12 February 2010

The Harimau Sleeps Tonight

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Flying Tigers.

That's what No 5 Squadron crew members call themselves. The Tiger insignia for the squadron goes all the way back to 1965, when the squadron was incepted in Kuala Lumpur and deployed to the Royal Air Force Labuan base on 13 May of the same year.

Back then the aircrew's bonedomes were painted in tiger stripes, well before pimp mobiles adopted the colour scheme. As say that, I wonder if I have stumbled upon the origin of the species.

Of late, I confess to wanting to purr in plaintive voice that M2333 not be employed for tasks beyond VHF range as the aircraft is not fitted with HF, rendering it a flight hazard in real time. Of course, land-line coordination is carried out prior every take-off so that the controlling agency knows where we are and can tell all hearing aircraft to stay clear of us, but that is really asking the bone china to avoid the bull in the shop. And what a load of bull this is! My pleas have fallen on deaf ears, and we have been left to our devices by our leadership to make good the missions tasked unto us.

Yet, with the waning of the moon, these werewolves that torment and threaten from amidst the shadows are abating into less formidable beasts. We may be saved, from ourselves, yet again by the good old lady the Nuri herself, by her very age. She who bears us upon her wings, now faces the expiry of her flying hours. M2333 will be returned to AIROD for her major calendar check any day now. Such stripdown servicing may well take the gestation cycle of an oliphaunt to complete, and the remaining airframes have only so many hours left to go the same direction. If by a miracle of fraudulent means we get an aircraft or two from the hoarded number languishing under long overdue calendar checks in AIROD, we may have a while yet to flog the old lady to her death, or ours, should she turn around to bite us.

Whichever way we look at it, we are witnessing the Nuri undergo the days of diminishing returns as did the Caribou. She too, was a faithful workhorse from the days of her battles against the Enemy, with a knack for doing the kind of work and executing flight profiles in spartan conditions that modern-day aircraft are just not able to do with equal aplomb and cygnified grace. But when her very numbers died out along with her crew, the leadership's hand was forced to permit her deserved retirement. We can only pray that the Nuri's release not be at similar cost, for even after coming to that and having our comrades pay, we still tarry.

Amidst these nebulous doubts, the sun still rises upon Labuan. Some days are as gloomy and foreboding as the ebonied clouds that creep across the shadowed runway, foretelling of an inclement day for flying. Others begin with a silvery eastern sky bathing the island in the cheeriest sunlight. The seas sparkle and ripple bejewelled, the ships anchored about the port like many drakes, ducks and ducklings with as much awarness and care about the future of the island as the birds that I have likened them to, or the stevedores who determine the moment of their relief from their expectant delivery with lager and ladies at day's end on their minds. Life goes on for everyone else, seasons come and go unlading the unforeseen upon the unsuspecting. People marry, choke the roads of Labuan with their oversized tax-exempted all-wheelers at the berinais, bersandings and the khenduris, and the fisherman and the farmer harvest the hillsides and the highwaters from day to day in this littoral Shire, Labuan. But what of this Nuri's fate, while we who grip the purse-strings drag our mired feet over renewing the decrepit team in the stables?

The Nuri lies still upon the premixed dispersal, always silent, yet symptomatic of how well we tend to her. I wager I may be a free man well before she is finally allowed to rest, seeing the end of her days as sentinels adjacent to guardrooms, sneering at the comings and goings of younger aircraft who have yet to see such glory days as has she, to have carried overwhelming duty upon her ever beating blades into the threat of calamity and back to safer shores.

Come that day, I shall stand sorrowed at her going, but I know that it is not too soon by many years. That I can see her gently fading into what she was yesterday meant to be is a privilege. Many shall bid her farewell teary-eyed.

These twilight days, the Harimau shall have some time to sleep. One ear cocked, one eye open, the reined snarl ever ready to roar.

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