29 June 2013

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

A glamour shot of the AS332L2 Super Puma
I have finally completed my conversion to the Super Puma L2. The conversion period took an extensive 4 weeks because the single L2 we had was often plagued with serviceability issues, sitting in the hangar waiting for spares for weeks on end.
The L2 cockpit, depictive of its era

When I went up in Papa Delta for the first conversion sortie, FAM 1, at the end of the hour, the training captain said, "I don't see any major problem with you. You don't seem as lost in the cockpit as some others I have seen. I think you're ready for your C of T. How? Can ah?"
I miss the EC225 cockpit
I gaped at him as if I seriously thought he was in need of a Papal smiting across his countenance. I had not done my instrument flying yet, this was my first L2 sortie, and I was not even flying the EC225 consistently enough to warrant so rapid a jump to this "similar-type variant". I allowed my cold silence to emphasise my vehement objection to a C of T after just one FAM.
How I miss you now, EC225
I did get a second sortie, and after FAM 2, I was surprised to see that 4 days later I was scheduled for the Certificate of Test. And evening passed and morning came, and it was the C of T day. It seemed as if both my FAMs and the C of T were coincidentally scheduled for Friday evenings, when the offshore rhythm abated and the availability of an aircraft was more assured than on most days of the week. By the time I touched down at 1730, I had completed the C of T and my instrument rating test. The examiner congratulated me and I knew then that I had passed my C of T. Next, a line check and I would be legal and ready to resume offshore operations.
Just 1 km away from Maersk Convincer and she is barely discernible from 500 feet
As malinged coincidence would have it, my line check was simultaneous with the unwelcomed descent of the haze upon Kerteh and the entire hinterland.
During meteorological conditions such as these, the value of a fully instrumented aircraft with attendant automation cannot be overrated. The unforgiving loss of forward visibility and the absence of a discernible reference horizon lead straight toward disorientation and the propensity for a major incident which the oil and gas world can ill afford, and neither can any helicopter operator company for that matter.
Kuala Paka with 2km visibility

The last I operated offshore in the haze, I was in no doubt as to the ability to make an approach although the view forward was obscurred. But this time, it was not possible to see the rig until we were at 500 feet and half a mile from it, that too, aided by the flare boom in full flame. For academic purposes, the line training captain called for a rig radar approach, which in the reduced visibility was a rather relevant practice to keep current with.
Passenger drop off at Lawit Alpha
Over the next three days, I was back into the swing of offshore flying with continuous sectors and no split in duties. I had also noticed that the L2 suffered from a faulty autopilot system. Being the only L2 in the livery now that the EC225s were grounded, it was merely a matter of time before the recurrent fault would mean she would be called off line for rectification. 
Starting up for a flight test
And it happened just about when I was feeling the heat from returning to offshore duties after being a standby pilot for eight months now. On the third day of flying with an intermittent autopilot system, the aircraft captain decided that enough was enough. The autopilot had been self-disengaging now and then during flight, and while reengaging the autopilot returned the system to normal operating status, the worry that it would disengage whilst negotiating a critical phase of flight lurked in the troubled hallways of my mind. During cruise, these niggardly niusances may be acceptable, but were you in a descent or approach with nigh nil visual references outside the cockpit, the escalating workload under systems failure is not encouraging of a safe approach and departure from a shelf hanging on a framework standing off the seabed. The captain did not wait to be in such a phase of flight. We were 40 miles from Kerteh over waters when the misdemeanouring helicopter began meandering, and the captain turned back without prompting, to home base, and snagged the aircraft as was most deserving of the situation.

AOG is not a religious organisation, but stands for Aircraft On Ground awaiting spares
There she waits for her spares, and here I wait to fly her again.

