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22nd Jul 2015, 08:50
I arrived at 06.00 hrs for the 07.00 take off. My co-pilot did all the planning and then I went to the line office to sign out the aircraft. B-7955 was emblazoned on the tech log. Over the weekend? I should coco. But you couldn’t argue against it, it was all there in writing. I queried as to why it was suddenly registered. They (the CAAC registration authority) forgot to tell us. They had approved it two weeks ago. What about the temporary registration? Different department, we will tell them later. The aircraft was a honey. Smooth, precise and a joy to fly. When we arrived offshore we found that the deck crews had no trouble with airstair doors and the deck times were the same as normal.

We were based on the Nan Hai Fa Xian, an FPSO; (Floating Production, Storage and Offloading) ship which was a converted tanker. It was registered in Panama and had an Italian officered crew. I had a cabin on B deck just along from the officers lounge.
Meals were cooked separately from the Chinese crew and we could choose virtually what we liked. The schedule was tight. A morning shuttle at 07.00 hrs, that lasted about two hours. A midday change over for about an hour and then the evening shuttle at 19.00 which went on for another two hours. The engineers had it worse then us. The had to strap it down after the last landing, do the post and pre flights and untie it before the next morning’s tasking.

There are two ways off getting oil onshore. Where possible pipelines buried just under the sea bed is preferred and nearly all North Sea products come this way. Where that is not possible then an FPSO is used. Pipeline from any number, in this case six, platforms meet at a subsea loading buoy. The FPSO has a well in the deck just aft of the bow that goes straight through the hull. It positions itself ever the buoy and the buoy is then raised to fit inside the well on the ship. Everything is connected up and all the production from the platforms arrives on the ship. There it is processed to make it transportable by tanker.

About every six or seven days the Fa Xian would offload to a tanker. A specialist marine captain known as the mooring master would be flown out from Shekou. He and his crew would then be winched on to the tanker, supervise the mooring to the Fa Xian and stay on the bridge during the transfer process, sometimes ten or twelve hours. When the tanked had released and was on the way to wherever we would winch him and his team off the tanker and take them home. On this picture the tanker is moored to the Fa Xian. The tug pulling the stern does it all the time to keep the tanker in tension so that they do not drift together. The other tug is taking the export pipe to the tanker.


There wasn’t a lot to do when not flying. The TVs were all set for the Chinese crew and the Italians seemed to hibernate in their cabins. There was, however, a massive bonus. In the galley them was a soft ice cream machine with an unlimited supply of paper cups and plastic spoons. Every time we landed on to refuel I would leave the co-pilot to it and wizz down to the galley and bring up an armful of ice cream. The Chinese aren’t fond of ice cream so I would have the whole lot to myself. There wasn’t any alcohol but I had a suspicion that the Italians had a hidden supply of wine.

The problem with FPSOs and the Fa Xian in particular is that they are always pointing into the wind as they weathercock around the buoy. In fresh breezes and above this means that you get all the turbulence from the superstructure and in the Fa Xians case the twin funnels. In certain cases you would just drop at the twenty foot level and you would wait until the rotors ground cushion effect stopped you slamming into the deck. You could, as the 332 is stressed for 5m/sec (900ft/min) landings, accept quite a thump and believe me sometimes you did.

The week soon passed and then I was back in Shekou wrapping myself around a pint of draught Tiger.

B-7955 only did a couple of more weeks in the offshore contract. Then it went into the hanger and a team from the factory tore it apart and rebuilt it as an offshore aircraft with plug doors, nineteen seats and soft lining. I don't know what happened to the original kit; probably part exchanged to go in another one.

23rd Jul 2015, 21:34
Whilst I had been away those four years there had been some changes. Where previously the aircraft had been predominately British registered with a couple of Chinese ones the position was now reversed. They had bought several aircraft including two brand new ones. We now had variety on the outside and also in the inside. The first two they had bought, 7951 and 2, had metric instruments, so the altimeters were in metres and the airspeed in kilometres/hour. Metric height was easy, the Chinese, as do the Russians and French, use metric flight levels and it was quite pleasant with your ASI reading 250 instead of 135. I had only known system pressures and temperatures in Pumas to be metric but one was in lbs/sqin and horrifically high numbers they were too.

The days of pumping 2,500lbs of fuel in it and going anywhere had gone. There were several new platforms, some extensions of the old fields but others further out. They had already surveyed an area close to the 200 mile territorial limit and the disputes were starting into who owned which island or sandbar in the South China Sea.

China had the advantage of having 3,000 years of recorded history so some admiral would have landed on some island, slammed the Emperor’s standard in the ground and claimed it for China; at the same time he would have wrote it down. He may well have been chased of by the natives the next day but they didn’t, or couldn’t, write it down so China had the only record as to who possessed it at that time. I know from my contacts there that there are zillions of barrels of oil and cubic feet of gas in that sea. They just need the political settlements to start producing it.

I was only going to be able to work there for six months before the dreaded 65 point came up. The company did not have any spare pilots to send to China, that’s why I was there. They had filled some positions with pilots from their Australian operation. One of these was a training captain and also a Australian CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) examiner. Talking about my impending doom he suggested I get an Australian licence because they did not have an age limit for public transport. He pointed out that Qantas pilots who have to stop flying 747s around the world because of the ICAO limit end up flying 737s between Sydney and Melbourne so that they can pay their alimony and children’s university fees.

I thought that there might be a limit on the age that you could apply for a licence but apparently there wasn’t. Retirees had started flying and progressed up to commercial flying with no problem. The only limit was that after your 80th birthday your medical had to be done in Canberra. I thought about it but it wasn’t highly optimistic.

I had my fourth retirement party in the roof garden of Macawley’s, an Irish bar in Shekou. It was the day before Chinese New Year and already the barrage of enormous fireworks had started. There weren’t any speeches; you couldn’t hear yourself think so it was with a heavy heart that I got on the ferry to Chek Lap Kok and the 747 back to the UK.

I had been back about a month and there was this nagging thought about getting an Australian licence. On an impulse I flew back to China to do a bit of research. We established that there were no bars to getting an Oz ATPL(H) as long as I passed the exams. CPL Law, ATPL Law and IREX, the instrument written test. The other problem was China. Would they accept an over sixty five, remembering ICAO, and endorse his licence. The question was put to CAAC and they came back with an affirmative.

