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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

MacGyver Of The Air Force

You know, during my active flying days, I was fortunate that those 'engineering' guys, I am talking of the SNCOs/NCOs and technicians, were creative, innovative and experienced. The SNCOs were performing similar functions as the highly paid LAME (Licenced Aircraft Maintenance Engineer) in the airline industry.  The SNCOs of the various trades, eg, airframe, engine, radio, etc, etc, put their signatures in the aircraft document certifying the aircraft was fit for flying. Before this, technicians had done their trades' checks as required of them. These were 'behind the scene' players...the unknown actors. We, the pilots, were the main actors.

Let me pay a tribute to these dedicated men....for, without them, my Nuri then would not be flying.....!

During my tour as OC No 5 Squadron, RMAF Labuan......some time in the afternoon of mid-1983 (not sure of the date).

I was informed by the Base Operation Room (BOR) that one Nuri was unserviceable (U/S) at Tenom grass strip. It seemed the crew were unable to start it. Well, it could be due to weak batteries. No problem....send the technicians and spare batteries. The recovery Nuri took off for Tenom. Even with the new batteries, the helicopter still could not be started. It was suspected then that there was no more fuel in the fuel line. The engine technicians manually poured fuel through the FCU (fuel control unit) inlet. Still, the recalcitrant engine refused to light up!  The message was relayed to me.

I called my engineering officer and his SNCOs and representatives of the SEngO (Senior Engineering Officer) to my office for discussion on how to recover the 'sick bird'. We were very sure that there was no fuel in the fuel system. The reason for this 'snag' - no fuel in the system - could be that the aircraft  captain had tried to start numerous times due to weak batteries. Oh ya, for DC power, Nuri uses 2 x 28V 'nickel cadmium' batteries.

To ensure fuel in the system, all that was needed to be done was to 'prime' the fuel ...that's all. The problem was that the 4 booster pumps functioned on  115 VAC power...where to get this power at the grass strip? One way was to fly in the 'Houchin' Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) - see picture. (This is a new model. Those days, the bulky yellow-coloured Houchin was almost double the size).

The new generation of Houchin - Auxilary Power Unit (Illustration only)

The APU was too heavy for the Nuri to underslung it to Tenom.  Well, why not transport it by Caribou of No 8 Squadron? Of course, easy said than done. Don't forget the logistic support.

Tenom grass strip was too short for STOL Caribou to land. The nearest landing strip that Caribou could land was Keningau. So far so good. From Keningau, it had to be transported to Tenom by a motor vehicle..at least an Army 3 ton truck. For this, we had to request 5 Brigade, Lok Kawi, for assistance. That should not be a problem since the rapport between the 2 Services was very good. If this option was used, we could not recover the Nuri that day itself. If that was the case, then I had to make arrangements with the Army or the police to request for their personnel to guard the Nuri that night.

While toying with this idea, an electrical SNCO  suggested that we should try 'buddy-buddy' system to get the AC power. He explained  what was needed to be done was to connect each end of the 'nyvin' cable to the 'AC BUS' of  both the  Nuri. This AC BUS was in the nose compartment of the Nuri. As a safety precaution, 'disable' (pull out) the 'booster pumps' circuit  breakers in the centre console of the U/S Nuri. Now, the recovery Nuri provided AC power to the U/S Nuri. With this power, switch on the 4 booster pumps for about 30 minutes to prime the fuel system. How about it...Unanimously agreed!

Who else but yours truly to the rescue. I positioned my Nuri facing the U/S Nuri and shut down my chopper. This was to enable the technicians to connect the nyvin cable to both the Nuri. Once connected, I started no 1 engine and let it run for about 30 minutes.  The captain of the U/S Nuri switched on the 4 booster pumps in order to prime the fuel system since AC power was now available. After that, he started no 1 engine...still using the AC power.  Once no. 1 engine had started and both the generators were switched on, the nyvin cable was disconnected.  All the Nuri landed safely in the squadron.

Well, this technique was outside the normal engineering practices. However, these MacGyvers studied the manuals and took the necessary safety precautions and.... it worked!

I recorded this technique in a book entitled 'MY EXPERIENCES' - similar to the 'SCRAP BOOK'. In this book, I encouraged my pilots to write their experiences so that others might learn something. Recently, I was told that this book was no longer traceable....real pity!

Me and my gang as on 21 March 1984

To the SNCOs and technicians whom I had the pleasure to be associated with during my tour in No 5 Squadron, wherever you may be, .....THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT AND DEDICATION!  

9 comments:

Capt's Longhouse said...

,,,just hope that the 5 Sqn. Scrap Book is still there ? coz. we started it in 1973 with the Sqn. history plus pic. of all of the aircrew that we could get our hands on. Those were the days indeed yaa !!. Trouble didn't come looking for us, we were !. Much fun and kind of stupid crazy young hearts full of adventurous and fighting spirit.
,,,unfortunately, i lasted only 9 months in Labuan and was 'pesonna nongratta' across to 3 Sqn. for reason best kept secret hehehe. Another long story which i might capture in my blog ?? hahaha.
,,,YES,,,do post more of our experience, interesting to recollect yaa. You are just doing great at it presently too..buddy !.

Anonymous said...

These 'engineering' ppl don't have trade allowances i suppose? I would be a blast if they did due to their responsibilities

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

Capt's Longhouse,

Why not write your experiences for us to share, especially the new generation of pilots?

Anonymous,

As far as I can remember, there was no such trade allowance.

