, I heard something about this captain, entah siapa he is lah, who triggered the fire alarm. We are under audit now, with all the auditors watching so many of us panicking. But I will do him a favour and cover him, entah siapa he is, if you help me cover with makan-makan for us lah..."

A Break Glass Call Point, with shattered glass. This is at Kokol Hill Resort and was not my fault.

I will say this: we are at a point when the company's existence in KK hangs in the balance. State politics has dictated to us that come 2024, in the spirit of Malaysia Madani, only state owned aviation companies shall operate the privilege of offshore oil and gas flights. I am very possibly witnessing my last days in my beloved Kota Kinabalu.

So it appears that triggering the alarm may have been the last thing I do in Sabah.

21 April 2023

The Double Six Tragedy Report



The Double Six Tragedy. Pic source: The Star

 https://www.mot.gov.my/en/aviation/reports/n22b-nomad

I received the link above from my La Sallian classmate on 12 April 2023.

47 years ago on 6 June 1976, my classmate's father perished in what is now known as the Double Six Tragedy, in the waters of Sembulan, where now stands a monument to this mishap.

I am not writing this to add to the furore of netizens dissing the declassified report on the air accident as "full of holes", although I used the very same words myself upon reading it. I am also fully cognisant of how this is a sacred matter, one where many are bereft. This tragedy be trebled then, that something of personal pain is also of such enduring public interest, to say naught of stale political expedience.

I am simply recording my thoughts, as an aviator, on a report which seems incongruent to anyone who knows the discipline and has even the most basic understanding of the science known as the principles of flight. 

Let me vent here. And I will vent beginning with how dead men can't talk.

I find such statements insufferable. First of all, it is summarily judged that the pilot was of "poor performance". While there is a slew of questions over such a blanket judgement, I will home in on a singular item: the pilot was licensed. That's the bit of paper or laminate you need to drive, to practise law, medicine or any professional trade in exchange for a salary. The same applies to the flying discipline for the purpose of commercial air transport. A regulatory body, then called the Department Of Civil Aviation, now the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia, governs the issuance and periodic endorsement of a pilot's license after his skills are tested in the air and on the ground on a host of subjects and medical fitness every year for the rest of his employed life

During the examniations, the pilot either performs (and thereby his license is issued-noob- or renewed-recurrent)  or doesn't (and his license is supended). Neither the Ministry nor the Department (now called the Authority) will allow any "pilot of poor or marginal performance" to carry a license bearing its logo and signature of its Director-General what more if your'e making your money off it. Therefore that opening statement in the report is fundamentally flawed.

                             

Interesting, isn't it? Done with the Captain, on to the Second Pilot. If the copilot loaded (or as the report alleges, overloaded) the aft baggage hold, could he if still living, verify this veiled accusation? He wasn't on board the ill-fated aircraft. Should he not want to clear his name of being part of the weak links in the overall failures leading to such a number of fatalities? Did he subsequently progress in his career in the same company or another airline and have his part in this quietly fade into his past? 

Let's allow the conspiracy theories and urban legends of the 70s run wild here: the way it looks now, he joins the list of rather suspect  surviving and demised ex ministers as those who were by divine or nefarious intervention, having dodged the bullet by not boarding the aircraft at the final few moments before departure. If they were suspected of foul play, he could too. Although it was his captain's decision to fly solo instead of dual pilot, being struck off the operating crew pairing cannot be so casual an acquital. Indeed, the response of Datuk Donald Mojuntin towards this report in that it raises more questions than it doth answer, is pertinent.

The third item put forth here is the aircraft configuration. This has to do with how an aircraft is configured (set up) for a particular phase of flight eg take off, cruise, descent and in this case finals approach to land.


The allegation here was that the aircraft configuration favoured nose-up (positive pitch) moments on its approach to land which as the flight progressed towards threshold runway 20, were compunded with the aft baggage hold overload, conditions favouring stall.

Yes, almost every aircraft whether fixed wing or rotary wing, as a function of passenger and freight loading and position affect where the centre of gravity sits during the course of flight. During this time, the centre of gravity can move forward or aft with fuel consumption, repositioning of passengers in their seating arrangement or refuelling during a stop on ground, for most uneventful flights. The next time you're listening to the safety and emergency briefing on board MYAirlines, pay attention and you will find this bit relevant.

