Ingo Noka

Thailand Flight – Day 3 / 29 July 2013

In Aircraft, Airmanship, Equipment, Flight Log, Navigation on July 31, 2013 at 8:49 pm

9M-DRJ, a bit lonely at Hat Yai Airport, Thailand

On Monday, my short field take off skill was to be tested.  In a case like this, before you do anything else, you have to makes sure the weight and balance of the aircraft is acceptable for the runway you want to take off.  At a soft, grass field of 500 meters, that stuff really matters. Normally I take off from runways that are built for an A380, on which I have ample time to get up to speed or to abort if it is just not going to happen (the take off).

I couldn’t do  much about my own weight (which is embarrassingly high these days), so I made my plane as light as possible.  I had about 32 Gallons (87 Kg) of fuel and 25 Kg of luggage (mostly paper, iPad, laptop, handheld radio – this sort of thing).  Altogether, I and my plane were in good shape for a short field take off. (I did the calculation for takeoff ground roll and over 50 feet obstacle as well, which is a topic for another post.)

W&B for take off from grass field Phuket Airpark

When I arrived at the Phuket Airpark, Pat James was busy with a film crew shooting a movie for SAT.1, a large German television station.  I didn’t ask what film they are shooting, but the rigging of Pat’s airplane was nothing short of “impressive”.  What happened to German quality?

Film crew rigging Pat’s airplane at Phuket Airpark

I took a short video clip of Pat taking off.  With a camera man and some heavy equipment in the back of his plane, he wasn’t especially light and maybe a bit tail-heavy as well  You can see that he took his plane as far back as possible and rotated at about the 300 to 350 meter mark.  There are trees and buildings at the end of the runway, so it is not a good idea to let the aircraft roll much longer than that.  Unfortunately I couldn’t convince the film crew to shoot a little clip of me taking off.  Next time I hope to have a co-pilot or passenger who can take a video of me doing an extra take-off and landing.

Before take-off, I called Phuket tower to let them know I am about to leave.

The Phuket Airpark Procedure conveniently shown where you can see it from the aircraft

After take-off, you are supposed to contact Phuket tower, but the reception below 1,500 feet is very bad.  Eventually I was high enough to understand what they wanted from me.  They asked what radial from PUT VOR I would initially follow. I knew my outbound bearing towards Trang from Phuket airpark, so I made something up that sounded feasible to me and Phuket tower didn’t say anything, so I think I wasn’t far off the mark.  After a little while (over the islands off the east coast of Phuket) they let me climb to the 5,000 feet which I asked for in my flight plan.  It is true what I was told about ATC in Thailand.  Everything is handled through radials from VORs and DME distance.  I think about 25 nm from PUT they handed me over to Krabi.

Krabi tower had an airliner coming in from the West which was descending through my altitude on a reciprocal course.  That created some excitement as the captain of the airliner couldn’t see my transponder on his screen (did he say TCAS?).  Eventually, he had me on his screen and I spotted him a good distance away, so no drama.

After that, navigation was easy with the usual Radial/DME system, which I think is superior to the landmark system in Malaysia.  I had to keep climbing because the clouds got higher and higher.  At 8,000 feet I was finally able to fly around the towering Cumulus Nimbus over the mountains between Trang and Hat Yai.

On that leg of my flight, the winds creeped me out again.  As expected, I had tailwind, which propelled me to 140 knots ground speed, but I also had to cope with some nasty turbulence.  Believe it or not, at one time, I was descending at 500 feet per minute at full power.  To keep your nerves and resist the urge to raise the nose too much is not easy in this situation.

On the other side of the mountains the cloud base was very low, so that keeping the altitude assigned by Hat Yai required some fancy foot work.  Hat Yai was using radar vectors, which is the coolest thing ever.  They give you a heading and altitude to fly and eventually you hit the downwind of your destination airport without thinking too much about your position.  I said it before, but I repeat – I am looking so froward to doing my IFR ticket!

Hat Yai airport was again extremely efficient.  I got fuel within ten minutes, had my paper work sorted out straight away and was “escorted” to the immigration and customs counter to pay my fees and get the stamps in my passport.  There was absolutely no sign of people trying to take advantage of me and everything that wasn’t quite right from the start had been honest mistakes.  Quite impressive, given that there are not many light aircraft passing through Hat Yai.

Hat Yai Terminal

I used all the fuel in the three 50L drums.

This is the counter where all your paper gets done. Right next to the domestic arrival gate.

Hat Yai Terminal

I was fully prepared to leave a paid-for, half full drum of Avgas behind in Hat Yai, but by applying good old-fashioned gut-feel, I bought three 50L drums of Avgas at Hat Yai and used every drop of it. No waste at all. They fuel truck even brought the drum that still had about 5L unused from the previous stop with them when I refueled on the way back. The paper work is beyond reproach. Well done people!

I haven’t done the finances yet, but I spend less than SGD 1,000 for the entire trip within Thailand, including fuel, fees, hotel, parking at Phuket Airpark and food.

Taking off from Hat Yai, I got my usual vectors and a nice altitude, which was promptly reduced to 1,000 feet when I was handed over to Alor Start at the border to Malaysia.  In Thailand, light aircraft under VFR are much more part of the general traffic control system and are allowed  higher altitudes than in Malaysia.

9MDRJ at Stand 7, Hat Yai Airport

My initial plan was to go back to Penang, refuel and then continue to Ipoh.  However, I made a snap decision and completely changed my plans in-flight and it almost went wrong. Over George Town, I thought it is kind of stupid to land in Penang, so I asked Butterworth Approach whether they would activate my Ipoh FPL straight away. And they agreed.  Great!  Off I went along the coast and then inland towards Ipoh.

Everything worked out splendidly, but half way into a beautiful flight the oil pressure wandered into the red and refused to come back even when I reduced power. That completely spooked me and the look out for emergency landing places that we are supposed to do at all times suddenly became a lot more focused. I started to picture bits of the engine exciting through the cowling, under high pressure, but nothing happened.  The Oil temperature remained stable and I landed without issues.

The engine instrument. Oil pressure is at the bottom, oil temperature at the left and fuel pressure on the right.

After touch down in Ipoh I suddenly remembered why I originally planned to land in Penang. They have 24h CIQ services and come to think about it, I wasn’t even sure whether Ipoh does international immigration. As it turned out, by sheer coincidence the immigration officer was still there after the Firelfy flight to Singapore. Only 30 minutes later I would have been stuck at the airport.  Lucky me.

I stayed at the Excelsior Hotel in downtown Ipoh and had a beer contemplating my next moves. Should I go on, hoping the oil pressure issue is just a problem with the gauge or should I find a mechanic in Ipoh?

  1. Interesting write up.thx for sharing

  2. I like your trip report. Seems indeed a real challenge to fly as a private pilot in that part of te world

    • Thanks. I just looked at your blog. Very interesting how much stuff you guys have at your disposal. Real, up-to-date maps – what a concept!

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