11 June 2013

Dear Snake Oil Salesman

I do think that your fashion sense and personal grooming in imitation of Mark Strong, especially in his appearance in RocknRolla, may work in Hollywood infused Klang Valley, but in Kerteh, should serve no further than to tell us you are better paid than us. We who have no choice but to listen to you yarn, do not begrudge your payscale that allows you to rise above the inequities of government social engineering and affirmative action policies, but that is a fellowship that doesn't cover our lot into identifying with you. I really cannot remember the last time we met anyone in Paka Residence Resort's lecture rooms who wore the inner vest to a 3-piece suit to deliver a motivational lecture. And in the final analysis, you should be aware of how the twain shall never meet.  I mean, you could never hit that mark, no matter how strong you think you are. Ok, ok, I am sorry. You're right. Black is a very slimming colour.
I do approve of your deft use of humour, and I am sure you are a beacon in the centre of the barroom, commanding an adoring audience and fawned over by the girls. Ice breakers before the sessions on corporate values were a breeze for you to handle, and you were recognisably glib. You dropped names ever so often like eggs into a linen-lined basket, incurring nary a crack so as to betray your methods of self shoring. I hope to emulate yours skills some day.
However, your divide and rule tactics were as on target as those used by government arms when you categorically carved those who had served long and faithfully from other employee labels of yours as "lost souls" who could not be converted into "agents of change" to spur the company on to greater heights by enhancements to their personal performance in the company heirarchy. You chose to dismiss those who had long service records as being immovable simply because of their age. Or simply because they do not respond with juvenile enthusiasm to your sales pitch.
In most companies worth their human capital, it is the senior workers who matter most. These are the men and women who have seen enough to know how to make things work. Their skills have been honed over time and persistence, where brute strength is secondary to motor skills and mental precision. Managers in such companies make efforts to retain such employees. If they value human capital that is.
Your repetitive slurring of these valuable guys and gals with your branding as "dah 30 tahun lebih" smacks of inherited prejudice aimed at a group who will not be eating out of your hand just because it is you who appears to be the latest agent of corporate bullcrap delivery.
Maybe you need to take stock of matters Senor Presenter.
You have no choice but to believe in what you are selling. And you are not selling a single product of your own crafting, although your wares are dependant on your craftiness. You sell what companies tell you to sell, of mission statements and corporate visions. These lofty terms are not more than repackaged advertisments, with the sole objectve of getting people to part with something of value which they would not under normal circumstances do, till under the influence of such motivational talks and team-building games. You would be out of a job if you did not believe in the product you are peddling, and that voice rings hollow because it isn't a product you have laboured lovingly to make. All you have are sleight of hand and voice and gesture. Do not mistake your access to management heads and giving them a piece of your mind as an index of your business authority. You are a calendar item, to be ticked off in fulfilment of a higher agenda. You are, directly and personally, neither threat, asset nor consequence to them.
The lost souls you dismiss are those who once believed, but have seen time and time again how promises are not kept, and silence is paid for with alms giving. Yet they pressed on, more out of the need to survive than of trust. And over the consumption of the years, faith gives way to delusionment, and drive gives way to inertia. While managers and bosses loot the spoils, they create artificial performance barriers for those who toil, making year-end rewards unattainable while they themselves fill  their carts to overflowing for parties and celebrations to pat their own backs in salutation and credit. And the 30 tahun lebih guys know the gifts so evidently taken. The greatest error of omission then, is treating them like they don't know what goes on in the upper decks of management.
There comes an age and a time, when people pass the point of believing in words and words alone. Words, unsupported by deeds, shall be met with disdain. Perhaps that point is when employees have served long, and have seen the disparity between the two.
 The lost souls are not thereby lost souls. They are souls lost by the corporate heads.
Until you recognise this, your slick presentations will not sell a single bottle.

10 June 2013

Days Of The Remains

As the flying has been in death rattle, so has been my drive to write.
8 months have passed, with news of the grounding being lifted being as forthcoming as election promises, replete their with imminently punitive events looming upon the near horizon.
I have forgotten the oil fields of Kerteh. I have forgotten the face of the coastline, the tardiness of the Helideck Landing Officers when loading and unloading passengers and baggage on the rigs and the taste of food from the galleys. It has been 8 months since I have flown offshore.

Sometimes, a picture does save a thousand words! Instead of writing down parameters, just snap!!
But my paltry salvation is, that it has not been 8 months since I have flown. I have had a few ferry flights, the LIMA assignment and lately, my log book entries have repeatedly shown Certificate Of Airworthiness. Quite a number of our helicopters are at the end of their contractual term, and are being certified as airworthy before being shipped back to their leasing companies, mostly in Oz.
It was my third C of A with the Sifu  captain, and the proceedings were beginning to look like an episode of How I Met Your Mother where the typecasting had set permanently in.  It was always the Sifu, moi and for records keeping, the new copilot, Rico. No, he didn't wear a diamond.
Having had two previous C of A sorties, I remembered that the the part that I had screwed up previously was the single-engine rate of climb chart. This was where the Sifu would be the flying pilot, and I would select the training idle switches on, each one in turn, thereby simulating single engine failures and the remaining engine would be pressed into service to climb the aircraft to a preselected height. The rate of climb would then be charted to gauge if the rate of climb for that given aircraft weight and the engine in question was within satisfactory limits or no.

