Yes, this is what the cockpit view is like when I am about to reach a rig or platform a hundred plus miles away from Kerteh. No, it's not me in the picture and I doubt I will ever be in such a position as to snap one like this. It's a gambar sekadar perhiasan of the Puma cockpit lifted from Eurocopter's albums just so you have an idea that one minute we are looking at a platform that for all appearances seems smaller than wang sekupang, and just as you pass below 200 feet above mean sea level (yes, the sea definitely looks mean), there is a rapid change of perspective and the deck and the superstructure suddenly conspire to skewer your cockpit.
Over the past number of weeks, I have been frustrated with my progress. My instrument phase is on ice, so I am still a sunshine pilot no matter what instrument approaches I have been doing when coming home from the rigs.
The offshore flying world is interesting. It's rather like airline flying, save that a helicopter is involved as so far no fixed-wing aircraft has proven an ability to land on a 70-foot diameter platform. As with all other aircraft, the critical stages are take-off and landing. In the helicopter world, we call them departures and approaches. And similar to our better-known brethren in the airlines, any pilot will tell you that approaches are a tinge more complicated than departures.
I have been flogging myself over my approaches. Yes, I know the textbook description of aiming at the forward edge of the platform and then I will be in the dead centre as I get closer towards it. As I began flying offshore in the monsoon, I didn't give any of this a second thought. I had more problems keeping my heading steady the closer I got to the deck because I was born with two left feet. The strong monsoon winds assisted my approaches, correcting for my descent angle without me having to be as precise as those who have ten thousand hours flying offshore. Now, as the skies are sunnier, the winds at the rigs have fallen to single-digit figures. My seniors openly admit that an approach in strong winds is always easier than one in calm winds. One nil-wind day, I began with a correctly steep approach but as I decelerated at the half-way through point, I recognised that I was overshooting the deck. I had to execute a go-around and ever since then, my approaches have left me feeling....inadequate.Yeah, I am gonna nail the approach next time, I would say every time I landed, with the aircraft captain saying, "Hmmmm. You're a bit short.", and I knew he wasn't referring to my hobbit stature. Then the flight home to Kerteh would be in dull silence as I went over and over the approach in my mind, wishing I were a better pilot. Damn!!!
What is it that misery seeks again?
The surreptitiously gained knowledge that others are not faring any better than you is the reassuring and assuaging balm that you, mortified as you may be at your approaches, are not the only one in your shoes and thereby, not as bad as you may have presumed yourself to be. I had speculated that maybe it was because I haven't acclimatised to this aircraft's peculiar behaviour yet. I had correctly guessed that the ex Puma pilots would be so much more at home in the EC225 because they were flying a predecessor before the offshore clients insisted on the EC225 in the new contract.
It's always a backdoor boost to your self esteem when you find out a whole lot of other ex-Sikorsky/Bell helicopter suck at steep Puma-type approaches too. I have since learned that I am just one amongst many non-Puma-experienced pilots who keep flying the EC as if it was a Sikorsky or Bell, ending up making shallow approaches. Even those who kept up appearances of hotshot swagger actually sucked.
So for now, I will unclench them asscheeks and just enjoy the ride.