This is usually limited to a range, often measured in milimetres, called the CG margin. Almost every aircraft is a fun fact: I have been made to understand that the Boeing Vertol Chinook has a negligible CG margin because of its dual main rotor design. The CG can be anywhere between those two and the aircraft will preserve its balance.


If the CG moves too far forward or conversely too far aft, the aircraft will, respectively, have predominately nose down or nose up moments respectively as it interacts with the Centre of Pressure (CP) located coarsely for this narrative, where the wings are since CG and GP now form a "couple", creating "moments". Yes, this is still aerodynamics and not dating tactics.

To put it rather unscientifically, the CP is the string from whence the weighing scale is Lift-ed, and the CG is where the weight sits in the tray, and the counterweight can be.....configuration? So in this pedestrian visual, the closer CP and CG are, the more stable the loading and the more latitude with config. Just don't quote me on this, it is tough staying away from aerodynamic jargon! Or maybe it isn't a bad simile, since as the report shows, with the CG so far aft from CP, config did make things worse.

A bad comparison, but it will serve.

Loading is important therefore to keep the CG margin as close as possible to the wings where lift is made, so that lift acting mostly upwards does not form too strong a "couple" with weight which mostly works towards the earth. The couple is further managed via configuration peculiar to phase of flight.

In this argument, the CG being too far aft, would mean that for certain low airspeeds, such as an approach to land, the aircraft's wing surfaces will be tilted upwards close to the angles at which stall will occur. Combined with a malfunctioned stall warning horn, and a "steering yoke" which had physical contact against its forward travel limit, the captain would neither have recognised an impending stall due to the absence of aural warning, nor would he have been able to recover the aircraft because the steering yoke could no longer be pushed forward to "unstall" the wings. In short: a perfect shitstorm.

The description of eyewitness accounts and the configuration as described in the report point towards a low-altitude stall on approach to land, and with tale telling of a wing dip, stall can rapidly develop into an incipient spin. A few details of the report are rather telling.


The "threshold" to Runway 20 at that time is located adjacent to the today's location of thr Bulatan Bed-and Breakfast hotel as compared to today where it is a hundred metres or so opposite Sunny Supermarket or on the other side of the runway, through the corner window of Ma Pitz, it csn be viewed panoramically. 5676 feet before the threshold as the crash point places it almost a mile away from Bulatan along the same axis. Not quite where the monument is today at Grace Point, but well, close enough, yes? However, with the wreckage ponting away from Runway 20, on a heading of 20 degrees does indeed indicate it had spun to face the north.

Evidently the report reads the way any standard accident report would. There will be the chronology of events, scrutiny of the aircrew, documents, aircraft, engineering practices and deviations from procedures.

I have no issue with that.


However, with reference to the above, I am doubtful that any captain would neglect the basic duty of drafting out a proper trim sheet (c of g margin chart) before flight. That is simply a bread and butter issue of any captain worth his salt. Suggesting that he also deliberately violated the aircraft limitations by overloading the baggage hold is another departure from the norm which I cannot rest well with. Limitations are life! 

I say this in comparison to how reading through the report shows that the company and its pilots had become lackadaisal in adherance to their own company operating manuals. This is because there are post-holders in any company, also licensed pilots, who are there to ensure compliance to both Civil Aviation Regulations and company Operating Manuals. They become extra temperamental whenever the Authority comes around annually to audit the company before its operating certificate is renewed. 

To allege that a cavalier attitude had overtaken an entire company seems a stretch to me. No aviation service provider should have been allowed to survive a shitstorm like this if such deep-set systemic failures and negligence found its way into paper, let alone a crash killing half the state cabinet ministers and its Chief Minister.

The bit about having to fly Instrument Flight Rules for VIP flights does puzzle me. The meteorological conditions of the time of flight were pretty damned good. A 30 kilometre visibility range would not "require" IFR when his reported cruise and rejoin for landing altitudes were 5000 and 3000 feet respectively. With but 2/8 or "few" clouds at 1500 feet and 3/8 or "broken" clouds at 2000 feet conditions to fly visually with the abundance of ground references for navigation rather than by IFR were satisfactory indeed. Anyway, submitting a flight plan under IFR does not mean a pilot is stuck with IFR as he can still fly visually all the way to landing. It was merely in the company's operating manuals that VIP flights require an IFR flight plan. I believe that this was emphasised to indicate deviations from procedures and the absence of a monitoring system to ensure compliance, underscoring the systemic failures aready discussed.

In all probability maybe all that was alleged in the report was actually true, in that litmus, irrefutable and throroughly forensic principle known as "whaaaaat if"!