There was a smoking trail of shoe leather to the ferry as I went to Hong Kong International, climbed into a Cathy 747 and punched off to Perth.

24th Jul 2015, 20:01
I was going to Perth because that was where the Company’s Australian arm was. I knew some of them from Darwin and also from Aberdeen. During the 80s Aberdeen had been chronically short of pilots so had recruited a number of Australians. They had no experience of offshore work but were brought to the UK, given the necessary training and licences, and flew as co-pilots. They were quite highly paid, as all people who work the wrong side of our world are. They were one of the reasons why as a contract pilot I was not embarrassed by earning more than the staff. At that time on the North Sea I would have an Australian co-pilot with less than twenty hours twin engine and offshore experience earning more than I was.

The company was physically in an excellent position as they were in the same building and floor as the Western Australia office of CASA. The company could not help me with training as they always recruited licensed pilots. A copy of the Air Law burnt onto a disc was the best they could do. The CASA reps were fantastic; helpful, informative and full of encouragement. There was one ex North Sea pilot who whom I knew that had been through this rigmarole and he imparted some excellent advice; that was to get professional tuition for the IREX exam. This I did, expensive, about A$1,200, but worth every cent. The exams are done in real time so a full set of upper and lower en route charts plus the let-down plates for every Australian airfield cost me another A$400. I sorted had a nice room in a hotel run by Taiwanese and had a rented car outside. Twenty eight days I had planned for, I was hoping it wasn’t going to take any longer.

The IREX lessons took about a week and there were a couple of days mugging up on CPL law which I had to take first. Then came the little problem of the exams.

They were all done on a computer using multiple choice answers. That wasn’t the problem; the problem was finding a computer to sit in front of. There were exam centres in the major cities. Perth’s was near Jandakot, a large flying club type airfield which had multiple flying schools, a lot of them training Chinese airline cadets en masse and that was the problem, they had a large number sitting various exams so it was booked up solid. I desperately searched the country and there were two slots in Adelaide. I flashed up Virgin Blue and booked a return to Adelaide and then booked my CPL Air Law slot in Adelaide.

On arrival I rented another car, I now had two. They gave me a big street map and I went to find the examination location. It was a vacant shop in a new shopping centre in a new housing estate. It took me an hour to find it because the area wasn’t, as yet, mapped properly. Then to find a hotel nearby with broadband so I could get some last minute swotting. I now had two hotel rooms as well.

When I arrived at the centre in the morning it was thick with Chinese airline cadets doing their exams. I didn’t have time to talk to them as I was being briefed by my invigilator. The system was easy if you were familiar with a computer so I went through the questions fairly rapidly. An attractive Chinese girl next to me wasn’t having so much luck. It is difficult enough in the first place if you are new at it but even more when the exam in not in your native language. I had this compelling urge to prompt her but I knew that if I did I would certainly be chucked out. When I was satisfied I called the man over, he ran my answers though the programme and up it came with PASS. I had got over the first hurdle.

In the hotel foyer I got on the internet to search next week for slots; there were none, nowhere. I had to book my IREX and ATPL Air Law a fortnight ahead just to make sure. That being done I returned the car and flew back to Perth.

To be continued.

25th Jul 2015, 15:09
I was not going to have much free time. I was taking the IREX, the difficult one first and the second, the ATPL Air Law was the day before my return flight to Hong Kong so I wanted to make sure I passed. I only took one day free and that was to drive around Freemantle.

The IREX was the bogeyman of all the exams. Apparently the pass mark had been lowered to 70% because so many kept failing it. It was a mixture of everything; technical, meteorological, procedures and aviation law. I was fairly confident owing to my personal training and it was rewarded with an above average pass mark.

Australian air law is full of whys, wherefores and not withstandings. The flight and duty limitations I never understood. One of my questions was on how long three captains could fly a 757 with the availability of a ‘resting chair’. However with a bit of luck and intelligent guessing, I passed. Off to the licensing office and put in my application.

I should have laid one on that night having achieved a fairly difficult operation but I didn’t, I was too relieved.

The next day I was back in China and the day after that I was doing my Australian Proficiency and Instrument Test.

We used B-7958. I don’t think the Chinese company knew what it was actually being used for. They were told it was just a base check. I was just an ordinary private citizen and we were using, for my benefit, a helicopter which would have cost about US3,000/hr. One could ague that I was probably going to work for them so I would have to do it anyway. There was one slight hiccup. When the forms went through CASA queried the fact that we had used a Chinese registered aircraft. They thought, quite reasonably, that it should have been done in an Australian registered example. However, that was glossed over on the basis that there wasn’t one handy at the time.

Then came the wait for the actual licence; anywhere between a fortnight and a month. I was living in company accommodation so it wasn’t too expensive. After three weeks I had been away from home for two months so I flew back to the UK. The day after I arrived I had a phone to say it had arrived in Shekou. It took a week for CAAC to process the endorsement and then I was airborne again in China.

I was back on contract with the British company. My CAA licence was invalid owing to my age so the G registered aircraft were out of bounds. I was now in a position where I was paid as a pilot by a major British aviation company but I was not allowed to fly their aeroplanes.

Even stranger things were going to happen………………….

25th Jul 2015, 15:51
`Bluey Mavroleon`Greek Shipping Owner!

29th Jul 2015, 20:20
Thing progressed in the normal way. Even as a contract pilot I was rostered on an eight weeks on and four weeks off rota. Come November came another bombshell.

As I had mentioned before, the Chinese Aviation procedures and practices were starting to get in line with Western standards. We had, for decades, flown Chinese registered aircraft on an endorsement to our CAA/CASA licences. CAAC now decided that something else would be brought in line with everywhere else. An endorsement was only valid for six months, after that a pilot had to have a Chinese national licence.

We had six months to get a licence. What about me? On to CAAC again. The answer was simple; pass the exams and the medical and you will get a licence.

It wasn’t only me who had to get a licence, there were five others. None of had a clue what to do and nor did our Chinese pilots because all their exams were in Chinese so they could not help us with the special exams in English for expats. The first thing was the medical. Two parts: The first part in a hospital where they checked the entire body including five blood samples for everything including Aids. A full body Xray and Echograms for all the soft tissue. Resting ECG followed by a stress ECG on a treadmill. The last was easy, the Australians did that too.

