6 September, 2009...the unforgettable date for me! The article on my flying experiences was published by the NEW SUNDAY TIMES under ' I REMEMBER WHEN...'. My main objective is to enlighten the public on the roles of the RMAF, in general, and Nuri pilots in particular, in the Nation's fight against the communist terrorists (CTs). It saddens me that no mention whatsoever is made on the crucial part played by the RMAF whenever this topic comes out in the mass media. Be it during the 'Warriors Day' every 31 July or the sacred 'Merdeka Day' on 31 August.
I REMEMBER WHEN: I flew a Nuri to Mt Kinabalu
By Arman Ahmad
MANY things have been said about the Nuri helicopter, some good and a lot bad, but it cannot be denied that the aircraft is the workhorse of the air force.
All I can say is that it served me well.
This bird has many roles. Because it is the aircraft with the biggest lift capacity in the air force's inventory, it has been used for a variety of assignments, from troop deployment to lifting freight and ferrying VIPs.
My military service started in 1969, when I graduated as a second lieutenant after two years in the Royal Military College and joined the army.
In 1973, I enrolled in a helicopter course at SEA Helicopters (Malaysia) in Kuala Lumpur. A year later, I was assigned to fly the Nuri.
In my years flying the Nuri, I flew countless sorties against the communists.
The helicopter was the lifeline to the army fighting in the jungles. Without supplies from the air, they would lose their mobility in jungle operations.
Because of the critical role of the Nuri, these faithful workhorses became the No. 1 target of the communists who did every-thing they could to take out both aircraft and pilot.
They even distributed leaflets in Kroh offering a RM3,000 reward for killing a helicopter pilot. I remember a leaflet showing a communist terrorist aiming his rifle at the pilot as a Nuri came in to land.
The Nuri was a sitting duck for communist target practice -- being big, bulky and rather sluggish, unlike its younger brother, the Allouette 3, the "Mini Cooper" of the air force.
We were fortunate the communists were not Olympics-standard shooters, otherwise we would have all been goners. I came close to being shot down a number of times.
Once, a supply mission from Klian Intan to the jungle turned dangerous. The soldiers were unloading their rations when I heard a loud grenade explosion. We were under attack. Our soldiers ran for cover and I took off hastily.
As I skimmed the tree tops, another grenade was fired. It missed but the explosion shook the Nuri. It was a long, scary flight back to base.
While operating from Keroh, there was another close call. We landed to pick up troops in the jungle and were greeted by a hail of bullets. My air quartermaster was hit in the leg. Fortunately, it was just a graze.
Sometimes, you have to make quick decisions under difficult situations, like when I was winching an injured soldier from the thick jungles of northern Perak and the stretcher got caught in the branches.
We were hovering some 60m over the ground, a nice target for the communists, and my quartermaster was frantically trying to free the stretcher. It didn't help that the Nuri was buffeted by winds.
My adrenalin was pumping.
Under such circumstances, I had the option to shear the winching cable, but it would be at the expense of a life. But I knew that if I took this decision, it would haunt me for the rest of my life.
Thankfully, I didn't have to make the decision -- the quartermaster managed to free the stretcher.
But, perhaps, the most memorable experience I had happened not during any encounter with communists.
An ambitious Sabah government asked for our help in 1984 to carry building materials up Mt Kinabalu to build a rest house.
Mt Kinabalu is some 4,095m above sea level and I had to haul the materials to a site near the top, 3,048m high.
The Nuri is not a pressurised aircraft and we use oxygen masks when flying above 3,048m in case we experience hypoxia.
The plan was to use the Kinabalu Park headquarters as the pick-up and refuelling point and the trip up to the mountain and back would take about 30 minutes.
After doing the calculations, I realised that I could only lift about 455kg on each flight. That meant I would have to do many dozens of flights to deliver the material.
The nearest landing area in case of bad weather would be Kundasang and if that was not accessible, I would have to fly to Kota Kinabalu or Ranau.
We did a trial flight. We took off from Labuan with enough fuel to simulate the weight of the Nuri on landing at the 3,048m landing area.
On approaching the landing area, the craggy face of the mountain loomed before us.