The start up was a tad different, because we had to execute a "high-wind" start. On 30 March 2006 there was a fatal incident involving the General Manager of Abad Naluri Sdn Bhd when due to blade sailing, his head was struck by one of the main rotor blades of the Dauphin he was disembarking from. Blade sailing typically occurs at low rotor rpm, when the blades have not reached the speeds at which aerodynamic forces have stabilised to keep them at a steady cyclic motion. Therefore at lower rotational speeds, the rotor blades tend to flap outside of their dampened travel paths and can strike objects or persons within the perimiter of the blade tips, posing an accident hazard, seriously compounded by wind. The provision for a "high-wind" start keeps the rotor brake on until there is sufficient engine power to drive the rotor blades to their operational speed with the minimum delay, obviating the aforementioned hazard.
Not all helicopters have this provision. On the S61A-4 Nuri, my "first girlfriend", there was no high-wind start because she had a "rotor lockout" system where the No 1 engine was always started up first, and it drove an accessory drive shaft to run all the pumps and generators and accessories without driving the main rotor blades, facilitating physical servicing and preflight checks, until a full rotor engagement was needed after No 2 engine was fired up. In this arrangement, when the rotor brake was finally released for rotor engagement, there was sufficient force driving the rotors to bypass the likelihood of blade sailing. Different strokes for different folks.

All systems looking good
Anyhow, the high-wind start was executed without incident at 1140H. Ten minutes later we were taxying to the holding point prior line-up on runway for a few hover manouvres. I, of course, sat as quietly as a secretary, calling out temperatures and pressures and various other readings while Sifu had all the fun playing with this toy, dragging it along the runway at ten feet height, this way, that way and on spot turns to determine the handling properties. Then it was time to climb to 3000 feet for the other flight certification items.

The congestion-causing construction of the new bridge at Kemaman
It was a good day to fly. It was slighty hazy, the sea was rippling blue and visibility spread to 50 miles. A strata of cloud played around at Kemasik  at 2700 feet, giving way to good visibilty just before Kemaman. When the Sifu called for the single engine climb items, I was ready to punch the clock and take the engine, gearbox, flight and atmospheric parameter details in periodic increments of 30 seconds until a 4-minute climb was recorded. I had sufficient rehearsals from previous single engine climb tests to not raise a growl from Sifu and that was comforting. Hey, but this was me. I raised a growl from him just before landing anyway.

We requested a rejoin to Kerteh for an Instrument Landing System approach, and were granted, to track to and report once established on the localiser. The ILS would display instrumentally to the pilot, the centreline and the glide path to a touchdown point on the active runway, and it was for the pilot to fly such as to intercept both for a precision approach to land. Or as in my case, I could couple the auto-pilot to the ILS ground stations and let the aircraft do the rest down to 18 feet above the runway. Somehow, and most likely due to being a tad rusty from not flying 18 days a month as I used to, the coupling would not work on my selection of push-buttons. By the time I abandoned the autopilot and started wrestling with the aircraft, I was way above glide slope, although within 5 degrees of centreline or localiser, and losing the battle like a Persian at Thermopyle. But since part of the airworthiness test called for the use of the "go-around" button, I depressed it at minima and heaved my relief, allowing a hands-free climb to circuit height and then tracking back to 7 miles south of Kerteh to set up for another ILS approach.
However, timing was not good. It was about 1250H, just about when all the offshore folk were returning from their sectors. When I requested rejoin for another ILS approach runway 34, tower replied, "9MSTI, hold south west of airfield due to 4 aircraft on rejoin, you will be No 4 in rejoin sequence, No 3 estimates at 05 past the hour."
Sifu and I looked at each other. That was a good 20 minutes before we could request for another approach. There was time for another few items to be knocked off, and soon after that a second ILS approach was made, and this time the autopilot coupling worked, smoothly at that. One more go-around, then it was finals for a full-stop landing. On base leg, Sifu stirred the monotony with a challenge to his copilot, moi.
"Land the aircraft with the autopilot off. If you make it a good landing, I will buy you lunch. If you make a bad landing, you buy me lunch."
Let's say that normally, an autopilot off manouvre will make the handling pilot, such as I am, look like he is using the cyclic to stir dodol.
"Oh sir, I do need a lunch sir," I replied, not to be daunted until overwhelmed by the agony of defeat. I had my hands on the cyclic and collective, forcing my fists to unclench, fighting my classic reaction when faced with systems failure. I was surprised to find the aircraft behaving well. But not to congratulate myself too early, I held on till the aircraft slowed down for misbehaviour, as would happen when the speed decayed below translational lift, where inflow aerodynamic properties are lost and flying was completely dependant on rotor dynamics. A wobble in hover ensued after that drop in critical speed. Sifu's voice punctuated the wobble with, "I can see my lunch coming now."
I touched down shortly after, and that same voice said, "Right. Looks like lunch is on me."
Sundram's was a very welcome sight that day.