27 October 2012

Frere Jacques, Dormez Vous?

There is an old air force barroom limmerick, apparently attributed to a Commanding Officer who used to say:

If the weather is not clear
Put the aircraft in the hangar
Report to the bar
And we'll all have a beer

It reminds me of times when following an aircraft incident or mishap, we would be stopped from flying pending investigations and declaration of airworthiness of the aircraft type affected, by the appropriate directorates.
The entire aviation world works in much the same way, be it civil or military, in the interest of flight safety and a zer0-accident rate. Therefore, following the incident of 22 Oct, albeit a safe controlled ditching in compliance with the aircrew checklist (ACL), we are still on a precautionary stop-flight order. In the military we would be milling 'round the crew room, gleaning gossip from our flight commanders and COs, slurping the tricklings of phone calls along with coffee to grain out whatever foggy prediction of the near future as such inconclusive indices would afford.
However, in civil flying, you do not simply show up for work unless called for. Turning up at work is a day's productivity allowance equivalent in money, which is not your entitlement unless your name is on the flying programme. While in this instance, the fleet grounding is no fault of the crew or company, and therefore we are still getting paid, we still can't loiter aimlessly at work. That dampened frequency of hobnobbing with those in the know, plus the looser comradeship, both thwart and dilute the gleaning process.

So, with the current climate of uncertainty, my flying suit has hung motionless over my bedroom door . I do not remember preparing my flying suit and yet not flying in a long time , not since leaving the air force. 
Which leads me to the matter of my oft-revived predicament that ever since the end of Ramadhan, my visits to Sundram's have been no more about scraping up a meal, but about indulgence while my exercise programme has slowly fallen to an indolent once in 5 days when I am on the 1300H muster. As a middle aged retiree with the dietary habits of a hobbit, it follows that this conflict of imperatives had rendered me being in need of an entirely new wardrobe as I slapped on the adipose with all the speed of a Dr David Banner metamorphosis.
Seeing that the aircraft are in the hangar even in the best weather, I have had good opportunity to catch up on cycling. My ears are still open for the contingency call from the ops room for a full ground run, as I cycle, but so far it's been quiet.

I am a cyclist, but not a thoroughbred avid one. Other than for that one time when I cycled 122km from Labuan to Kuala Penyu and back, I have not had the opportunity to do any really long-distance rides. Though I do love cycling, I do not hunt down jungle trails, and the word "technical" to me has to smack of circuitry, not roots and brooks and inclines. My typical ride is out the junction and down the road and back, typically a run of 28km. It serves my purpose for now. Lamenting the loss of a good group such as the one I had in KK is fruitless and a bit depressing, you know, always running back to better times and the notion of what-if-I-hadn't. I would love a 5-day a week, 30 to 40 km at a time kind of harmony with my work schedule. However, the realities of holding down a house, weather and work scheduling impede that love, so that in the end it's about giving that final bit of frustration shoehorned into the last, or perhaps the very first, few minutes of daylight before I have to be somewhere else at somebody else's behest.
Therefore, this hiatus in flying, unfair as it may appear to our competitors across the tarmac who have had to fly more in our stead, has been a welcome break to jump start a long neglected habit. Else by the fifth day, I would be feeling breathless from not cycling.
I expect that I shall do well indeed when my next medical examination comes along, and my physician will be very happy with me.
On the other hand, I am hoping to see in my e-mail, that I am scheduled for a real offshore sector, instead of "as required". It is not good for  the fleet to remain on ground indefinitely, and I have doubts that we could go on the long and expensive route of hardware change in order to get up in the air again. Furthermore, I really want to fly.

So, please, Frere Jacues, please wake up soon, and break the news that the grounding is lifted.

25 October 2012

You're Grounded!!

We don't have it on our media.
But three days ago, a Super Puma EC225 ditched into the North Sea during an offshore operational flight. The above pic was taken from the UK's Daily Telegraph site.
As we are operating an aircraft of the same type, our own fleet has been grounded pending investigations and findings over the incident.
Well, for a non-swimmer bordering on hydrophobic such as I am, the above picture is most reassuring. I now know that the bloody beast floats!

A Shortcut To Mushrooms

Mushroom Cumulonimbus

When mushrooms clouds dominate the skyscape, you know the monsoon has arrived.
Clouds may look like marshmallow mountains, but they are an interesting  biological entity in their own right. From the ground they look pretty, and seem to be the soft-shelled Renaissance sculptures, edible images of our favourite trifles, or Megatron trucks.
Clouds though, are like living beings. They start small, cute. They grow. Evaporation and condensation raise the mists in vertcial winds called updrafts. Updrafts contribute to their growth. Internally the water droplets collide to form larger droplets. Above the freezing altitude levels, they morph into ice crystals, and the transition from supercooled water droplets into ice crystals make for larger crystals, all buoyed upon the stength of the updrafts as a function of what forces the air upward. So plunging into these marshmallows should not be equated to driving headlong into the thick mists along the KL-Kuantan East Coast Expressway.
The Rainy Shores