We went to Guangzhou for the second part of the medical with the CAAC doctors. Our company doctor came with us and managed to get through a pack of cigarettes on the two hour drive there, a pack whilst we were there and a pack on the way back. There are special CAAC hospitals scattered around China. These are for aviation people and do everything that a normal hospital does purely for aviation employees. We were there on Wannabees Day, gorgeous young u/t hostesses desperately practicing their English on us. One of them had a problem with too low a blood pressure; my suggestion that I should take her into a dark room for fifteen minutes was not taken up.

I went into the eye test. I had never done an eye test IMC in cigarette smoke. Both of the doctors operating the random pointing machine were going full blast. The ENT test room was even worse; they didn’t need to ask you to cough. You have to remember then I was on about 40/day so you can imagine what it was like. However we all passed and on return about two kilometres from the heliport we peeled of to a restaurant for a company funded dinner.

Shortly after this I went back the UK for Christmas. Come January when I expected to return I was advised that I was not needed until the Typhoon Season in April. I was then asked to confirm whether I was still available. When I replied in the affirmative they offered me a slot in the Solomon Islands.

Solomon Islands??????? I thought I knew about the oil industry but Solomon Islands? I was filled in on the details. I was going there on the RAMSI contract so I looked up RAMSI.

In 2003 the Solomon Islands was heading for anarchy so at the request of the Governor General Australian and New Zealand forces effectively invaded the country. They then took over the police and most of the senior civil service. The operation was supported by other countries in the South Pacific and so it was called Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands.

I flew Singapore Airlines to Singapore; night stop, then to Brisbane and Air Vanuatu to Honiara. Another chapter had begun.

29th Jul 2015, 21:06
I had been with the headhunters in Borneo in 1966. The flying to come was similar to flying over the jungle of Borneo.

31st Jul 2015, 20:15
I had seen the film ‘South Pacific’. I had also been to Fiji so I had no illusions about lying under palm trees by a golden beach being fanned by nubile dusky maidens in grass skirts. The road to the hotel was as I expected, lines of shelters with makeshift counters displaying various vegetables for sale being fumigated by the smoke from battered minibuses plying their trade. It got better as we approached the hotel with the residential properties either built on stilts or walls so as to keep the living area at first floor level. The hotel was run by Taiwanese Chinese, as were most of the businesses in Honiara. Fairly basic, the rooms had painted breeze block walls and a small balcony overlooking Ironbottom Sound where fairly large ships of the US and Australian Navy had been sent to the bottom by Japanese warships.

Honiara is in the island of Guadalcanal. The battle of Guadalcanal was where the Japanese were finally stopped and forced back during the Pacific war. It was all about an airfield that got the name Henderson Field, latterly Honiara International. The famous watchtower was still there as were the traces of 16 in. shell holes dug by the Japanese bombardments. Still sitting forlornly in the middle of the Honiara River estuary was a Japanese tank that was stopped half way across.

The operation itself was in support of the Australian and Kiwi police that were running law and order. There were new police stations built in various parts of the islands and they had to be supported much in the way that would be expected in a military operation,; ie, being supplied with food fuel and staff changeovers. The other task was SAR cover for the entire nation that was spread over hundreds of square miles. For this the aircraft had to be able to reach any point and return without refuelling. This was enabled by sponson tanks and a 300 litres crashproof tank in the cabin which gave it a 300 mile radius of action. In addition there was a winch, a night sun searchlight and the ability to carry 4,500 kilos under slung. One of the first things I had to do was précis my considerable winching and load carrying experience and send it off to Canberra so that they could add those qualifications to my licence. There were two other Bell 212s belonging to a different company which used to look after the police stations in Guadalcanal itself. We were tasked by a civilian company that was contracted by the various governments to organise transportation for the whole RAMSI project.

Something new for me was GPS approaches. We had GPS for navigation but with a GPS approach there was slightly different equipment.

When one wished to carry out a GPS approach one would select the approach from the route library. The GPS would then check the there were at least four satellites in view during the whole approach and fifteen minutes after. On the final approach the beam bar sensitivity would be increased by a factor of four so that full scale was down to .25 of a mile. There were advisory heights being given to you but as the aircraft was not fitted with a three axis autopilot the Decision Height was as for a non precision approach. There was on airstrip in Malaita where the pattern was in a lagoon with 4,500 ft. hills on the shore. As you flew the crosswind pattern of the leg the top half of the radar would be red with ground returns until you got the command to turn on to the finals heading,

Honiara itself had one effective shopping street. The clothing stores were just a mass of clothing on hangers arranged in some sort of potential wearer’s sex and age. They were again run by Chinese and had a strange system of stock procurement. They would buy bales of clothing, by weight, from Taiwan. When the bale arrived it would be sorted into different items and then placed on the rails. One of the staff would be in a chair almost at ceiling level to ensure that any items were not nicked. Everything was incredibly cheap; a T shirt was about 10p, so there was this continuous rugby scrum until the stock was exhausted. The next day they would start again. There was one civilised coffee shop which was crammed with expats most of the day.

The longest regular trip we did was to Rennel Island. This was about 135 nm. south of Honiara. It had a few roads and an airstrip where the police camp was. They had a huge appetite for diesel and we used to take four of five drums there every week. Because there was no aviation fuel there we had to have round trip fuel plus all their rations and suchlike. This made us quite heavy; in fact, heavier than I had ever flown one before. The normal maximum weight in offshore service was 18,960 lbs. (8600 kg). For this trip we would depart at 20,000 lbs (9100 kg) which was still below its maximum USL weight of 9,200 kg but it was +30 degrees outside. Four or five drums would be in a net on the end of an eighty foot strop so that you could lose an engine up to pulling the load off the ground and still recover. After that I can still remember my brief to the co-pilot.

“If we lose a engine before 45 knots we bin the load and land straight ahead. If we lose the load after 45 knots but before 70 we bin it and fly off. If we lose it after 70 knots we fly over the sea and then we bin it.”