Capt's Longhouse said...

ayooo !..too much to write-lah hehe takut jadi best seller pulak !! some are best to keep it in my heart but maybe one of these days. Right now, capturing life & living at Kapas Island as part of marketing/branding-lah hehehe..cari makan Yeop oii !! kita tiada pencen type, kena kerja sampai mati.Lost my savings too, apa nak buat jatoh tangga !!. haha.
,,,Affendi ada visited my blog recently too, hope others will make contact too...cerita lama kembali yaa. The fact, was after leaving RMAF, I never went back and kind of lost contacts with the rest. Spent time with Bristow/MHS Helicopters and later with Shell for 22 years, so memories of Shell life is more current than the rest kind of.
,,,indeed, the RMAF experience shall always remain top priority where we built up our foundation in aviation.
,,,have wrote a few incidents as comments to other blogger but not in mine as yet. Got to get my Log Book in-order to be specific with time/date/events etc,,,done more than 6500 hrs and flew 7 different models/types plus on simulators on another type..and lead/head the avaition set up in Shell, handling corporate jets/feeder services/offshore support later marine/land/warehouse as an Logistic Strategist & Planner b4 involvement in Logistics software co-developments in India for Shell Global usage..plus implementations across the board in Asia Pacific.
,,,But nothing beats being an islander cum pirate hohohoo presently.

komando said...

I have admired the RMAF pilots all my years in the Army. Being a Ranger we have trusted each other to perform our task, however difficult!

Thanks once again to all pilots and crew of the RMAF, never did had the chance to thank one and all you guys.

I guess it is never too late.

I have personally lost three of my squad-mates:

The late Capt Tan E.H.( Nuri )
The late Maj Ong. ( Fighter )
The late Lt. Razif ( Fighter )

And one school mate:
The Late Lt. Ismail ( Fighter )

The lessons put forth is invaluable and it will be good that it be recorded.

The CT era is over and done with, the new generation of officers and men will not know what we had gone through. Never can they imagine what life then was all about!

I had once flew from Gerik airstrip to Keroh, it was a Staff College Students visit program!

Lo and behold, the low clouds hit us hardly 5 minutes into the flight. Real low & thick, the Pilot ( I could not remember him ) had no choice but to fly and climb higher just in case we hit the hills on both sides of the flight path. This area is well known for its low clouds too, its cold in the early mornings!

He could not clear the clouds even how hard he tried!

I was just a young officer then, told to become the LO for this entourage of MAJORS!

It was scary, at anytime the Nuri could have hit a tree or worst still the hills!

The Pilot had to make a quick decision he decided to lower the Nuri and thankfully found the road...the Gerik-Keroh old raod.

That save the day, otherwise I could not be telling this untold story after more than 20+ years ago!

If my memory is right it was 1981-82 period!

The only Staff college student on board that I can clearly remember was :
Maj Eddy Alias - Engineer Corp.


Once again if anyone can remember the pilots name and the whole crew who flew this mission say thanks a million to them from me.

Capt Longhouse....see you in Kapas...was there many times and did asked for you,,,was told then you were still flying for Shell...

Your former caretaker, the guy with the long hair,,,whats' his name......forgot also....told me the chalets was yours.

Capt's Longhouse said...

Komando,

,,,thanks for visiting Capt's Longhouse at Kapas, sorry I was not around then !..cari makan Yeop, kena fly for a living while waiting for my final retirement from the cockpit office. Now am fully available on the island 24/7, do drop in and we can laugh it off on old war stories ? hahaha.
,,,indeed, flying in the airforce days have/has not changed much i.e. IFR type "I Follow Road" cos. the instrumentation does not allow the aircrew to trust actual IFR protocol !. While the aircrew are fully trained for it, the chopper is not fully equipt to fly in clouds/night/bad weather !!. Unless these short comings are addressed, such hazards faced by the aircrew shall never be eradicated and potential incident of crashing into the high grounds will always be there - sure much fear lingers in every chopper crew in the RMAF until today !!. BUT unfortunately thats the risk all aircrew in the Armed Forces faces since even with fully instrumented aircraft, military flying requires that kind of skills i.e. flying with mark two eye balls !. Flying between death valleys, under the clouds and close to terrain in-order to achieve the mission !. We have been called as "Sunshine Airways" at times when aircrew awaits for good weather or NOT take the risk ?. To survive the airforce flying alive is bravery enough, mind you !!. I still salute all the existing aircrew in the RMAF for their flying skills in survival yoo !!. You all deserves such honour and I have been through it to appreciate the dangers/hazards of close to death experience in airforce type of flying missions.
,,,mind you, once out of the Airforce and into Civilian flying i.e. Corporate or Offshore choppers, aircrews are still exposed to many flying hazards even with fully IFR instrumented aircraft, one have to always be on guard and a true professional to survive the flying world. The safety protocal incorporated in the Aviation Safety Management System (ASMS)now available for guidence should always be kept alive and seriously followed by all aircrew inorder to eliminate all risks associated to one's flight mission. All the CONTROLS must be in place to prevent any TOP EVENTS and it replaces all the SOPs that previously were utilised to prevent incidents !. SOPs tells you do and don't only BUT will not prevent an incident/accident BUT ASMS ensures that the ACTIVITIES required are met b4 you conduct the flight !. These are the necessary changes that the RMAF must also implement in-order to make flying safer for the aircrew plus trusting passengers.

I rest my case.

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