It has been a coquettish play this week, between wet grey mornings and irridiscent sunrises. Having the weather widget is no reliable index of foretelling the type of morning I face.
Brilliant Morning

Some of the early morning departures have been simply picturesque. A red sun rises, smoggy grey clouds being beaten away by his indefatigueable cheer. You could turn you head to look northward and see the coastline curl away in quaint Vespuccian perspective from Kerteh to Kuala Terengganu, were limits not imposed by Paka's contributions to the suspensions in the air just above the earth.
A Frontal Line

But as you venture away from terra firma, you can almost see inscribed upon the sky, like ripples upon a lake with the shoreline as the epycentre, cloud formations and frontal developments. And of course, mushroom clouds.
I do not know if it's just symptomatic of the weather, but one mushroom cloud I spotted was originating from the smoke plume of a rig's flare boom.

Posh Bali's plumage as seen from 8 miles away
I have not seen such a sight in bonny Semenanjung. The last time I saw such a phenomenon was when I was doing Bambi Bucket operations in Sabah, about the year 1999. Back then we were fighting the forest fires of both Sabah and Sarawak, taking the span of about 5 months and many detachments all over the state. I was still a beligerent copilot then, and on completion of my detachment at the Sabah Forestry HQ at Telupid, en route Labuan, we came across a peculiar sight between Keningau and Tenom, where a patch of burning forest liberated a column of smoke that sublimated into a cloud. I suppose that this is possible, should a particuarly strong thermal convection within the fire thrust the condensation nuclei made of ash and dust high enough, fast enough in a vertical updraft to allow its water vapour to become cloud
Posh Bali up close and Purrsonal alongside Trident 9
I wonder if similiar conditions existed over Posh Bali, a jack-up rig near Trident 9, to cause this visual curiosity . But the question is, yeah, the incipient monsoon freights moisture-laden air to our coasts for the rain spell, making cloud formation easier due to vapour saturation, but why only over Posh Bali does this manifestation occur? Why not the other rigs as well? I noticed it over the past few days, so it can't be the sudden convergence of all factors conducive to the formation of cloud from a flame everyday???
Coming Out Of The Dark
Back to the daily grind, as  you pick up passengers and off-load them and return to the mainland, the rings of cloud you had noticed earlier have now ballooned into a storm waiting to protect the coastline form your intrusions. Sometimes, dog-legging around the build-up seems like an exercise in futility as you turn the corner of one stormcloud only to be faced with the black-walled mushroom of another standing defiantly in your diversionary flight path. However, as passenger comfort is a priority, dog-legging is done when the weather radar indicates it as a profitable manouvre, and if pushing straight ahead is more prudent, taking back the speed several notches helps prevent the porpoising of the aircraft through the dark turbulence of a rainstorm.
But flying in the monsoon is rarely slamming into dark clouds from take-off, cruising in a quaking chopper and landing on the rig in a near-blinding storm. Rarely, only because I have been at this one year. However, even my training captain will concur, that the nastiest monsoon weather lies about 50 nautical miles from the coast. Before and beyond that, the weather is normally docile. Yes, the prevailing winds are carrying the rains to the mainland, and so yes, we will have coastal and overland rains. But you get the picture, that the severity of floods here is a function of the rainfall and relief, and not so much that it's a case of Noah revisited.
Mirrormare and a barge on tow
Therefore, if  you make it through the rain, you can come back home to the sight of a shimmering coast and fair-weather clouds reflected on a calm sea greeting you for turning up instead of turning away, as if turning away from shore was even an option. Such greetings are a welcome sight on any given day, more so days as bleak as these, lifting the mood as you seek the end of your work sector.
Long Finals Runway 34 and somewhere down there is home
It's a homecoming, I guess.

10 October 2012

Windvanes And Weathercocks

Fair Weather Fiends
From the start of this day's 0700H muster, I had a good feeling about today. The weather has improved by leaps and bounds, and the haze has finally given way to the easterly winds. They have not veered to a fullblown ( pardon the pun ) North Easterly wind, which would signal the reign of the like named monsoon, but certainly finding all radio operators at the rigs annunciating a North Westerly wind of 3-5 knots, is reassurance that the extended gloatings of aircraft captains over having dominion of the rig approaches will phase off till the resumption of the South Westerly monsoon in the first quarter of the next year.

