06 March 2012

My First Legal IR Hour

9MSPE Approaching Overhead VKE 3600

It was an early morning first-wave of flights I had reported in for, a drab grey day with pelting rain and low wintry clouds, except that Kerteh has no winter. Two senior copilots were there in the flight planning room, speaking ponderously with my aircraft captain, in murmurs that ended with a finger pointed sneakily at me and the words, "instrument rated."

I am no more a sunshine pilot!! It's nice having that veil lifted. I can start building up my instrument hours and make this job worth the time it takes from my life. Along with that, so has the mood of the planners with regard to my flight schedule. I seem to be getting more early mornings now, to  muster at the flight planning at 0700. Prior to my being instrument rated, there was apprehension over placing me on the earliest flights as just in case weather was below VMC minima and fell to IMC, I would have been an unsuitable copilot as I was still 'sunshine rated'. This would burden the duty captain with having to recall another instrument rated copilot to take my place. 

Terengganu Crude Oil Terminal Paka
In timely fashion, it was a day of nasty weather the morning after my Instrument Rating Test. It was also the day that the Le Tour De Langkawi would pass through town, so Kerteh was poised for a festive air, but the weather had opted to rain on everybody's parade.

I was on the way back from the rigs in nice sunny weather at 4000 feet when we could hear all aircraft on rejoin to Kerteh requesting for the instrument landing system approach. Staring at the infinitive horizon, a layer of cloud sat on the line where the sea and sky met. That sight, with the content of the radio calls, indicated that the layer of cloud forefronted inclement weather behind it, down to a thousand feet if the ILS was the sudden favourite. I glanced at the captain but he was in his usual sagacious cool vigil, waiting for us to arrive at 20 Distance Measuring Equipment miles from Kerteh when a position report would be necessary for further clearance to enter into the Kerteh control zone. I was tempted to suggest that we track overhead for an instrumented letdown, but he cut me to it and said we would track to overhead at 1000 feet.  Well,  I sighed to myself, he's the captain.
Bukit Labohan and TCOT Paka in the background
At the coast, the entire vista was torrential. We could hear the police helicopter's pilot reporting that he was 500 feet above the old coastal road to Paka keeping watch and camera over the Le Tour cyclists, and the helicopters ahead of us attempted talking to him to ascertain his exact location for pilots' separation as they were rejoining from the south of Bukit Labohan. I kept obedient to my captain and tracked for overhead the radio beacon when he prompted me to turn to the northerly heading. As we faced north at 1000 feet, the white carpet of rain beneath our feet turned into a ragged gossamer oval that gave just enough a view of the runway threshold. See the runway, the captain said. Now go and land. And here this offshore pilot readily yielded to air force punch-through-a-hole-in-the-clouds instincts and we made a rapid but smooth descent steeply into the short finals appoach for runway 16 Kerteh.

It was a wet walk back to the flight planning room to submit the navigation log and sector sheet for the trip, for which I had just enough time before a second flight out to the rigs again. The weather had abated on the outbound leg, and 55 miles over the sea, everything turned literally to silver glass, if Tolkien will pardon me. But the way back saw us again in cloud from the same 55 miles inbound.

I was flying with an old squadron mate who had the better sense to quit the air force well before I did and earn his keep in the company. He asked me about my instrument rating and what letdowns I had done for the test. Knowing that I had done a full VOR-ILS seemed to help him make up his mind about the preferred approach and he said, "My base check is this month, so watching you do the approach is good for me." That's right. In the air force or out of the air force, it's all about mutual support.

Looking out the canopy as the aircraft did its thing, taking us steadily and sharply on the glideslope and the localiser centreline through clouds down to 400 feet above mean sea level does a lot to build confidence in the hardware I now use. We taxied in to the terminal building sober as judges and let off the passengers into the arrival hall. Then the captain recorded the flying hours on the flight chit, summarising it with IF 1.0.

Yes, small thing for offshore aviation, but a big thing for a newbie offshore pilot, and I am sure Neil Armstrong will see the point of what I am saying. This was my first ever legally recognised hour of instrument flight. At that moment it no longer mattered that the day before saw me doing all that I hadn't practised in 5 sorties of instrument training, for my test. It no longer stood as relevant that the test profile had departed radically from the rehearsed sorties, making my heart quiver in my throat throughout the test. It didn't matter that I was deemed the most marginal pass in the history of aviation.

All that mattered was, that I was here.

Today was the second day that I was on for two-shuttle flights. Just like yesterday, I began at 0700, landed at ten, rushed through the navigation logs and sector sheets submission and was up again at 1100. Thankfully, my senior captain, the cool one who opted for an air force style approach the day before, was sympathetic and had prepped all the paperwork before I had landed from the preceding flight.

A Busy Morning
This day was a beautiful day for flying. To begin with, it was a full-on busy day with three flights morning, three flights pre-noon and three flights noontime.  The plankton was out in waves and waves, sifting and shifting on the tide, drawing the fishing boats out to bountiful harvests hundreds of miles out from shore. Many of them were from our northern neighbour, coursing between the rigs, eyed territorially by the rigs' supply ships crew. In primary school, I learned that plankton favoured our continental shelf for breeding, causing fish to likewise congregate in our waters. I just had no idea that our waters were so very rich in plankton till I saw it in the course of this job.


I have learned that in this job, vigilance is paramount. It's not just about flying off to the rigs, dropping people off and coming back. There is the constant checking and rechecking of the passenger headcount, the ear defenders and life saving jackets return, and the legality of additional freight returned from the platforms. It is not unheard of that passengers have been picked up that were meant for another aircraft. And this day, I learned that when the helicopter deck crew do not read their manifests properly, they can send baggage back to Kerteh that is meant for a passenger that will stay on the rig for a fortnight or more. While that is genuinely out of the hands of the aircrew, we must remember that errors can sneak in through many entry points, and as aircrew, the exercise of captaincy whether one is an aircraft captain or not, is required throughout the offshore operation.

Maybe that's why, whether we are aircraft captains or not, everybody calls us "Cap". 


  1. Congrats!


  2. Terima kasih tuan.
    Semoga sering berjumpa di alam maya.

  3. The pictures are awesome... I especially like the Plankton!

    What you do sounds exciting, though I
    chuckled at how you described passengers been picked up meant for another aircraft. Gosh..

  4. I too was amazed to discover that plankton is visible to the naked eye. And our seas are very rich with them. That's why fishing boats from our neighbouring countries love fishing in our waters!!!!!

  5. "When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return."


  6. Dear Miss Placid
    Thanks for your invaluable visit to this blog that even I have been absent from as my exams have been in session.
    Yes, your adage rings true for me and now I am ever captive of the firmament.
    And to this blog I return to speak ever more of all my walks amongst the clouds.