flew standard routes in Borneo to facilitate search and rescue.
The terrain in the Interior was very mountainous, some ranges rising to
2,500 – 3,000 feet. But the
maps we used had no relief markings on them.
Apart from rivers and the coastline, both of which were accurately
presented, the maps were blank so were white all over.
From these maps, one wouldn’t know where the mountains were, except
that they were most likely between the rivers.
It was usual for aircrew flying down a route to pinpoint the tops of
mountains and mark them on their maps.
For example, a Royal Navy helicopter crew christened one peak ‘Wiski
Drup’ because that’s what the peak looked like to those RN persons.
If you were high enough, it was possible to get the general lie of a
range by comparing its direction with the aircraft’s heading.
Our Navs pooled their map-making efforts onto a master map we kept in our
Ops room at Seletar along with our invaluable Strip Book.
But it was not until the Army surveyors arrived on the scene that the
deficiencies in the Borneo topos began to be addressed.
As you can imagine, the mapping task was a huge one; it may still be
along at 90 knots.
was interesting that when tackling a project for Garuda in the mid 1990s, I
asked for copies of the topo maps covering the area to the west of Jakarta.
I was not able to get maps later than 1979, and these had been produced
in Australia from aerial photos taken by RAAF PR Canberra aircraft.
I’m told it’s difficult to get good aerial photo cover in the tropics
because of the perpetual cloud cover.
It made good sense that our standard routes followed rivers that were well defined on our maps. The strips we used had been constructed close to these rivers to facilitate a safe approach and climb out. Eventually, Borneo Airways and missionaries also used these strips. Borneo Airways and the missionaries served the long house settlements built near rivers that had enabled the Interior peoples to move around the Interior for centuries.
During Confrontation, it was essential for the army to protect the long
house settlements and the strips that enabled air support, so fortifications
were built near each strip. The weather conditions usually meant fog and mist at
dawn getting cloudier by late morning and very bad weather in the afternoon when
the clouds had built up and the rains came.
Our operation was VMC only below cloud; so the sooner we got off after
dawn the easier it was to operate. Flying
standard routes also facilitated efficient tasking; for example, to get to Bario,
we flew through another strip at Long Semado.
there was hardly any wind, flying along at 90 knots IAS meant a ground speed of
1½ nm/minute. The timing
down each route was predictable and hardly varied. We liked to be operating near
the coast in the afternoon so we could get back to a main base with an aeroplane
that could be tasked early the next day.
No one liked being caught out by low cloud and bad weather at an Interior
When the FATOC (Forward Air Tasking Ops Centre) realised this and that standard routing could be linked to tasking, they tried to put together tasks that helped us to operate productively. The army who were our major customers, benefited because they could anticipate and plan their personnel and mail movements. The army made their bids, the FATOC coordinated them over-night and we were then tasked. 34 Squadron Beverlys dropped the really big loads such as ammunition, corrugated iron, drummed fuel and earth-moving equipment. The larger transport aircraft got more warning of their tasking. All this air activity had to be co-ordinated and the Ops people in the FATOC did it very well. With some heavy loads, we had to refuel at strips with Zwicky pumps from drum stock. When the drum stock fuel passed its ‘use-by’ date, the locals grabbed it for their use. One day I was on a strip that was being up-graded. I had arrived earlier with a team of army engineers and was with their CO, a major, and the local pengulu.
in arms – a Twin Pioneer and a Beverly at Seletar.
Beverly arrived and delivered a bulldozer by parachute.
As soon as it landed, it was driven off the DZ (Drop Zone) by an engineer
to get it out of the way of a load from a second Beverly, which dropped a
wobbly-wheel roller. The
amazed pengulu watched all this equipment floating down from the sky and being
moved a few minutes after it touched the ground.
Twin Pioneer drops its load.
then asked the ‘Major Boss’ when these machines were going to fly away from
his strip because he wanted them. He
wanted the parachutes too. The
Major told him that he could certainly have the machines when the army had
finished with them. He told
me that there was no way that they could be retrieved once they were on the
ground. The pengulu was very happy.
I don’t know if he got the parachutes; the soldiers liked those to make
drum stock fuel, Avgas and Avtag, kept these army bulldozers and kerosene
fridges going. By the time
Confrontation ended, long houses had corrugated iron roofs and kerosene fridges,
and serviceable earth-moving equipment had been left behind all over Eastern
Malaysia. Sad, in a way, that
the indigenous people there had to advance so quickly over three years.
I was recollecting how we operated along 'standard routes' at 90 knots IAS
in the Borneo Interior, it triggered a memory about some very bad aircraft
handling by an inexperienced pilot.
remarkable engineer who was in charge of all things technical on 209 (a Flight
Lieutenant who was promoted to Squadron Leader because of his expertise) came
to tell me that a mysterious ‘snag’ was affecting the flap and
First Line Servicing.