Panoramic shot of the Seligi oilfields

Obviously with such crystalline visibility, looking around became rather enjoyable compared to months and months of gazing at rigs floating in the murk of haze and mist. We were on a long-haul today on the East Piatu-Belumut Alpha combination which invariably meant that we would be shutting down at East Piatu and the doing a rig start up on internal battery to Belumut Alpha.
Tangga Barat Alpha and a cavorting logistics boat
 En route I looked down at Dulang oilfield, the sea a specific brilliant blue, with the Tangga Barat Alpha rig accompanied by a logistics boat kicking up quite a plume of froth in its wake as it curved anticlockwise around the rig.
On deck East Piatu, the shutdown was carried out quickly as the captain was in need of a trip to the gents and to raise his blood nicotine level. He left the technical team to do the refuelling and caught me wandering along the maze of staircases wrapped around the platform. He suggested I join him down at the galley and I gladly agreed, feeling my own blood caffeine levels at an insane low.
The galley was a handsomely stocked, replete with a drinks refrigerator, coffee,tea, cereal, creamer and Milo. The dining area was furnished with a 60-inch plasma television and HTIB ( home theatre in a box ) with astro. Just adjacent to the dining tables was the briefing enclosure, also equipped with a plasma televison and HTIB. As the captain and I surveyed the food stock in the galley, newbies herded into the briefing enclosure for the safety video show.
I reached for the coffee jug sitting on the hot platter and poured myself a generous mug. As the brew tinkled into the mug, the comforting aroma made me feel at home in the galley, and I savoured each sip to the last drop. By which time, the captain went to the smoking room for a last drag and we were due for a battery start for Belumut Alpha.
Floating Storage Offshore Bunga Kertas
En route Belumut at 2500 feet, the pristine weather held steady. The flight path brought us to FSO Bunga Kertas sitting approximately at the half-way point. The brilliant blue sky, the 3-5 knot winds teasing the sea into tiny ripples, and her distinctively erect flare boom made her a sight to behold on this sunny day.
Landing at Belumut Alpha was, just as with East Piatu, a copilot's approach into the prevailing wind that convinced me that the winds had shifted. I realise that I should be brushing up on instrument approaches, for along with the windshift comes the monsoon, with its own set of operational restrictions due to its attendant weather manifestations, complicating recovery from offshore to our mother airfield.
Regular evening thunderstorms reflect the shift in weather
I welcome a change in weather.
A change, any change, hints of hope that maybe other doldrum-laden portions of my life may change and cause freshness to alter my personal landscape.

08 October 2012


This is a picture of the latest addition to the fleet, brought in from Vietnam, replete with Vietnamese pilots to complement our own crew who will be operating her. The two External Forward Tanks which are depicted by the pilot's door, with the other at the copilot's door, have since been removed. These are not the company's livery colours, but I think the red white and blue pops!!
I have just clocked one complete year in the company. No, there are no anniversary celebrations, just a staid passage of time from the preceding year into the next. Corporate politics is such a drag, with resolutions existing in a time frame that do not conclude beneficially within any one person's career span. Service life has trained the pessimist in me to a razor sharp point, and I see the ominous writing on the wall in predictive text as the foregone conclusion to an exercise in futility. A long time ago, I sour graped myself into believing that the job is merely the means by which I make bread. Life itself therefore has to be more than what meagre joys the breadwinning entails.
A suitable distraction has presented itself in the feline form of Antonio the cat. He adopted us in speechless manner by storming into the house one stormy night.
I am not a cat person. I have viewed them as the insurgent enemy ever since they scratched up my superbike seat, undone an evening's polish job when they slept on my fuel tank leaving dander everywhere and indellibly peed into my helmet when I was living as a bachelor in the officers' mess, KL Base. Marking territory has never been so convincingly permanent as when you know nothing will wash that maritime odour off, and a new helmet purchase is in order.
Yet I know not what to do about a cat who does not abide by the contractual fineprint embodied in Kipling's tale about The Cat Who Walked By Himself.
Nay, this cat seeks human company, and has not a condescending bone in his body. He has shown fine manners by marking the dying quinine tree by the gate as his toilette, and seems to choose the carrier as his sleeping place without being prompted.
However, he seems to be obstinately defensive about his role as an indoor cat.
I am not a cat person, I say again. I have no reservations about rattling the coin can above legal decibular limits to signal him out the door, which he concedes to only after getting everyone into a 5-minute sprint worth his while.
So why is it I winced when I had to leave him at the vet to be spayed, holding steady as he miaowed dolefully from the wooden structure behind me as I walked away?
I know that I have no desire to latch on to a facsimile of power by stroking the lion in the cat. Therefore it is not for this reason that my mind strays to his well-being. What reason it may be has yet to dawn on me.
But I do know that I hate being a parent again in my old age, not wanting to be fettered by the neediness of a dependant creature, and reluctant as I am to yield to this contradictory cat that unabashedly greets me with a series of marmalade miaows when I come home from work, I know that it is impossible to be cruel to an animal who is aware of its connection to humanity and does nothing to deny it.
I look forward to his safe return and I hope he hasn't given up on us as he endures the long dark night without food, without a human sound, to his surgery scheduled for tomorrow.
I am NOT a cat person, I say again.