What-ifs are obviated in commercial airlines, beginning in 1967, when Flight Data Recorders and Cockpit Voice Recorders were made mandatory equipment for flight. These "black boxes" which are actually painted day-glo to aid crash site retrieval, provide all the data necessary to piece together the aircraft configuration and performance parameters up to the point of mishap. The cockpit voice recorder of course will tell us what the pilots were dealing with along the same time frame. These have aided aircraft accident investigations immensely. It is both tragic and convenient that mandatory eqiupment is reported as not quite so in the case of the Nomad. Why was this not pointed out as a non compliance in the report, is also curious. The omission of the device should have been reported as gross negligence instead of the slap on the wrist (hardly) it appears to be as reflected in the report.

I can only speculate that this regulation was bypassed because Penerbangan Sabah was not really an "airline" per se. It was a state-affiliated charter aviation service, so I am not certain of what waivers it may have been granted.

Those of us in the industry are well aware of the fact that even with the digital aids of the FDR/CVR, the complete picture of the line up to an air accident is not complete. It may come close and yet something crucial can be missed. But to not have one at all, is to fire rockets blindfolded.

And in that spirit, I'll be the devil's advocate in pondering the possibility that this may not even have been a political conspiracy and perhaps was simply a commercial one.

An aircraft plagued with incidents and mishap can easily see its removal from the aviation scene. For instance, the Eurocpter (now Airbus Helicopters) EC225 was a very viable offshore helicopter but in 2016 and onward, a series of mishaps led to the aircraft being removed from the North Sea Oil aviation scene. It led to the Malaysian Helicopter Services closing shop in Kerteh as worldwide, offshore boys made it clear via their workers' unions that they never wanted to set foot in a 225 ever again.


Therefore the report would serve the business continuity of the companies operating the Nomad, whether local or at the manufacturer's home country. The OEM would also find it in their interest if the blame could be laid squarely on the shoulders of the hapless captain. The last flight I know of involving a long-range sortie for the Nomad was the BODEVAC for the late Captain Sahaimi of Sabah Air after his Bell206B crashed in Sibu during the state elections of 2011, my account in the link below. Even if we count from 1976 till 2011, that's a healthy 35 years for all parties staying afloat. Hence when there are many interested parties and possibilities, a smoking gun is easier to conceal.


I didn't ever expect that the declassifying of the report would reveal a smoking gun. How genuine it is that the baggage recovered from a mangled wreck would correctly have been in place and intact just as it was before flight at the forward and aft cargo holds and thereby point directly to bad loading, calls for quite a bit of faith in the printed word. I find it hashed up and rather speculative.

The problem is this: for decades we have been fed with the idea that this report is the Grail which will prove some convoluted Federal Government-led conspiracy against the state. Vote-fishing can get ugly when parochial politicians keep hankering for the release of classified materiel, dragging their electorate with them as if the release thereof will lead to a momentuous grand revelation of how the state has been a victim of a colonising Federal Government. It's the shortest path to an equally short lived statesmanship. 

But having seen what I have, declaring either one side as being the good guys cannot be further from my intent. For the same reason, I see no reason to exonerate the insidious players of that day. Besides, colonisation requires collaborators. It is rare for an entire government to be inherently evil save perhaps, for juntas. But common it is for individuals in a governent however benevolently said government may posture itself, to infest the halls of power with venom. I'm not saying there was no conspiracy. Just saying that proof of it isn't in the pages of this report. 

If those clamouring statesmen play-actors sincerely want to pursue the truth, they could, instead of politicising the report, call for a forum comprising existing Nomad pilots to review the report. There is a Nomad aircraft languishing on the tarmac of Layang Layang Aviation right now. Where are her pilots? Either the aircrew open up a can of worms requiring further clarification of the report, and points us in the direction of the actual Grail, or they concur with it and all of us, poltician and concerned citizen alike will have to forever hold our peace.

For it doesn't take an air accident investigator to conclude, that if anything over the Double Six Tragedy is being hidden, concealment was secured well before that ill fated Nomad hit the waters of Sembulan.

