04 March 2011

See Off Tee


That was the scream I heard from my training captain as he sideslipped the whining Bell206 over the edge of a clearing.

I looked down at the patch of green and thought, "Oh, bollocks; I couldn't get in there in a Mini Cooper let alone a helicopter." YES SIR!!! was the only thing I could say. After all, this was my conversion sortie and the morrow was supposed to be my Certificate Of Test Flight to be endorsed as a Bell206 Captain.

He handed over control to me and I swung the chopper into a right handed orbit over the LP (landing point) and rolled out on finals approach. "Running in!" I called and commenced descent.

"Where are your finals checks??"

"No updraft, no downdraft, no windshear or turbulence and power in hand is good at 40 percent torque," I prattled. But as I passed half way through into the LP, committed to the landing and lowered the collective, I sensed audibly the sound of an engine winding down. A quick check on the rotor rpm had me turning pale and I immediately wound my left hand hurriedly to power up the decaying rotor thrust, and I caught in my peripheral vision, the training captain's left hand also reaching down at the secondary collective to wind up power. I heard a stifled roar of profanity and then it came out.

"Jeffrey!!! Why the HELL do you keep lowering power when you lower collective?? You're going to kill yourself one day Jeffrey! You're going to kill yourself!!!"

His demeanour turned completely Zen upon landing and shutdown.

He wanted one more hour with me to complete all the mandatory exercises. The conversion was far from over. We were supposed to fly on Sunday but he didn't show. On Monday he got tied up at a meeting, so we missed our slot time and the heavy traffic at the airfield discouraged circuit flying. All we could do were hover manouvres and engine failures. Seems I completely mastered the latter judging from my confined area exercise.

The normal conversion programme takes seven hours. All the other guys had seven hours, in Keningau for St Jude's sake. I had just clocked three hours and the one hour more would make only four hours. And I was doing my conversion in Subang!! Thursday was to be my C of T. Could we pull it off? Could I pull it off?

While I did clock the final hour on Thursday the 24th, the C of T was arbitrarily set for Saturday as weather was coming in and the training captain wanted me to spend Friday seated in the cockpit, practising my start up checks. Yes, I am a guy who must get all things annoyingly wrong before I get it delightfully hardwired correctly.

I carried out my C of T on Saturday morning, using an abandoned Macademised road alongside Shah Alam as my runway and LP, witnessed by many unhelmeted palm oil estate workers on motorcycles in typical estate style. I was cleared to be a Bell206 Captain, and had my license endorsed accordingly on 28th Feb.

So, after more that two-and-a-half decades, at age 46 going 47, some fundamentals have not changed, with alarmingly evidential consistency.

I still garble matters even though I understand a system completely. I still infuriate the hell out of my instructors.

And I am still insanely in love with the helicopter.


  1. Congrats! Good luck and enjoy flying your new aircraft!

  2. Nice beginning! And I think I got the St. Jude's joke ... but still, congratulations Dad!

  3. Thanks so much Ethan.
    But as they say, it's only the beginning. Ain't it always so?

    Mumuchi, good to see you again.
    Your own posts continue to speak for the soldiers who are at the mercy of the tail end of a system that is always complicated in execution but ridiculously simplistic in armchair military scientists' analyses. Keep the flag aloft, brutha!!