Ingo Noka

Exhilarating and scary – VFR around Monster Thunderstorms

In Airmanship, Flight Log, Navigation, Weather on April 22, 2013 at 12:17 pm

This is not how a straight in approach to Seletar is supposed to look like

As the saying goes, pilots start off with a ton of luck and no experience and hope to gain enough experience before their luck runs out. I used up a good portion of luck and learned a lot of things yesterday.

On my way back from Kota Bahru, an uneventful three hour cross-country flight was crowned by one and a half hour of the most challenging and scary flying I have ever done.

Within 30 minutes, a couple of rapidly growing and fast moving thunderstorms put Johor, Seletar, Subang and Tioman into IMC – all at the same time.

Mind you, I am not talking about a bit of bad visibility that is crappier than what we normally deal with in South East Asia. I am talking about the big black impenetrable blanket that cover large junks of the land.

While orbiting next to one of those monsters my ground speed in one 360 degree turn varied by 70 knots! The aircraft was going up and down so rapidly that the AP disengaged, my headset flew off and I banged my head into the ceiling so badly hat I saw stars in the clouds. (Advice from the “Been there, done it” department : truly tighten the seat belts and do not just chant this point on the check list. )

If you know the layout of the airports in Malaysia, you will also know that there was literally no viable option to land anymore and I was at the end of a 3 hour flight with about 2 hours endurance left if I would have flown the tanks empty.

So I was flying up and down the East coast between Sidilli Besar and Desaru to find an opening, but every time I thought I had found something, ATC told me that the weather radar looks even worth where unwanted to go.

Eventually, ATC negotiated with Singapore a 4000 feet climb and track to VJB, which is the VOR station there. With the up- and down-drafts yanking me around like mad I even had problems to remember what a VOR was, let alone how to track to one. However, many hours of lonely flying in my new airplane with plenty of time to play around with the avionics paid off.

I managed to go in the right direction, but lost my nerves close to Kota Tinggi, where I descended to 1000 feet again to track the ground.

Again, many flights to Mersing in the past gave me the confidence to navigate by ground features alone. I was even able to identify the danger areas by the the change in vegetation, but why I bothered to avoid the areas when I thought I might not make it to the airfield is one of those mysteries…

Finally I had the airfield in sight and what a beautiful sight it was! I guess this put me into such a calm and relaxed Zen state that I did one of my best landings ever – an absolute greaser. (Good landings only happen when nobody else is in the aircraft to witness it. But whether you believe me or not, I know what I saw… Or maybe my butt was just desensitized. )

After big thunderstorms the view is often gorgeous, with unlimited visibility and haze rising out of the jungle in columns. And that was the sight Mother Nature greeted me with on my flight from Johor to Seletar in cool air and just the slightest drizzle. Maybe it was an apology for her earlier misfits?

  1. Yikes! Glad to here you’re back on the ground. I thought I had it bad during my flight training, when the control tower reported wind speed eight knots gusting to twenty (!).

    My instructor was cool as a cucumber, while I was seeing my whole life flash ahead of me!

    May the skies be kinder to you next time! 😀

  2. Ingo – this sounds unbelievably scary. Glad you came out ok at the other end!

    • I was certainly glad as well, but I must say I felt good afterwards. Now, I know much better what my own limitations are and I have a lot more confidence in my aircraft and my own judgement.

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