Wednesday, November 4, 2009

When I was a bush pilot in 1985

A bush pilot is a pilot who flies a minimal aircraft (helicopter or light fixed wing) normally doing charters to satisfy the unlimited desires of the charterer with his limited resources and aircraft performance. The terrain that bush pilots flies through are normally most inhospitable. On top of that we are expected to make money for the company. See, it takes someone with the ability of almost of a superman ( a man wearing red underwear on the OUTSIDE) to fit to this category of piloting. At the end of my Air Force service in early 1985 I was a bush pilot flying for a Singapore based company named HELISERVICES. This company in turn operates in Malaysia under the banner of Pan Malaysian Air Transport. The life of a bush pilot is an exciting one. One day we could be landing on top of Gunong Gagau (like in the photo above) and another day we could be flying VIPs. There is never a dull moment.The helicopter that I flew was a Bell 206 B, a single engine 400 shaft horsepower 5 seater helicopter. Our missions consist of aerial filming/photography, checking the rainfall and climatic conditions in the interiors of the country, timber surveys, medivac and bodevacs. In those days even the ministers and VIPs had to use our machines as there were not many charter companies around.Due to the maneuverability of the helicopter, very often we are required to land in landing pads deep in the jungle. This photo shows one of our typical landing pads. In those days, there were no GPS invented yet so navigation is by a 1:250 000 maps and sometimes when the weather is marginal it can be a challenge trying locate our destination.

This is how a landing pad may be like. The location here has just been prepared and in the 1980s we were called in to assist in the location and construction of the ATUR (Automatic telephony using radio) stations. That was way before we had Maxis and Celcom.This photo s not taken in deep Africa but in the interiors of our country. The Negrito tribes normally lives in bamboo huts in the Main Range of the country. And most families tend to have a lot of kids!The Drainage and Irrigation Dept keeps a record of the rainfall in the country. Every month we have a flight to the many stations deep in the jungle to collect the datas and also to change the batteries required to operate the instruments. This is one of the station in the Main Range.Sometimes we are hired to do construction work. Here we were fixing an antenna to one of the high rise in Kuala Lumpur. This particular job was flown by my chief pilot at that time, Capt Eddy Yong. Of course we were also hired to send personnel and mail to passing ships on the Straits of Malacca. We had a contract to send in marine pilots to guide super tankers passing the Straits of Malacca.On long trips away from base I normally carry along an engineer to help service the helicopter. The man in blue coverall was the engineer when I was in the company. He is Pheh San Choon, a very good engineer and I always call him Babi Hutan (Wild Boar). If he tells me the helicopter is good enough for flight I will have no doubts about that.Most of my customers are good guys but the gentlemen inthis photo Mr KM Partells is one guy that I will never forget. I was tasked to fly to Tasek kenyir to transport several tons of timber to a forward base to be used for building an office. Upon my arrival to meet up with Mr Partells of Testeel (India) Ltd Co I found that he had already tied all the timber into several piles each about half a timber ton. I said I cannot lift the lot as it is too heavy. Every word that came out from him was "But you boss said youcan lift half a ton..". True AMOST half a ton over a short distance and not half a timber ton (Timber ton is based on volume and is MUCH heavier than 500 kg!) . Only with a lot of persuasion that he agreed to retie the bundles again and the job requires many more trips that he had anticipated.

See, I told you all that I have had a very good life. I had enjoyed my tour as a bush pilot very much..maybe I may go back to bush flying later but for now it is flying modern twin engine machines over the South China Sea for the oil and gas industry.


  1. Mr. Wong,

    That is really very interesting as a bush pilot, just wonder whether your family would worry about you and how do they cope with your away from home.


  2. Any job after a while becomes routine for the family.Yes, the only thing that they worry is myself being naughty!

  3. mmm..what an adventurous life..can make a movie..just wanna be your one..

  4. Hello Capt. Wong , Greeting from Switzerland.

    I was a friend from Albert Phoon from Sabah air.

    Happy New Year. Are you still flying the B206?

    Regards Raymond

  5. Hello Raymond....Albert Phoon is my friend too. I am now flying super Puma L2 to earn a living. Stay tuned. I will write on that later. Nothing beats flying the versatile B206.


  6. Interesting post, do tell more possibly about fling in stormy weather etc