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.
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.
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.