We would hover with about 97-98 % input torque which gave little power to go anywhere. However, talking nicely to the aircraft would persuade it to go in the right direction and once you got decent airspeed you were off. You then had to start a climb to 7,000 ft. get over the mountains to the south of the airfield. A clean aircraft would cruise at 125 knots at 7,000; with this lot hanging on underneath it could only manage 70 knots. Nature would sense which valley you were aiming to go through and would immediately block it with a cumulus cloud. There would than follow this game resembling enormous conkers where you were weaving between clouds and the mountain tops finding a way through. This is where my experience in Borneo paid off; in spades.

Once over the top one could descend to 1,000 ft. and get about 90 knots or so, so it was autopilot in, feet up and have a fag…………………………..

3rd Aug 2015, 21:04
Again I wasn’t rushed off my feet. With the SAR standbye it meant that you only flew every third day. For the co-pilots it was not a good appointment. They were all self improvers and, as a first officer, hours gained are most important. In normal offshore environment they would expect to have the requisite hours to obtain a command after five or six years. Here they were only getting ten to fifteen hours a month. One of them told me that after three years he might have enough hours to get a job. It was a three week stint and I averaged less than an hour a day.

I still had my Chinese licence to do so after that I went back to China. Two of us went to CAAC at Guangzhou and did the general ATPL exam. They must have put the contract out to CASA because the exam was so similar to the ones I had taken before; a computer with multiple choice answers. The questions were similar but the answers had been translated from Chinese and some answers were all right and some were all wrong. In this case you called the invigilator over and he told you which one to select. Again, like the Australian programme it flagged up a pass when you had finished.

The first hurdle being over then came the flight check. One of out junior captains had been nominated as the company flight checker. He hadn’t any training as a trainer or checker so he sat on the jump seat whilst my Aussie checker ran another test and then he signed me off.

I then had to do an English Comprehension Test. All expat pilots had to do this even if they were English. The reason why the test had to be taken was that English was the only language allowed in a mixed crew cockpit and some of the South American pilots had severe shortcomings in this department. The test was to be held at Xiaoshangou, close to Chengdu, as there was only one person who could mark the test and that was where he was. Everything was arranged and I was at the company awaiting transport to take me to the airport when the message came through that it had been cancelled for that month. The examiner had decided to go on holiday. Nothing could be done about it so a couple of days later I flew to the Solomons disappointed that I had not finally cleared up my Chinese licence.

I had been a away from home for a couple of months now so it was time to bring the wife out. Always, everywhere I worked, I would bring my wife to see how it was where I lived and worked. I arranged her flight out via Brisbane giving her a full briefing of where to go at Brisbane and she arrived in Honiara on time and in the right aeroplane. I had been there for a week and I planned a week in Honiara and then a week for her on the Brisbane Gold coast. I knew a week was enough because I know how she appreciates foreign countries. I was right. She summed up the Solomons on the first night with.
“Thank Christ I’m only here for a week.”

Strangely this time on completion I was routed Honiara-Brisbane-Sydney-HK instead of Brisbane-Singapore-HK and we met in Sydney terminal as she was enroute to the UK.

Back in China the priority was to clear up the Chinese exam. Whilst waiting for the English test I did the Law Exam. This was a farce. The examiner didn’t speak English I didn’t speak Chinese so one of out senior captains acted as interpreter. Basically I was prompted through the exam. Another hurdle crossed.

Then the time came to fly up to do the exam. I was accompanied by one of our Chinese captains who was doing the same exam as he wanted a Chinese ICAO licence and this exam counted as Level 4. We flew to Chengdu and he organised the taxi to Xiaoshangou and the hotel.

Xiaoshangou was a major PLA Air Force transport training base. The days when the Chinese aviations companies could cherry pick their students had gone. The PLA were now getting some seriously advanced equipment and training costs were being budgeted. They too required English in the cockpit because the Air Force was going international so this was where the test was held.

I had been to Sichuan before. I had friends there so I was familiar with Chongqing, Chengdu and Luzhao. When we went out for lunch we came to this small restaurant. The menu was in Chinese, English not spoken so I asked for my favourite Sichuan dish; Sichuan Boiled Beef.

It is easy to do. A handful of bruised chillies, a handful of bruised cloves of garlic, a handful of finely sliced beef plus a leaf or two Chinese cabbage or choy sum all boiled together for about fifteen minutes. It’s quite spicy. Captain Fei was not from Sichuan and he looked at it in horror. Even the kitchen staff came out not believing that this gweilo could manage it; but I did, easily.

The next day I did the exam. It was an ergonomical disaster. During the vocal bit you were supposed to wait until a blip thing counted down before you started speaking. I wasn’t told so half of mine was not recorded. At the end the machine counted down and I had FAILED. Do not worry, said the invigilator, we shall review it. So they did and two days later came the message that I had passed. I had, at sixty six, got a Chinese ATPL(H).

http://i229.photobucket.com/albums/ee224/fareastdriver/img006_zps6f4a2079.jpg (http://s229.photobucket.com/user/fareastdriver/media/img006_zps6f4a2079.jpg.html)

4th Aug 2015, 09:31
The Romanised form of Chinese writing is called Pinyin. The pronunciation is in general similar to English but some are different; especially 'Q' and 'X'.

A common mistake is with Chongqing, the largest city in China. People try to say it treating the 'Q' as in 'Queen' or QANTAS' but the Q is pronounced 'ch' as in child. The locals cannot understand them when they say Chongkwing instead of Chongching.

The 'X' is pronounce 'sh' as in 'she' so a city like Xiamin is pronounced Shiarmin; Exiamin, doesn't work.

Shiao-shan-gou. Simples

4th Aug 2015, 15:36
The there was nothing for me to do. They didn’t need me in China.

This was the reason that I had gone to the Solomon Islands in there first place so I graciously consented to go out there again for another stint. However things had changed.

There was a small riot outside the Government Offices and because of mishandling this broke out into a BIG riot. The rioters turned on to whom they imagined to be the source of all their troubles; the Chinese. They started burning and looting the shops in the main street with the few national shopkeepers hanging signs outside their shops declaring that the shop was owned by Solomon Islanders. After that they went into the Chinese quarter causing general mayhem with our helicopter circling overhead shining its Nite Sun on them so as to assist the police to restore order. In the space of a few hours half of them destroyed their livelihood and the other half destroyed any chance of a job because most of their employers, the Chinese, went back to Taiwan.

