As a reporter I travel around the world in the quest of finding that thrilling story. Everywhere I go I bring my pilots logbook, my headset and flying licence in case I need to flee a country or clock some hours to upkeep my PPl-licence. During my 4-month sojourn in Singapore I intended to chart some hours for my licence. The big question wass: how and where?
Then a fateful day in April I drove across the border into Malaysia. Enroute to Malacca on the North-South highway, not too far after crossing the Second Link, I saw an almost hidden sign ‘Senai Airport’. My reflex-turn on the steering wheel was not appreciated by other cars, but hey, there was my solution. A blue clubhouse, shining under the sun, no way one can miss this place. The FRAS Flying Club was all over the place. Even more shining was the smile of Captain Muthucumar – the Chief Flying Instructor of FRAS – when I opened the door. It took all of one minute to get used to each other – an easy smile, a punch on the arm, mutual pilot respect. Maybe it helped that we both served our country as officers in the air-force and the army in our previous lives. A sure bond.
We talked about our passion: flying. Pretty soon I discovered that Malaysia is a cheaper place to play amongst the clouds. As it would take a long time to convert my license to an equivalent Malaysian one, Muthu and I agreed to conduct a joint number of flights together. And I have to admit: it was helpful after all to have a navigator who knows the area inside-out. I would undoubtedly have mixed up one island with another.
We made a few great trips. The best one was the farthest trip we planned – out to Pulau Tioman. As it turned out, Muthu was not only a great navigator, he also turned out to be a most entertaining travel-mate altogether. He was well informed, pointing out fishing villages and describing in details the common catch of fish, how they were grilled and other spots of interest. Having flown over many skies, witnessed spectacular sceneries and sunsets, having to flee from life-threatening hostile situations in the Congo from combat child-soldiers to having plunged hundreds of meters on deepsea diving trips, I have become blasé over the years. “Not much can set me on fire these days anymore and the sad thing is, I can’t do anything to change all this.” I declared matter-of-factly to my friends whenever I started to yawn as they excitedly relate their ‘adventurous’ 3-hour jungle trips. Premature ‘jadedness’ it was, until Muthu and I reached the airdrome of Pulau Tioman airport.
In all my years flying, I had never seen such a complicated circuit, requiring focused maneuver – steep mountains, crosswinds, short turns and a unconventionally short runway. It presented such a challenge that, while drawing from my reserve of flying skills, my sloppy attitude got swept away immediately.
For the first time in a long while, adrenaline was pumping through my veins. The landing would be tough and utmost concentration was needed as the line between life and death was thin. Muthu, on the other hand, was the exemplary cool dude a la The Fonz in “Happy Days” – the difference being that Muthu has more stylish hair.
On downwind he trimmed the Cessna 172. Flaps and speed were set. “Now you just stay away from the mountain slopes. They are rather hard when you crash into them”, it sounded as if he was telling his wife he needed new shoes. I followed his instructions all the way and made a rather rough landing on the 992 meters runway. “Let’s do it again”, came through my headphone.
Perspiration was trickling down my back like the highest waterfall in the world: the Angel falls in Venezuela on which I wrote an article last year. The second landing was smooth as a soft boiled egg in the morning sun. A cup of coffee never tasted better, afterwards. Thank you, Muthu, for humbly planting my feet back on the ground, metaphorically.
The Flying Dutchman
Watch this clip to see a plane landing at tricky Pulau Tioman Airport Runway