15 April 2023

Cap-Incap

Flying over a coral bed en route to Malikai

20 March 2023. I had been flying quite a bit with other captains after being left hand seat qualified. 

It was my second consecutive day of flying with Captain Sow. We were scheduled for two sorties to Gumusut Kakap. He was a senior captain and could sign for the aircraft but yet command from the left hand seat. So, even though I was supposed to fly as a copilot clocking First Pilot hours, he made me sit on the right for both sorties. A bit of early morning confusion as I had already strapped into the left hand seat. However, I could understand that he may have wanted to have more of a chill day and allow the right hand seat pilot face the landings as the prevailing winds for the day favoured the right hand seat pilot at Gumusut.

I remember that when I was cutting my teeth as an offshore copilot in Kerteh, my senior captain in the company I served under at the time tested me on what I would do if the other pilot was incapacitated. We in the industry call it Pilot Incap. The cause could be food poisoning, loss of consciousness, cardiac arrest or narcolepsy for all we know. Verbal diarrhea is not included. That is a captain's perpetual ailment as far as copilots are concerned.

Having had some background in flying at the time as an ex Nuri pilot, I gave the senior captain the usual academic verbiage. Well, I would observe the pilot's responses to my advise, or his deviations from procedures or stabilisations in flight. Once sure he was incpacitated, I would verbally challenge him twice. If his being frozen in time and space persisted, I would take over control, secure his limbs away from flying controls, have him strapped firmly and immovably in his seat and get the old bird home. You know....that old nutshell.

Pilot Incap is a favourite Line Check question and it repeats during the License checks and operator's Checks, the periodic exams which determine that we are competent to hold a license with which we earn our keep.

Why on earth is it relevant here? Because from clock-in, Captain Sow had been coughing and sneezing quite worrisomely. That on its own was not alarming, as he wore his N95 and as did I, albeit of a different manufacturer. I had also taken my second booster shot, so Covid was not my first source of fear.

However, in flight, signs of  his aforementioned training narrative were interrupted by coughs and sneezes taking a back seat to what I perceived as pauses to swallow down before he constructed his next sentence. 

"Are you having a mint, sir?" I asked.

"Why, you want one, ah?" he offered.

"Thank you sir, but I can't. Sugar sir. Sugar!" I replied in jest, and also in attempted disguise of my concerns. Should he suddenly have a sharp intake of breath to shoot out a sneeze, I feared for where that mint might lodge.

My Pilot Incap training did not ever include reaching over to the left hand seat to perform the Heimlich.


14 March 2023

Taken For Granite

 

Look! A helicopter with afterburners!

Swiftly have we arrived at the end of the contractual date for the northeast monsoon. Although the weather and trade winds remain characteristically NE, the Monsoon Contract ends on 15 March, and the company eases up on constantly being at the behest of clients signatory to said contract. Or....as in real life, not!! Yeah, we are at their behest, monsoon or no.

About the midway point of February till the beginning of March, the weather improved from apprehensive with promises of heavy thunderstorms both offshore and recovery to home base any time past 1400H, to scenically and dramatically romantic. Indeed there was one day towards the second week I was blessed with a day full of rainbows.

Being chased by rainbows, all the livelong day

I have been privileged to fly with a few captains with me in the copilot's seat as I am left hand seat qualified ever since my recent check ride. This allows the home base to pair me with a captain when copilots are unavailable due to illness, simulator training in the peninsula or courses thereat. 

I have found this to be quite revealing, giving me an insight as to whom amongst them want to play the instructor although they are not, and who sees themselves as standing shoulder to shoulder with me in spite of my cockpit flaws, which confessed or not, we all carry. No, these aren't traits of young captains alone. There are copilots who also want to play at being instructors while I'm in the right hand seat. I couldn't see all this when I was a mere copilot and no, not even as a captain. But flying as a left hand seat pilot has truly been amusingly enlightening.

Therefore my days have been anything but dull of late. I am realy beginning to enjoy this, although whenever I jump to the left hand seat, the first sortie takes some getting used to as I instinctively reach out my left hand to twiddle knobs and engage switches only to find that there are none, and I have to employ my right hand to fulfil my crew duites. This is something which is rather common across the board with all who are dual-seat qualified and so far it has made demands that I tweak my mental flying and planning for approaches offshore. 

It is good to see how I am such a creature of habit in expecting to see the helideck on my right when it will in fact be on my left. It is good that I have learned not to take my landing briefs to my partner pilots for granted, having to describe that my baulked landing at a helideck in case of emergencies will be to break right instead of breaking left. Yes, the prattling of this brief can happen the other way around too, when after a few days of flying left hand seat I return to the captain's seat. I am learning once again, that even at this stage, with one foot in the retirement grave, I must never take anything in flight for granted.

