Category Archives: airplanes

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, 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.

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.

The Real Phantom Menace

More than 35 years before George Lucas made it good, real Phantoms were wreaking havoc from the skies over Vietnam.

In operation with the US Marines, Navy and Air Force, the McDonnell Phantom F4 became the Americans’ mainstay for ground attacks against the North Vietnamese army and the Vietcong.  Its huge bomb payload was a real menace to troops and equipment – and often civilians.

However, in air-to-air dogfights against the much lighter and more agile MiG-21, it was out-manoeuvred by its Soviet ballerina-like opponent.

Equipped with just Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles, which did not help very much at closer-range combat, its lack of a gun was its Achilles heel.

Mirages Over My Roof

In my young days, I used to see Mirages over my attap-roof top.  These were not not hallucinations, but sure enough they got me underway as a junkie – an aircraft junkie, that is.

My house was just about 5km from the then RAAF airbase, and among others, Mirage III-0 fighters would roar over my rooftop whole day long. Fascinating to watch them taking off, especially at night with orange and blue flames shooting out from their afterburners.

The shockwaves always managed to shake some little worms from the underside of my attap roof, and sent them dropping down onto the floor, or anything or anyone that passed underneath them.

Honey, They Shrunk The Jumbo

Boeing’s stubby B747-SP

This Special Performance jumbo was introduced in 1978 in a makeshift response to the advent of the trijets, namely Lockheed Tristar and the DC-10. It was 48 feet shorter than a regular 747. The project was a commercial flop and only 45 were ever produced. In 1986, I had the privilege of flying in this aircraft from HKG to SFO and back via operator Pan Am.

it cruised higher (@45,000 feet) – supposedly above the turbulent layers of the atmosphere, and 10% faster.  Among other operators were Saudi Arabian, Iran Air and South African Airways.    The last Iran Air 747SP was retired on 23 September 2014.

In 1986, I had the privilege of flying in this aircraft from HKG to SFO and back via operator Pan Am.  I cannot recall any difference in the flight experience : of course, I did make it back to tell the story.