Our hotel had been burned down. This gave rise to a priceless article in my possession.

When I had first arrived in the Solomons I looked a bit out of place. I was dressed in white shirt, long black trousers, black shoes and four rings on my shoulders. The other pilots were in company issue Tshirts, with the company name on the back, and shorts. They ordered some for me but that was going to take a week or so.
I had been allocated the chief pilots bedroom as he was on leave and in the corner was a large box of Tshirts. These were the same colour and style as the company ones except the logo emblazoned on the back had Solomon Islands printed on it. The only other difference was that it had the brand name of the local beer on one sleeve. I already had some suitable shorts so I selected one that fitted, left a note that I would pay and went to work in it.
Shock: Horror!
The company had heard about the shirts and on discovering that they had a beer advert on the sleeve went ballistic. They were immediately banned, recalled and the fear of death instilled to any staff that wore one. I was all right, I wasn’t staff, I was contract. However I only wore it for a couple of days before my official one came through.

When the hotel was burned down most of everybody’s possessions, clothes, computers, etc went up with it because they were at the airport manning the helicopter. With it went all the Tshirts. This meant that mine was the only survivor so mine is now totally unique and priceless.

Our new hotel was the other side of town and hadn’t suffered from the riots. It was a slightly better (the staff were quite tasty) hotel but the biggest advantage was that it was just over a breakwater to the yacht club. Whilst I was there there was a sudden influx of the United States Air Force.

On one of the smaller islands somebody had come across a cache of rusting cylinders. He had heaved one into his boat ad presented it to the scrap merchant in Honiara. This one was used to bombs, shells etc of either Japanese, American or British parentage but he had not seen these before. He notified the relevant authorities and research established that they were chemical or gas munitions. The Solomons government asked for help in disposing of them and the Americans answered the call. A small team arrived at Honiara in the back of a C5 Galaxy.

It was the largest aeroplane ever to arrive in Honiara. In fact it was the largest metal object in the Solomon Islands. They had obviously calculated that the runway and apron could take the wheel loads so they were marshalled into the corner of the apron so as not to interfere with the scheduled traffic. All went well and after two or three days the job had been done and everybody was ready to go back to Hawaii. They all got into their C5 and called for pushback.
Pushback?? The airport didn’t have anything that could push back a C5. In fact they didn’t have anything that could pushback anything.
It is possible for a C5 to taxi backwards using reverse thrust. However, there is a high probability of FOD damage doing this in a small apron as in Honiara so they required permission from the Pentagon. This permission was refused. In the end they launched a C17 Globemaster from Hawaii with a large aircraft tug in the back. This landed at Honiara, unloaded the tug which then repositioned both aircraft so that they faced the right way, reloaded the tug and hurled off to Hawaii.

It was my last three weeks in the Solomons and after a spot of leave in the UK I was back on the line in China. The wheels had turned a circle as far as the British part of the operation was concerned. We were down to one G reg aircraft with all the rest being on the Chinese register. More and more Chinese pilots were getting their command requiring less expat pilots, the typhoon season’s extra requirements being made up of myself and pilots from Australia. The company had changed hands and was effectively taken over by an American company and their wheels came out to have a look see at the operation. We didn’t know it at the time but this was going to be a pivotal point of the China operation.

Come January I was off to Australia again, this time to Karratha, on the coast of Western Australia.

Before I could fly offshore on an Australian licence I had to do the Australian Dangerous Goods course and the Huet (Helicopter Underwater Escape Course). I had done both courses in the UK but not flying on an endorsement that didn’t count. The DGC was easy enough and so was the HUET.

I had done my first underwater escape course at HMS Vernon in 1967 or thereabouts. There they used the submarine escape tower which was a tank of seawater about one hundred feet high. The submariners do their tricks at the bottom, helicopter crews do theirs at the top. This one was done at a facility using a swimming poll in Freemantle.

All HUETS are much the same. A facsimile of a helicopter fuselage complete with doors, windows, seats and belts that is immersed in the water. Easy escapes a first culminating with a steep insert and a full rollover. In Vernon’s tank when you roll over you only see an inky black void. Civvy ones are done in swimming pools so you can see the tiling on the bottom so things are relatively easy. On my last rollover at this one my door wouldn’t release as expected. Using my Vernon, not the local, training, I immediately went for the door on the other side where the other pilot had exited. When I surfaced I was immediately ballocked for using the wrong door. I explained that it had jammed and fortunately it jammed on them too.

Everything signed up I flew to Karratha…………….

Senior Pilot
5th Aug 2015, 01:17
Fareastdriver has been narrating his fascinating career in another forum and has allowed me to copy his posts (or some of them!) here on our Rotary Nostalgia thread.

There's a lot of reading going back for more than a year, but I hope that you will find them interesting and he will continue to post more of his recollections :ok:

5th Aug 2015, 17:38
Senior Pilot duplicated them; not me! It's just taken me fifteen minutes to remove twelve duplicates.

5th Aug 2015, 19:24
All the same, it's a fantastic read! :ok:

5th Aug 2015, 21:54
Fareastdriver, I have been very lucky to spend some time in the last couple of years flying in China. I met a Captain FEI in Shenzhen working for COHC. He looked after me for a week while I helped him and some of his colleagues revalidated their UK to EASA licences. Is this the same Captain FEI? He is a fantastic guy and a great host. I would have been a pointless exercise without him!

I have enjoyed reading your posts and although my time has been mostly in Beijing and the South Shenzhen I really hope to get further afield on my next visit.

I also spent some time in Karratha but being British cocked it up a bit and went down like a cup of cold sick. Heh-ho you can't fool em all!


5th Aug 2015, 21:56
Fareast Driver and SP can you please direct me to the other forum so I can read the other posts. Thanks.

Senior Pilot
5th Aug 2015, 22:09
You'll need a day or two!


5th Aug 2015, 22:41
Thanks for the help SP

6th Aug 2015, 08:48
Captai Fei; the same person. I have flown with him from his first line training to a first class captain.