What else has been happening? Well, two RTBs, or turn back to base due to minor emergencies. The first was due to a generator failure at just about 30 miles out. Yes, the remaining generator can support the consumer loads of the aircraft by linking up through a tie-switch, but being 30 miles to home base and 70 miles to destination rig, plays other considerations as prudent. The second was radio failure on the overwatch frequency, also at about 20 miles outbound. In both cases, we elected being close to and returning to home base with all its attendant support as the better choice than possible costly and convoluted recovery at an offshore installation. The minor misadventure now and then is a polite wake up call to never walk to the cockpit thinking it's just another day in paradise.

Even if it is, let's not take that for granted.


05 January 2023

Happy New Year

Me first born on one end, the potentiates in the middle and moi on the other end, for The Sound Of Music.

I have had an interesting end to 2022.

Ever since my initial captaincy skill test on 01 January 2021, my License Proficiency checks are always scheduled in December although my expiry is in January. Christmas celebrations hung in the balance to say nothing of New Year's Eve. Which is alright, being in an operational trade, this gets taken in stride. All it means is that year end requires the occasional sacrifice and the perennial juggling.

This time, my days off-roster fell neatly from 19 December to 28 December, with my LPC programmed from 27 to 29 December. Not half bad! There was no need to mourn the loss of a few days off as this meant I could travel early to Semenanjung Malaysia and Christmas would be with my little hobbit children.

All went well indeed, inclusive of the LPC, which being done in the simulator, is accepted as a generous serving of humble pie. In my experience, rare is the pilot who enjoys check rides in the simulator. The ones who do, are known as training captains and designated flight examiners. The rest of us, endure it. 

After enduring my license renewal then, came the assuaging night with the kids in Istana Budaya attending The Sound Of Music concert. It was good, driving back home late at night, yakking garbage around the dining table in post mortem of the actors and singing. It gave me only two hours of sleep before my wake up time for my flight back to Kota Kinabalu. Ah, but for moments like this, we sacrifice sleep, which we can catch up on during the two hours plus in flight. And here is where it can all go belly up.

I was programmed for night MEDEVAC standby for 31 December. I booked an early morning flight, at cost because that's how airlines are at festives. Shuffling on board to my row, I find an elderly couple in the same row with the husband in my window seat. I stood there waiting for some courtesies. Instead the wife asks, "Oh this is your seat is it?" 

That the question had to be asked was telling beyond measure. I answered "It's fine. Keep it."

I realised five minutes later that I had made the right decision. Seated behind the husbdand was his grandson. I'm sure you know the type: 9-ish years of age, with the international-school Yank accent not quite dominating the subsurface Oriental intonation. The kind who keeps insisting at the top of his voce "Mummy, can you buy this for me? Mummy!! What are you buying for me Mummmyyyyyy!!!!" Why oh why do airlines provide in flight retail? Mummy was no better. Everytime she got in or out of her seat behind mine, she'd pull down on my seat back like she was Tom Cruise scaling a desert cliff. Her brat then started thumping the back of his grandpa's seat to not much reprimand. Every time he had to be taken to the headroom, he'd stomp his way to the amenities and back.

No I am not done. 

Then came the piece de resistance: the in flight meal. You will get the pun later. To get our paid for meals, we have to provide our boarding passes as where it would be indicated that we purchased a meal. I did as instructed, but realised as the trolley traveled aft, that I hadn't had my boarding pass returned. I pinged the flight attendant and asked for my boarding pass, the one I printed myself on an A4, which would be required at the arrivals immigration booths for my passport to be stamped.

There was much hemming and hawing as the flight attendants tried to hunt down my boarding pass. They couldn't locate it. Finally a desperate idea: one flight attendant asked the window-seat-hijacking husband for his boarding pass. The strip-type printed at the airport kiosks. He reached into his pocket and pulled out three items: his pass, his wife's and my folded A4. The flight attendant asked him "Is that a boarding pass?", pointing at the folded A4. 

And he replied "No"!!!

I told the flight attendant to check the A4 for my name. Finding JEFFREY printed on it, she apologised to me in profusion. I told her that it's not her problem, but who takes something which he knows isn't his, keeps it without owning up and then when checked, denies everything?

It was interesting to watch two generations of inept parenthood in one cabin and what was bequeathed to the third. I could not fully fault the child. Happy New Year you lot. I mean it the way CeeLo Green sang Forget You

And no, I didn't catch up on any sleep.



