Thursday, September 17, 2009

US-Made Pilots

Every time I pass by the Air Force College at Kepala Batas, I never miss looking at the displayed helicopter there........Bell 47G. It reminds of my introduction to a flying career way back in June, 1973. I was first trained in that helicopter and had logged about 109 hours. My first flight was on 13 June, 1973 with my instructor, John Grimes, and my last  solo flight before bidding sayonara to the Air Force was on 21 February, 1991..... a 2-hour sortie flying the  Bell 47G!

2-hour solo flight in Bell 47G in 1991 with Sempang runaway in the background

Readers, I was not trained by the RMAF but by a private company owned by an American - S.E. A Helicopters (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd, located at RMAF Base, Kuala Lumpur. Except for the Advanced Phase,  all the instructors were American pilots. Allouette lll was used during the Advanced Phase and the pilot was an ex-RMAF pilot, the late Capt Nasir Ma Lee. For the Instrument Phase, we flew a Bell Jet Ranger 206. So, I can say that I was more or less American-trained lah......he....he.

Hey, don't think that we graduated that easily; only 9 out of 11 made it. To ensure quality control (sounds like SIRIM), we were  checked by RMAF examiners from the EU (Examination Unit). They were Sqn Leader Benjamin Lee (I think he migrated to New Zealand) and Flt Lt Abdullah Nasution - retired as the Air Force you know. We were so familiar with Ben Lee's peculiarity, especially when checking us on the Bell 47G! If he put his left leg on the door frame and smoked his 'Gold Leaf' cigarette during the check passed. prepared for a recheck. We used to tease him by telling that smokers used his brand when answering the call of nature only...he....he. We were able to joke  with him freely since we were quite senior then; I was already a captain in rank while the  others were lieutenants. Eight of us were from the Army and one from the RMAF.

Oh boy, I really enjoyed this 1-year course. We were more or less on our own - very relaxing. The Base never disturbed us; the Company was not in a position to simply order us beyond the scope of the course syllabus. Once they tried to order us to do errants for the company, we simply said NO. That was the first and the last. The only anxiety was when it was time for the 'AXERS' to check us out.  Those days, if you happened to go to EU, the first thing you saw was a vertical log with an axe stuck to it.  We never went near the place . I found out later what it symbolised, that all pilots who did not meet  the  standard set by the RMAF would be grounded. Later on, when I sat for my nuri 'cat' at the EU, I saw that symbol...........really sadistic those examiners....... but not those two!

The course was not without a mishap. The Company lost one Bell 47 when one of my colleagues lost control during his solo 'slope landing' excercise at the mining area in Belakong - now the famous 'The Mines'.  If I'm not mistaken, the chopper was written off. He was unharmed.

The course ended on 29 April, 1974 when we received our certificates....

And my 'wing' was presented by the Chief of the RMAF then, AVM Dato' Sulaiman Sujak at RMAF Kuantan in 1974.....

Wing presentation at RMAF Kuantan and my First Wing

When the RMAF established its own Helicopter Training School, the choice of the helicopters for the basic training was none other than the Bell 47G ......If you can fly this 'Dragon Fly', you can fly any type of helicopters! Newer and modern helicopters are pilot-friendly. This was one helicopter where your body coordination must be very good. Anyway, these Bells were no longer in use and decommissioned.

I'm sure most readers of my seniority still remember the tv series M*A*S*H*. The scenario depicted US medical teams during the Korean War. And, the primary air transport vehicles deployed to ferry the casualties were.........Bell 47!

Well, my friends - Lt Col (B) Affendy Mustafa, Lt Col (B) Darby Awin, the late Lt Col (B) Jalil Ghani, Maj (B) Sawaludin Lamin, Maj (B) Thiagarajah, Maj (B) Ismail Malek, Maj (B) James Chong and Maj (B) Zulkifly Kaliwan- wherever you may be, those were the good old flying days........


Sazali M Ali Samsuddin said...


I am now a big fan of your blog since i came across you in the NST recently. I truly think you guys are just different breed of people. Reading your flying recollections made my heart thumping. I had no inkling at all of what our soldiers had gone thru then. I am proud of you.


Mej (B) Nor Ibrahim Bin Sulaiman said...

Waalaikumussalam Saudara Sazali,

Thank you for your flattering comment.


Raja said...

Assalam Uncle,

I've read your blog just now and I'm truly enjoying it... Furthermore, my father Mej (B) Raja Badrulzaman send his warmest regards to you...

Mej (B) Nor Ibrahim Bin Sulaiman said...

Dear Raja,

Thank you for reading my blog. Your father and I were together at No 10 Sqn, RMAF Kuantan, way back in 1974. We attended the first SOS course together at ITU Kinrara. My wife sends her regards to your mom. May I wish all of you...'SELAMAT HARI RAYA AIDILFITRI. MAAF ZAHIR DAN BATIN'.

Anonymous said...

I had also written something about flying the Bell 47 G a few months back. You can read about it at this site:

Capt Wong

Anonymous said...

Salam Sejahtera Saudara,

Saya amat berminat untuk mengetahui kenapa kapten untuk pesawat helikopter duduk di sebelah kanan pesawat, tetapi untuk kapal terbang, kapten nya duduk di sebelah kiri?

Mej (B) Nor Ibrahim Bin Sulaiman said...

Saudara Anonymous (27 Sep 2009),

Terima kasih kerana membaca blog saya. Saya cadangkan anda melayar untuk menjawab soalan anda.