|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.
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.
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.
|Starting up for a flight test|
|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.