6th Aug 2015, 15:13
For those that cannot wade through the GBinWW11 thread I have pulled out the transit from Tanguu to Shenzhen which is the most helicopter orientated.

There was a requirement by an oil company to survey a exploration rig. It was located the other side of Bo Hai and we could not carry enough fuel to go there and back with the necessary diversion fuel. We could have flown to the rig and then carried on to Dalian but it would have taken a long time. Our sister company organisers came up with Shanghaiguan, a Chinese Air Force base on the northern coast.

Shanghaiguan is where ‘The Dragon Drinks From the Sea’, or where the Great Wall ends on the coast. When the peasants revolted and in 1644 overran Beijing the Ming Emperor Chongzen committed suicide by hanging himself. His general Wu Sangui open the gates at Shanghaiguan and let in the Manchu army. Emperor Shunzhi of the Manchu then became the first Emperor of the Q’ing Dynasty, the last dynasty of China.

We launched up the coast to the base. They had an ILS but my FO explained that it was only switched on in bad weather. We landed, taxied past rows of Nanchang Q-5s and were then marshalled onto a spot.

I will not go too deep describing what I saw for three reasons:
1. I was their guest and it would be inappropriate to disclose anything that may have been confidential.
2. At the turn of the century there was a massive overhaul of the PLA’s T&Cs to recruit and retain the calibre of personnel required for an increasingly technical and sophisticated service.
3. I have a long term multi-entry Chinese visa and I want to keep it.

We had a small crowd around us and one of them had gone to college with my FO. This meant that he, and the other pilots, spoke English as well as he did. The fuel bowser was old, our company had scrapped the same type, 6 cyl side valve motor, a couple of years before, but it was immaculate and they did a water check of the fuel before me. I had all the pilots in the cockpit, Flight Directors, GPS, twin channel autopilot and weather radar was unknown to them. I did not ask to have a look at a Q-5. I knew that they would have to refuse and I wanted to save them the embarrassment of doing so. We then went to their mess for some refreshment.

The station surroundings were plain enough. As normal, with my previous experience of Chinese bases, no hangers. Some aircraft appeared to be used continually with others parked with full wing and fuselage covers.

The officer’s mess was a bit Spartan. It seemed to consist of little more than an ante room and a dining hall, the accommodation being huts out at the back. As usual with any conversation with Chinese the question would come round to how much I was paid so I told them. The ripple of jaws hitting the floor was something to behold. It was established that the equivalent of a Fg. Off. was paid about 350 yuan a month. As a comparison I paid my housekeeper 200 yuan to come it five mornings a week. 350 yuan at that time was just over £23. However, poorly paid or not all of them were saying how proud they were to be in the Air Force and serve the people.

We said our goodbyes and departed. Immediately after takeoff I flew over the coastal fortress which was the end of the Wall. The wall itself had been quarried, leaving a continuous earthen mound and in the distance you could see the ruined towers climbing up the hills.

The rig was a disaster. Chinese owned and operated it had had zero maintenance since they had bought it. None of the fire extinguishers or the refuelling kit worked and down below the plastic floor coverings in the corridors had worn through to the steel decking. I was quite glad when they had finished and we flew back to Tanggu.

A week or so after that we came to the end of the contract. I used what remained of my cash float to hire a couple of taxis and take my engineers to see the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. After a night out at Beijing Hard Rock we returned and the next day started preparing to fly the aircraft right across China back to Shenzhen.

6th Aug 2015, 15:15
Whilst we were living it up in Beijing First Officer Wang, with a senior pilot from China Ocean Helicopter Corp, our sister company, was in Tanjian airport planning our return. The plot was that we would fly to Zhangxiaoji to refuel, continue on to Shanghai, refuel again and then carry on to Wenzhou were COHC had another operation. There we would night stop. The next morning, Wang would remain and First Officer Jing would fly with me to Shenzhen.

It was January, 6th Jan 1997 to be precise and Northern China was in the middle of winter. The temperature overnight would drop to minus 15 and in the morning it would rocket up to about plus 2. My engineers were coming with me so after the goodbyes we punched orft daun sauf.

There is no such thing as general air traffic in China. A minimum of twelve hours notice is required and one always flies airways under IFR. We climbed just south of Tianjin and we joined the airway at our allocated height of 2,500 metres, approx, 8,200 ft, which was the minimum flight level going south. The temperature at that height was about -5 but as the Siberian High was established there was no cloud up to that level. The scenery was miserable; miles and miles of paddy as far as one could see, all in orderly rectangular pattern.

After a couple hours or so the cloudbase dropped and we started to run into streaks of status. The reaction of the centre windscreen, unheated, was instantaneous and it immediately fogged out with ice. This was followed by the mirror supports and the door hinges building up wedges of the stuff. Poor old Wang was having kittens. He, with his fellow students, had been listening with horror to their Chinese Navy instructor reeling off the horrors and the certain death that icing would bring to helicopters. Which I thought was strange, as they were taught on Russian designed helicopters that were built for blundering through the tundra. I wasn’t worried, this was peanuts compared to the North Sea and the aircraft, still in North Sea fit, had all the gizmos; ice detectors, mirrors to check the intake chip baskets, etc etc. To make him feel better I splashed some water onto my flying glove, stuck it out of my window where the water immediately froze. I then brought it in and flicked my fingers to show how easily the ice came off. Relieved he came back from the cockpit roof and carried on with his navigating and I surreptitiously shoved my hand between my backside and the seat cushion to try to get some feeling back in my fingers.

We then had our clearance to descend towards Zhangxiouji. This was a small military airfield in the middle of absolutely nowhere. As we taxied in Wang was discussing something with ATC and merely said there was a problem. As we shut down everybody was staring at us with open mouths. We had flown with a COHC callsign and the last thing they had expected was a British registered aircraft with a Western captain. The ‘problem’ was fairly serious. Wang had filed, and it had been accepted for the days flying, but Zhangxiouji had not received the onward flight plan.

I left my engineers to sort out the refuel and I stood, ankle deep in air traffic’s dog-ends in the tower. Wang was on the blower trying to sort something out and I had a look around. Apart from the ATC staff there seemed little evidence of any military activity. At the end of the building there were two rows of H-5 (il26) bombers in an advanced state of disrepair and behind them were a clutch of Shenyang J-5s (Mig 17) in a similar condition. It indicated that it may have been a training base once upon a time but they had moved on. On the near horizon was what I took to be the local town. Bleak, grey, with few buildings above two floors. I thought that if we had to night stop here we would be lucky to find 0.5 star hotel, if at all.

