Category Archives: aircraft

Tutors Turned Stingers

That was “How It All Began”, when in 1967, RMAF received its first combat aircraft – putting real ‘tentera’ into TUDM.

The 20 machines were Canadair CL-41G Tutors – basic jet trainers that could double up as light ground attack fighter-bombers. TUDM called them ‘Tebuan’ (meaning ‘Wasp’).  These remained in service until 1985.  They probably stung the CPM out of existence.

I remember seeing some of them flying over my old kampong house in Butterworth – sometimes low enough to make out the two airmen seated side-by-side in the cockpit. 

However, it was only in 2013 when I finally got to see a specimen really up close.  That was during a visit to the Muzium TUDM in Sungai Besi.  Oh, by the way, there is another exhibit at the Muzium Tentera Darat at Port Dickson.

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Every Seat A Window Seat

Haha, this “ancient” piston-engined, propellor-driven, 9-seater Britten-Norman Islander BN-2 had something to offer that no modern airliners can!  And best of all, if odds were in your favour, you could land up next to the pilot in the cockpit…and that is full frontal view.

Years back (I think in the 70s), MAS had 4 of these rugged flying workhorses plying the rural routes in Sarawak and Sabah.  I have heard of many interesting stories as well as some hair-raising tales about flights on this plane.  Folks originating from East Malaysia should have some fond memories to share.

I was told that all passengers (apart from their baggage) had to be individually weighed and allocated seats in order to preserve balance in the air.  Sometimes live animals would be among the payload together with the passengers.

The Need For Speed

It was keenly felt long before 2014 (recall the movie ?) – some 6 decades ago, during the Cold War years.

Great strides were being made in aeronautical engineering, and flying machines of all imaginable shapes and sizes were launched in rapid-fire succession, each faster than the preceding one.   Mach 1 was exceeded on 14th October 1947, followed quickly by Mach 2 and then Mach 3 by the second half of 1966.    That was 3 times the speed of sound.

The Lockheed SR-71 with twin turbo-ram jets was the fastest of them all at 3,540km/h, while the North American XB-70 bomber (with 6 engines) reached 3,309km/h.

In 1970, the Soviets came out with its MiG-25 which could attain Mach 3.2 in short bursts (but the engines rpms were red-lined at Mach 2.8)

Those were the days when speed was king.

Wow Everyone Could Fly

A quarter of a century before Tony Fernandes laid claim that “Now Everyone Can Fly”, Boeing rolled out its first 747 Jumbo Jet (Sept 30 1968).

It was a truly milestone for aviation history.   With a capacity that doubled those of the prevailing 707 and DC-8, and powered by 4 super-efficient turbofan engines, it made air travel much less costly.    Few people now realize that.

Whereas in the past air travel was the domain of the rich and famous, WOW EVERYONE COULD FLY thenceforth.   Yes, every Abu, Ah Kow and Arun boleh juga.

Interestingly, whereas previously air travellers dressed smartly (coat & tie for men), a new breed of passengers in skimpy shorts, Japanese slippers, singlets and backpacks had come to form a major and important class of customers for the airlines.

Imitation Was The Swiftest Form Of Flattery

Quite unexpectedly, on 31 December 1968, the Soviet-made TU-144 made its maiden flight.   It beat the much-publicized Anglo-French Concorde as the world’s first supersonic passenger jetliner to fly, by slightly more than 2 months.

The western press nicknamed it “Concordski” as it closely resembled the Concorde. Powered by 4 gigantic turbojets, it could fly faster than its rival.  Two retractable front canards were added later for improving low speed handling.

It was rumored that the Soviets were snooping on the Concorde’s design in the earlier years, and Anglo-French counter-espionage agents deliberately let loose a lot of bad design data for the Soviets to pick up and put into the TU-144.  Perhaps some of that might be true, possibly contributing to the infamous crash at the 1973 Paris Air Show.

Oh Deer They Could Fly

Between 1966 and 1973, RMAF received 18 of these rugged short-haul transport planes.  Made by DeHavilland Canada, the DHC-4A, was also better known as Caribou (which is a very large species of reindeer).

I remember seeing these rather ungainly-looking aircraft — note the huge tail fin — flying at low speed around the airbase in Butterworth, with the typical low-frequency droning from its two piston engines.  They could carry up to 36 troops, or 3640kg of cargo, and land on grass strips.

These have been retired since September 2000, and replaced by Indonesian-made aircraft.   But there are specimens on static display, one at the RMAF Museum in Sungei Besi (KL), and another one at the Army Museum in Port Dickson.  I have visited both places in recent times.

The Friendly Flying Dutchman

Built in Holland by the Fokker Aircraft Company, this short-range turboprop airliner, called ‘Friendship F-27’ was extremely popular worldwide.  The forerunners of MAS – MSA, and even Malayan Airways – were early adopters of this reliable workhorse. Besides MAS, later on smaller airlines like Pelangi Airways also flew these types (for some time)

It began life in the 50s, and was upgraded many times – culminating in later versions as F50/60.  However, in the fierce dogfights of the aircraft industry, friendship was not enough for survival and Fokker had to shut down in 1996.