Category Archives: airplanes

“The Real Thing” For The Real Fling

In the mid-1950s,  the US aeronautical engineers and designers were struggling with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.  That is, no matter how hard they tried, they could not get their latest fighter aircraft, the F-102 Delta Dagger, to break the sound barrier.

The shock waves encountered in the transonic realm proved too formidable…..until someone re-visited the theory of The Area Rule.  That simply meant that the cross-section area of the aircraft had to progress smoothly from tip to tail, without abrupt changes.

In practice, it meant that the fuselage had to be “pinched” in to takr on a Coke-bottle shape – in order to compensate for the cross-section area of the wings. 

Once they had “The Real Thing” designed in, everything went smoothly – the re-shaped F102 easily slipped past Mach 1,2 and they had a real fling from thence on. 

Look Ma, No Props !

In 1962, Malayan Airways inaugurated their Silver Kris jet service with a single De Havilland Comet 4, leased from BOAC. 

Renamed Malaysian Airways in December 1963, it expanded the jet services by propping them up (pun intended) with two more BOAC jets.  By September 1965, it had purchased a total of 5 Comets from the British company.   These jetliners, each powered by 4 “Ghost” turbojet engines, cruised at 800km per hour and well above 30,000 feet — much faster and higher than what propellor-driven planes could do.

For financially well-endowed folks who were not afraid of heights, and had a need for speed,  a new label was conferred upon them – the jetsetters !  

Malaysian Airways morphed into MSA (Malaysia-Singapore Airlines) in 1966, with the Comet fleet serving regional routes in South East Asia.  The entire fleet was retired in late 1969, and replaced by newer ones, viz., the Boeing 737 and 707.

Beyond Sound Agreement

In late 1962, the two European rivals, Britain and France, put aside their differences, and signed a treaty to jointly develop and produce a commercial passenger aeroplane that would fly beyond than the speed of sound.

The resultant aircraft — aptly named “Concorde” — was a magnificient engineering triumph and a showcase of mastery of aerodynamics.  It fired the imaginations of impressionable young techie-wannabes like me. 

But commercially, the project was an epoch failure – with the press calling it “The Fastest Flop”.  Skyrocketing oil prices especially in the years following the Arab oil embargo, made it economically unviable.  The rise of environmental concerns such as side-effects of the “sonic boom” also hastened its demise.

The crash of Air France flight 4590 on 25 July 2000 put the final nail in the coffin for this beautiful speedbird.

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.

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.

Sabre-rattling Over Butterworth

Living just 4km from the airbase in Butterworth from birth till 1973 “enrolled” me into an Early Childhood Aircraft Appreciation course.

The F-86 Sabres were the earliest jet fighters from the RAAF to appear in the skies.  They had clean body design, with a prominent bubble canopy.  As they circled the area low in their landing approaches, around my attap house, I remember I could even see the pilots inside them.

Later I learned that these RAAF fighters played a prominent role during the Confrontation with Indonesia, where Butterworth-based Sabres chased off marauding MiG-21 fighters.   No shots were fired in anger; perhaps the kill reputation of the Sabre (from the earlier Korean War) was enough to dissuade the intruders.

p/s : Am wondering to this day, why these RAAF aircraft wore RAF decals on their wings.