14 November 2022

The 11-11 Sale That Wasn't

Time flies. Not neccesarily when you're having fun.

The tangled tumbleweed of time has indeed run off hastily as I contend with nasty weather, nasty weather and nasty weather. There were times we would head out, and just five minutes before establishing on finals to a helideck, we would observe a squall line waiting for us over the deck on the weather radar, comfirmed by the helideck radio operator. Those were the mornings when reading the temporary changes in weather on the Aviation Weather Channel always read nasty changes impending the 0300GMT onward, I'd walk out on the tarmac to consider my chances of recovery to the airfield.
Gumusut Kakap and the three generator exhaust stacks visible.

Two cyclones hit the Philippines over the October-early November span, causing widespread squalls over the operational area. Gumusut Kakap being a rather peculiar rig, stands offset from the prevailing winds. Therefore, whenever the winds are not Northeast or Southeast and dangle betwixt the two, the winds carry the hot exhaust gases from their turbine generators onto the deck, resulting in potential power losses to the helicopter in approach to land on deck. The company tries to cater to the client requirements for crew mobilisation by imposing a payload penalty to mitigate the power losses. However, there are times when the stronger winds carry a heap more of these gases in for any weight penalty to be safe for approach and the landing has to be aborted.

It would seem that I have developed a reputation for baulking the landings when wind velocities over the deck have stayed within such prohibited quadrants. Almost as a result, I have had to write show cause letters to Offshore Installation Managers explaining why I refused to land at a particular helideck, or why I delayed a scheduled departure. While I see no direct relationship in any of the company organisational charts linking a line pilot to OIMs, there is a bit of play-ball to engage in occasionally for good corporate relations especially in the spirit of contract renewal. My explanations have never been responded to. That is hardly surprising because when asked to do so, it is a deliberate and duressed move on my part to detail all the aviation factors involved in the decision arrived at by use of the "aircrew decision making process" in crew resource management. Fellas, always use the wood against those who do not belong in trees. Thus, the clamouring for a pilot to pen show cause letters to non aviators has for now, taken a hiatus.
Submarine!!!!

So it was with Gumusut Kakap on 11 November. My copilot and I, upon receiving the manifest and navigation log, read with some interest that it was at the maximum weight for the airfield departure. No weight penalty in consideration for possible changes in wind velocity was applied. True, the Platform Status Report showed wind to be coming in from a very amiable 080 degrees at a breezy 4 knots. But to tempt matters to go wrong with all three gas turbine generators running, a minor pick up in wind strength and a swing into the prohibited quadrant at full all up weight, would make these all look rather ill considered. However, there was no real requirement to apply the weight penalty seeing that on paper, winds were fine and dandy and with that, we set off!

I had already settled on a downwind position at 500 feet, running abeam of Gumusut all ready to make a right hand turn to approach the helideck when the radio call came in from Gumusut: Cap, wind now in prohibited sector at above ten knots. I surrender to Cap lah want to land or not.

In the spirit of Hugh Grant's PM character in Love Actually, I had already decided, "Not to. But we will have to be clever." 

First, I transmitted: "Gumusut R/O, we have not applied the weight penalty for the wind velocity. Never mind, we will make an orbit or two to see if we can make the landing based on the observed wind strength."

I then dutifully executed two orbits around Gumusut. We both knew that we had black and white orders in the carry folder on board the aircraft detailing that a landing cannot be done under the prevailing conditions. We transmitted to Gumusut that we would be returning to base. The passengers were briefed en route to Kota Kinabalu once we were comfortably in the cruise.

After landing, I noted that there was no email from the OIM asking for a show cause letter. I mean, come on!!! Asking for the self explanatory would show the email originator as an imbecile. Instead, the same task was assigned to me for the next day. Rather a cat-and-mouse affair of passive-agression.


Again, my copilot and I perused the flight details. Interesting! A ten percent weight penalty had been imposed! What's this? Wherefore this exercise in caution? The PSR indicated winds from 080 degrees again, at 4 knots. Everything was looking handsome so off we went.