Wang struck lucky! Shanghai would not accept us because of the twelve hour rule but Changzhou would. We might not be able to get any further but at least it was civilised. Without further ado, because there were no catering facilities and we were dying of starvation, we got airborne.

Changzhou was a mixed military and civil airport. Something I found out as I taxied past a row of H-5 (Tu-16) bombers. The aircraft were immaculate, as was the ground equipment; even the wheel nuts had been painted. I turned on to the hardstanding and there was one of the prettiest terminal buildings I had ever seen. It was built like a Chinese pavilion with flying ridges and in front was a moat with bridges to the gates. We decided to have lunch whilst the going was good and after a ridiculously cheap repast in a beautiful restaurant we went up to the tower to see what the state of play was.

Shanghai wasn’t playing ball and because they controlled the airway halfway to Xiamin we could not cross that either to get to Wenzhou. We spent the afternoon trying various combinations to get to Wenzhou but they were all blocked by the 12 hour rule. At about five I decided that we were going to have to night stop and just after the engineers had gone out to put the blade socks on we got a call from ATC saying we were clear to go.

Shanghai had just got our original flight plan from Tianjin. We couldn’t go to Shanghai, we didn’t need to, but they did give us clearance to fly IFR through their Area. By the time we had ascertained that Wenzhou would be open at our ETA it was dark when we took off and this time with the mountains the minimum level was 3,000 metres, just over 9,800 ft. There was a long discussion with Shanghai control. He thought a 332 was an Airbus and he was trying to push us up to 7,000 metres. When he was corrected he could not believe that a helicopter was flying at that height, IFR and at night.

I thought about it to myself as well. In the RAF the maximum height without oxygen was 10,000 ft and on the QNH we were above that. Also we weren’t supposed to fly above 4,000 ft at night.

We were having to change our squawk quite often, more for identification than any other reason. Our track was taking us across the westerly routes from Shanghai and pointing directly at Taiwan. Apart from that it was uneventful until we were handed over to Wenzhou.

They wouldn’t answer. Wang then got on to the HF and started talking to the company ops in Shenzhen. They phoned the operation in Wenzhou and they confirmed that the airfield was all lit up. I pressed on and joined the procedure for the ILS and to my relief the ILS kicked in. At about five miles the runway lights started appearing from the gloom and still with no contact with the airfield I landed and turned off to the company hardstanding. After a few minutes all the airfield lights went out. I subsequently found out that all the air traffickers had gone home leaving a minion to turn out the lights after we had landed.

Two of the COHC engineers had British licences so they would look after the aircraft whilst I and my engineers checked into the airport hotel. It was farewell to Wang as he would stay in the company hotel down the road. It was too late for the hotel restaurant so we went to the ‘Garages’ by the airport entrance.

The Garages were a row of open fronted shop units now used as chop houses. The menu was simple. There was a table with all the raw materials they had laid out and you went from one to the other pointing out what you wanted cooking. Simple wooden tables and chairs were the furnishings and outside the single door at the back was the midden. That was where you treated the rats to a warm shower. The last time I had been there about a year previously we were entertained by a mother rat chasing her brood across the floor and carrying them back to her nest under the freezer. The food was, as before, brilliant and we retired for the night.

6th Aug 2015, 15:16
I had flown from Wenzhou to Shenzhen before. Down the airway to Xiamin for lunch and onwards via Shantou, where we would leave the airways and proceed directly to our heliport. The Chinese engineers had done the after flight and had valeted the aircraft. I had decided that wearing my best uniform with all the gold rings would create the best impression at airports so I travelled in that. Jing and I, my engineers plus a Chinese engineer who was returning to Shenzhen then took off in this gleaming jewel of an aircraft.

The airways south of Wenzhou are quite severe as you are passing Taiwan. Defections were always the risk; an Air China captain had taken his 737 there about the same time and it was absolutely imperative to fly along the centre line. Any deviation to the east would raise a warning and any further divergence would make you the centre of attraction of the PLAAF. The Chinese airliners, at that time not equipped with satnav, would ensure that they were flying along the western side of the airways always secure in the knowledge that their male air stewards were armed.

There is a ridge of mountains down the East coast of China cut by rivers draining the hinterland. The flat areas were put over to paddy but once the ground started rising the ripples of terracing would show. The airway did not go direct to Xiamin owing to proximity of Taiwan and also the Nationalist held island just offshore so you passed abeam, turned towards the airfield and entered the procedure.

Xiamin used to be known by Europeans as Amoy. It is where Hakka is spoken and where the Chinese in Singapore hail from. It was one the first four Special economic Zones it had prospered to an outstanding degree. Now it is regarded as one of the best cities to live in China. The airport was magnificent, even more so now, and after confirming our onward flight plan we retired for lunch.

Because we were carrying a Chinese engineer it was now an official CHOC flight. This meant that Jing had a big wad of cash to cover expenses en-route, especially lunch. Comments like, ‘that’s no good, it’s not expensive enough’ were banded about. We didn’t go overboard but I did enjoy my lobster. After lunch we gathered together and went to the aircraft. We called up Xiamin Ground for start clearance; it was refused, there is a delay.

We tried again in ten minutes with the same answer. Not having a ground power unit plugged in Jing and I left everybody in the aircraft and went up seven flights to the air traffic control room. It was explained to us that the PLAAF had called a no notice exercise and all the airspace over Shantou below 5,000 meters was closed.

It wasn’t new. I had been stuck offshore for hours because my return airspace had been shut off by some exercise or other. However, they had always finished at 17.00 hrs because it was time for dinner. On that basis I expected to leave at that time so I went back with some more of Jing’s money and dispatched then to the terminal restaurant.

It was tactful to stay in the tower and the staff took the opportunity to practise their conversational and procedural English on me. There were quite a lot of them. They were controlling arrivals, departures plus the airways traffic from Wehzou to Shantou. They seemed to work in staggered thirty minutes shifts, retiring to the back of the room for a chat and a drink. Occasionally there would be a rapid changeover of seats when an aircraft came on frequency requiring an English speaking controller. Like all offices, workplaces and sometimes cockpits in China at the time visibility was fairly restricted in cigarette smoke.