This was occurring on several Twins on their return from action in Borneo to Seletar where we did our own Second Line servicing. The engineers who worked on Second Line on major and other deep inspections, worked shifts 24 hours a day/seven days a week generating the hours so we could meet the task. After such inspections we flew the machines from Seletar mainly on training, but from the engineering perspective, to shake them down and iron out any small snags that emerged. After 50 hours shakedown flying, TEPs were flown to Butterworth, Kuching or Labuan. They stayed there until they had 55 hours left, when they were returned to Seletar. When they arrived back the hours left were controlled carefully so the machines entered Second Line on the date planned. During this 'flydown', our First Line engineers cleaned each aeroplane thoroughly so their buddies on Second Line were able to start their inspections with clean machines. We used the hours available for training and operational tasks such as supply dropping in Johore. We also had to train the army despatchers from 55 Air Despatch Company who lived in the next hangar to us.
of our experienced captains had put a couple of Twins U/S because the
flaps and slats were not working properly. They were coming out in
jerks and sometimes jamming. The 55 Company despatchers had also
noticed this through the open door. Investigating these snags,
our remarkable engineer’s men discovered that the mechanisms [which
included mechanical components such as bicycle chains] had been stretched.
remarkable engineer asked me how that could happen. We discussed it
with the TEP Flight Commander. He'd noticed from a flying
logbook that the flying times of an inexperienced pilot just back from Labuan
did not match the standard timings for the routes that had been flown. The
route timings were shorter than usual. These timings matched the
F700 servicing record.
and Pete went off to do a joint investigation. Soon afterwards a
sheepish 'junior pilot' appeared in my adjutant's office. He was shown in and
apologised for what he'd been doing. He'd discovered that by flying
along just below developing cumulus he could ease the nose down a bit and
get 120 knots out of the aeroplane in level flight. He was using the
updrafts under the clouds to get extra lift and had found that the Twin
‘sailplaned’ along very nicely. Instead of 1.5 nm/min he could
get 2 nm/min by flying his Twin like a glider. So a task ,
which normally generated a trip time of 40 mins at 90 knots, took only 30
minutes at 120 knots.
was chastised and sent off to apologise to the Warrant Officer i/c Second Line
for causing extra work by bad flying. He also had to apologise to
the aircrew at Met Briefing the next day for bad handling, that is, using the
Twin as a ‘sailplane’.
letter from Ian Adams an ex employee at SAL writes –
flew only twice in a Twin and both flights were somewhat unusual. I was working
in the ground crew for the prototype, G-ANTP, in the TI hangar as a very green
second year apprentice. We all had our names on a list to get a flight on the
aircraft and one day the shout went round for me to get into the ‘office’ to
sign a ‘blood chit’ and get myself on board. I sensed that those in the know
in the ‘office’ were smiling more than usual.
I should have suspected something but I boarded the aircraft with no
briefing and no hint of what was to come.
took-off and soon I noticed that although we had been climbing for about five
minutes we still were overhead the runway. We eventually levelled off and I
noticed the flight test engineer, John Bayne, who was sitting in the
co-pilot’s seat having a discussion with the pilot and then moving the fuel
cock controls. He then turned to me and gave me the thumbs-up; I presume it was
supposed to tell me something. It was shortly after that the aircraft started to
pitch and roll continuously and I had difficulty in keeping the horizon in view.
This seemed to go on for some time and I was aware of John grinning round the
bulkhead at me to see how I was getting on.
both engines started to cough and splutter and John quickly reset the fuel cock
levers but then there was a deafening silence as both engines quit. I looked out
the window and was surprised to see both propellers turning but with no sound.
Had I suddenly gone deaf? Then came the answer as both engines burst into life
again with the usual din.
descended quickly and landed and I was quite glad to get out when we stopped
outside the hangar.
was then explained to me that the test had been carried out to determine the
unusable fuel level in one of the tanks and it had to be done in conditions that
would simulate turbulence. I wondered if I would have gone on the flight had I
known this before we took-off. However, I did help to drain off the remaining
fuel from the test tank and I seem to remember that it was quite a small amount
when it was measured out into a calibrated can.
next flight, again in G-ANTP, was even more fun. I had the wit to ask what the
test schedule would be before I volunteered this time. I was told that it would
be maximum gradient climbs to check cylinder head temperatures and some single
engine flying. We took-off and climbed out over the Firth of Clyde. I was
sitting on one of the few seats near the front of the cabin next to the
auto-observer unit and the bank of ice filled thermos flasks with thermocouples
installed that provided a temperature datum for the cylinder head temperature
was not wearing a ‘headset’ and became aware of John, again in the second
seat, pointing excitedly down over the nose of the aircraft. From my position in
the cabin I could not see anything but suddenly the aircraft stood on one wing
tip and we went into a steep descending turn. I dragged myself out of the seat
against the G force and looked through the cockpit bulkhead to see what was
going on. I was amazed when we levelled out and there in front of the windscreen
was the fin and rear fuselage of a large aircraft. We had dived onto the tail of
a Neptune flown by “Cap” Capper. He must have been on a long straight
approach as the flaps and landing gear were down. The Twin was probably flat out
and we were crashing and thumping around in the slipstream of the Neptune.
Meanwhile John was going mad with a make-believe machine gun and grinning all
over his face. His aim must have been good for both the engines of the Neptune
started to trail smoke. However of course all that was happening was that Capper
had opened the throttles, cleaned up, and accelerated away into the distance.
resumed our test climbs and ended up somewhere over North Ayrshire. We then
returned down the A77 flying on one engine and I remember seeing the Kilmarnock
to Ayr bus slowly overtaking us. Suddenly there was an almighty thump and the
aircraft seemed to stagger to a standstill. I could see some rude gestures in
the flight deck and the second engine was started in quick time. I had no idea
what had happened and it wasn’t until we landed and stopped that John told me
that ‘Cap’ had got his own back and had dived the Neptune across the nose of
the Twin at high speed leaving us floundering in his wake.
All good fun at the time but looking back I wonder whether that kind of flying would be allowed now. On a more serious note, we were of course at that time unaware of the inherent weakness in the wing strut attachment and Roy Smith, our pilot that day, was later to lose his life in the Libyan desert along with the “Groupie”
lands after a test flight.