It seemed a nice enough day. As per the Rain Alarm website, actual weather was mild, with en route cloud formations peppered along the flight path. 40 miles inbound to Gumusut the descent was commenced. Again, as the winds were for the right hand seat pilot, I settled there on downwind and at the appropriate distance with the helideck at about my 4:30 by clock code, I executed the turn to finals approach for Gumusut . As I started the run-in to the helideck, a large puff of white fumes emanated from one of the exhaust stacks. I grinned. Any form of smoke, to a helicopter pilot, is the best wind velocity indicator he can ask for. The fumes drifted away from the helideck itself, so I knew that the landing would be free from hot exhaust-incurred power losses. After touchdown, I called in to the radio operator asking where the smoke had come from. That's from the compressors Cap! came the enthused reply. He seemed excited that the landing was made and that his work could proceed without his OIM getting on his back.

And so I radioed back: "Gumusut, next time I fly here under winds in the prohibited sector I will ask for that smoke, alright?"

The terrified reply came in:" Adoi Cap! I cannot do that again!!!!"

Damn!



14 August 2022

Not To All Airmen

Back in KK again I seemed to be flying with only two of three copilots over my entire cycle. Predominantly I have been paired with Josh since the August roster had us both on the same duty cycle. I suspect that a quiet arrangement has been made so that one of these who is waiting for captaincy, promised in December, not be paired with me till he passes off to the right hand seat. I congratulate the self proclaimed fixer for swinging operational scheduling in his favour. May he live long and prosper.

The past week was made of rainy mornings and delayed take offs. As the afternoon flying crew, I watched the skies to anticipate the kind of day I would have with unfinished sorties landing in my lap. Normally this meant that things would spill over into the weekends, therefore it was a busy first week, this August month.

Then came 9 August 22, and four out of five planned sorties for the day were for Kebabangan, just 25 minutes each way. That's a form of respite, really. Slated for the morning sorties just as the weather turned sunny, again with Josh, I wound up the engines for a nice calm beginning of the day, managed to do the mandatory engine power assurance checks before take off and set up for lame gossip in cruise with him.

Things seemed to be on a predictable course till returning to Kinabalu airspace. After checking in with Kinabalu radar for the approach into the airfield, we both realised that we had a very long day ahead of us. There was another aircraft, a calibrator, tasked with measuring the accuracy of the instrument approach radio aids at every airfield in the country, hogging the entire airspace within 12 miles radius of the KKIA runway thresholds both ends of the runway. A sample of the radio chatter went like this:

Calibrator, in very English white trash accent: Radar, we will commence the ILS and VOR sequences for runway 20, from sequence Charlie to sequence India in 2 minutes. Clear the airspace for us.

Radar controller: Oscar Victor Romeo, you may commence sequence Charlie in plus seven minutes sir, I already have two aircraft on the ILS approach runway 20.

Calibrator, in increasingly trashy accent: Radar, we have to complete all sequences from Charlie to India, Otherwise, it will be pointless to calibrate Kinabalu Airport. Do not interrupt our sequences.

Radar controller: I know sir, but I also have my sequence to take care of.

The exchange went on. We were getting closer to Pualu Sulug,  the gate-in to Kinabalu Tower. Anticipating that the white boy would persist in being a dick, and hogging both the radio and the airspace, we slowed down to 80 knots, still at 3000 feet inbound, to prevent congesting the airspace at handover point. Josh and I kept looking at each other in half dismay, half anger. This kind of radio chatter was extremely unbecoming of any pilot, being rude to controllers and hogging the airspace like a playground bully. We speculated at the possibility that he was a fighter jock before "buying" his commercial pilots license.

While Josh was manouevreing an orbit overhead Pulau Sulug for safe separation from other inbound traffic, Kinabalu Radar got smart. He cut short the chatter with the calibrator by saying: Oscar Victor Romeo, contact Tower on 1183.

Nice!!! Just tai-chi the little gwailo turd along to Tower! He was tower's baby to handle and it was not easier on him than on radar as we learned from the radio chatter after being handed over in the approach sequence.

Eventually, it was our turn to land. Refueling was swift and before long and a quick instant coffee after, we were ready to run the second sortie to Kebabangan. We pattered through the start check list and then when it came to the start-up clearance call, Kinabalu ground replied, WS322, expect start clearance after time 25 due to calibrator. Josh looked at me for a decision: it was 0917H. I told him we would wait 5 minutes and make a second start up call at 0923H.

And so we did. This time, Kinabalu ground replied, WS322 expect start clearance at time 35 due calibration in progress. The cockpit temperature rose. Kinabalu ground we cannot be held on ground indefinitely.

I know sir but we have to let the calibrator finish all his sequences.

