25 Nov 08 began at 0500H with a frantic rush to the squadron because Capt Ian was waiting to run a currency check on me. The exercise in question was a parajump at 6000 feet for a bunch of special forces and para-brigade personnel overhead the Labuan Sports Complex prior to the Labuan Liberty Port Cup Parajump Challenge due on 26 Nov 08.
It was a blazing noonhour by the time I had landed and summoned Capt Hanif and the other copilots to the second Nuri for our already late departure. But our call for start clearance was met with a negative reply from tower "due to parajump DZ active". I felt like I was at the mercy of absolute dolts, as I chanced a hint: "Harimau 02 request start for systems check on ground prior departure to KD Kedah." I hoped to buy time from Angkasa 399, the C-130 conducting the jump exercise, so that the happy coincidence would be that I would be ready for rotor engagement just about the end of his jump pass. I was done with the functional checks in no time. "Tower, Harimau 02 request estimate delay for rotor engagement," I pleaded. Harimau 02, expect 25 minutes. I gave the bad news to the crew, that we would have to languor in the cockpit while allowing the downward spiral of inept air traffic controllers to rule the day. Lt Col Raja, the aircraft captain flying Angkasa 399, seemed to have understood my predicament. "Tower, Angkasa 399, delaying third pass to cater to Harimau's departure. Juliet Romeo (the KD Kedah) is asking about Harimau's position. Harimau, can you hear JR's radio call?" I replied in the negative quoting line of sight limitations. "Angkasa 399, appreciate your delay intention, will start No 2 and standby ready for rotor engagement and expedite departure. Advise when at the end of your second pass." Shortly after I had started No 2 engine, Angkasa 399 called tower to advise me to expedite my departure. I was up and out before they could say "Harimau 02".
This time around, as I cruised toward JR, I felt all perked up and ready to execute a VIP landing on the deck. The seascape looked very much the same, with ship and oil rigs pecking the skyline in random silhouettes. "JR from Harimau 02 request ship course and lat and long." The Flight Deck Officer transmitted the ship's velocity and GPS coordinates. Hanif punched them into the GPS, and it displayed the heading to track to intercept the ship at a distance of 20 miles. Very soon, I could make out the shape of the vessel. "Harimau 02, confirm Green Deck," I called to ensure my landing clearance was valid. Harimau 02, JR Green Deck, report finals to land. Taking note that this was Capt Hanif's maiden flight as far as deck landings was concerned, I wondered whether he could handle its intense workload from the word "Go!". I decided that I would show him how it is done, then his running change sortie with Capt Magesh would allow him the opportunity to try it out. It wouldn't be fair to ask him to execute a procedure he had never seen.
This time, when alongside the ship, I asked the crewman to patter me along the bumline painted across the deck. The bumline, as its name suggested, was a line where your bum should be placed so that the Nuri's tail would be inside safe clearance limits of a ship's deck or a dispersal's distance to a hangar. This would ensure that the Nuri was properly positioned on deck, and less to worry about the tail wheel getting snagged on the deck fences. During the underwater escape course tutorials in Brunei, we had watched enough video clips of Chinooks and Sea Knights getting snagged on a moving ship's deck extremities and crashing into the sea . I had diligent crewmen on my side, and with aircraft 38 which had stabilising equipment without a recalcitrant pitch channel the way 28 had, landing on deck was smoother and more controlable. Not much rebound as the undercarriage met the deck and the oleos settled comfortably to take the aircraft's weight. I was done!! Now, to release control to Magesh, Ian and Paranjothi. One by one the crew changed and everyone was made current on deck landing. The ride home was under Paranjothi's command, and I wondered whether he would provide the seamen a flypass. I felt the chopper break from deck and transit into take-off. There were some random manoeuvres, then I could see the crewmen gesture to one another that a flypass was coming up.
The Nuri was brought into a high-speed pass alongside the ship at 30 feet from sea level, then put into a gentle climb for rejoin to Labuan. I was certain that Paranjothi would also face an air traffic controller fathered by Gepetto. The unending orbits 5 miles off from Labuan over the water confirmed that indeed, he had. Gepetto's soul be blessed, but I had lost faith in this cellulose controller ever becoming a real boy.
This was little consolation that the following week, the boss would not be around, and the remainder of the aircrew would be in Tawau for a night vision exercise, leaving Capt Hasto and I as the only aircraft captains available to see to the VIP tasks and parajumps to come. No sir, this was not good. No sir, the fortnight was not yet over.