There was nothing I could do was there? I informed Heli Ops through their radio channel that the flight could not commence due to the calibrator. About that moment, I heard Kinabalu ground call 9-mike Hotel Lima Papa, Kinabalu Ground??? Kinabalu ground was trying to contact Hevilift, probably to update them on start clearance time. I glanced right to the Hevilift Sikorsky76 in its parking bay, and noticed that it was empty. So I called out on ground frequency: Kinabalu ground, Hotel Lima Papa have left their aircraft after being held on ground for too long. I will inform the pilots that you tried to contact them. I felt vengefully smug.

I shut off the electrical supply to the aircraft and instructed the passenger handlers to lead the boys and girls to the passenger lounge. I marched quickly over to Hevilift's parking bay and spoke to Captain Arief, the nice lad I used to fly with in Kerteh under Malaysian Helicopter Services. After telling him about the exchange with Kinabalu ground, we both agreed to attempt the next start at 0940H. I then marched into flight ops office to once again pore over the NOTAMs to see if this calibration was announced in case I missed it during my first pre flight self brief. NOTAMs by the way, are Notices To Airmen, rather like a heads-up pertaining to airfield and airspace activities by adjacent operators and agencies. Neither the ops officers nor I could find any NOTAM pertaining to the calibrator.

Sigh. Once more into the hot cockpit at 0935H, ready to request start at 0940H. It seemed almost scripted when Kinabalu ground replied to our call with: WS322, expect start clearance time at 0955H.

Oooh, the exasperation! Ground, is there an airspace closure in effect?

No sir, just calibration in progress.

Are you saying we are not even cleared for start up pending clearance to destination?

WS322 standby for start clearance. Hotel Lima Papa, clear start for Sumandak Bravo. WS322, clear start for Kebabangan.

Fast forward to the end of the second sortie.

After landing, as I walked into the pilots' room to finish off the post flight paperwork, the Pilot In Charge and the afternoon crew were there raucous with heated gossip. I wished them a hearty afternoon above their voices and they reciprocated. To begin with. Then Captain Jay turned over the NOTAM pages and pointed out, in fine print: runway 02 and 20 under calibration. The PIC then proceeded to explain what I already knew, that when a calibrator was in the airfield, everybody's sortie would be held to his whims and fancies. I know, he was just expressing his sympathies, but I was feeling a touch embarassed.  I love it when being miffed is justified, and that justification had suddenly vapourised. The fact that the entire ops room boys and girls and my copilot had missed it too, was not admissible consolation.

I understand now, that there is an alternative meaning to the acronym NOTAM.

02 August 2022

I Will Remember You

Runway 20 departure, right turn to Kebabangan and this view. Breathless.

Paradisical.

The weather this morning was.

A good start to a working day is typified by this. Good weather, deep blues of these shores, the sweet greens, that majestic mountain watching over us loyally come what may. Aerodrome traffic so docile that your'e not waiting your turn for departure. Visibility so good that you can see the smoke rise from your destination rig a hundred and four nautical miles away. For a moment, it ceases to be a job, but a gift. A two-sortie day became a cinch, even though the first sector was to Kebabangan which entailed a breathalyser test, which touchwood, I have not failed to date, because I am a good hobbit.

Maersk Viking

Better still, I was flying with First Officer Josh, whose handling skills were so spot-on, I needn't have had my hackles on end the way I would with the ones who say much but deliver little. I was also poised to enjoy the following day as a noon pilot, meaning I could get smashed tonight and be none the worse for it on the morrow, breathalyser or no.

On another unrelated glance, I'll take the liberty of disagreeing completely with John Heywood, because there are days when I feel that his immortal quip that it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good, can be peverted to the mean the complete opposite.

For example, this paradisical day was quiet about what manner of grim news awaited me on my veteran's group chat after landing from my first sortie. Lt Col (Rtd) Fajim Juffa callsigned Pejam, perished in a fatal crash in a Piper trainer aircraft about 2000H last night. And I cannot, remembering him in these pages from an earlier blogpost, allow myself to be remiss by not remembering him once again, for all the days which these pages exist.

Pejam, I'd do it again if I could and you know well what I mean. I shall never forget what we shared on the eve of Hari Raya Puasa 2004. Yet I also know the injustice of holding you away from your better self beyond this life, even if it is merely in my recollections of you.

Be at peace at home, with our comrades, Pejam. Send them my regards. I shall see you when I cross unhurriedly over.

https://hobbit1964.blogspot.com/2010/02/how-to-rescue-fighter-jock.html