We kept badgering away trying to get a clearance but the PLA were having none of it. It was now getting late and the spectre of yet another possible night stop was appearing. Our gallant band had returned optimistically to the aircraft and we went down to appraise then of the situation. The Chinese engineer was more concerned as he was returning to Shenzhen because his father was ill. There was a long conversation between him and Jing ending with Jing handing him a wad of money.

I thought nothing more of it and we went back up to the tower. It was now past 18.00 hrs and still no sign of the airspace being opened. In fact ATC were sure that it was going to be closed all night. I was just about to call it a day when our Chinese engineer came in with a slab of Coke and a carton of Marlborough. Jing took them off him and started handing them around the room. Five minutes later the one I assumed was SATCO came in with an enroute chart with a track pencilled in direct from Xiamin to a Shenzhen approach procedure entry point. This was apparently a ‘special route’ that had been cleared for us to use. Jing worked out the times, we put in the flight plan and twenty minutes later we launched into the night.

I have no idea what the scenery was like. It was dark and there were not a lot of lights. The dinners that COHC had treated the staff of Shenzhen ATC paid off. We undertook two or three scheduled arrivals followed by an ILS to the runway with a go around to 200 metres, then visual to the heliport.

Fortunately the heliport was situated between the Shenzhen to Guangzhou expressway and the Shenzhen Nantou eight lane connecting road. It made the unlit runway easier to find, assisted by Epsom who had a big illuminated sign on the roof their factory near the eastern end of the runway. The aircraft landing lights picked up the rest and we taxied in as the night shift came out of the hanger. It had been assumed that we were night stopping at Xiamin so everybody had gone home.

The offices were open and a look at the accommodation roster indicated that I was allocated 6-4 Hai Fei, an apartment we rented. The engineers had found our driver and we all bundled in to return to Shekou. We normally lived two to an apartment so I expected my sharer to be there. He wasn’t, so I couldn’t get in. I knocked up next door and a Chinese family answered. I explained with sign language as best as I could that I did not have a key and would they look after my bags whilst I found it. They seem to agree I and I left them there confident that I hadn’t asked them to help themselves to the contents.

We always had a standbye pilot so I went to his apartment and he didn’t have the keys but he did know I had the place to myself. There were only a couple of people left who would have the keys so I had to find them. There were not a lot of places to go to at that time of night in Shekou apart from the ‘dark side’. There then followed the spectacle of an airline pilot in full regalia going from girly bar to girly bar looking for somebody who had his keys and I had lots of offers.

I found my chief pilot in one of the lower temperature establishments and he had a set of keys for me. Back to the apartment building, next door gave me my kit back and I had finally arrived.

First Officer, now Captain Wang is the Chief Pilot at the Shanghai Search and Rescue Operation. First Officer, now Captain Jing is a Senior Pilot and Training Captain at Shenzhen.

Both of them are worth their weight in gold.

7th Aug 2015, 21:08
Karratha hadn’t prospered because of the oil; it had prospered because Dampier, a town next door had prospered exporting iron ore. That started forty years before and so the oil industry was a relative newcomer. There would be enormously long trains shifting iron ore from the large open cast mines inland; even in Dampier the rocks were red with natural rust. For me there were about a dozen or so installations offshore, nothing serious, ninety miles at the most.

The airport was a typical 2nd level airport. A single runway; a hardstanding fairly well populated with light aircraft, a small terminal building and a fire section and ATC complex; both empty. As in Kunnunura one had to broadcast ones intentions before taking off and joining the circuit. Despite the fact it had several 737 sized movements a day the fire cover consisted of the volunteer fire brigade in Karratha fourteen kilometres away equipped with a pickup and water dispense trailer. At least you had some fire support which is more than you had at Kunnunura.

I knew a fair number of people there; those that had worked in Aberdeen in the eighties plus British pilots who had been sent over to get the Australian arm going and had made the sensible decision to stay. Everybody, except me, was on two weeks on two off the only exception being the office and operations staff that lived locally. We lived in two bedroom detached houses, obviously designed for the job because each bedroom had its own en-suite facilities. Cooking was normally a joint effort much the same as in China. The company sent pilots to where they were needed so there was no guarantee that you would keep going to the same place. The result would be that various occupants would leave their surplus provisions in the larder until next time, if ever. A look though the larder of the house I was in suggested that the company was almost entirely Italian because in the cupboard was every known form of pasta going.

They had just opened a small mall in the centre of town so there was somewhere where you could do some decent shopping and get a coffee. There were a couple of bars and one establishment that good loosely be described as a brothel but Australia is more tolerant in that department. Despite being surrounded by parched bush one could not just charge into it with your pickup just for the hell of it. There was an area set aside for those who wanted to try and wreck their 4X4s. Property prices were eye-watering as is normal in Klondike areas. The town owned the building land and they would auction off parcels after the electricity, water and drainage infrastructure had been completed.

Once airborne you were presented with a kaleidoscope of colours. Another industry in Dampier is salt. This is obtained with very large evaporation pans of seawater of about one kilometre square. As the go through the process they change from deep blue to white and it the distance can be seen mountains of pristine salt. There were several offshore islands, deserted apart from the odd weekend chalet and between them the water was an incredibly deep blue.

I was there in January, the middle of summer, so the temperature was knocking on 40 degrees quite often. To cool down en-route one would climb up to a benign 25 degrees at 5000 ft. This brought into play an instrument that I have only seen in Australia; an Assigned Altitude Indicator. This was basically a manual veeder counter where you dialled in the altitude that you were supposed to be flying at. For example, if you were cleared down to 2,000 ft. you would set this on the instrument before you descended. Good idea? I thought it was a nuisance but when in Oz do as the Ozzies do.

The water was quite shallow around Dampier, when a fully loaded Very Large Ore Carrier was departing its single propeller would stir up the bottom even at high tide. All ships needed piloting and that included the LPG carriers. They are like tankers except that they have three or four huge golf balls on their deck which is used to transport Liquefied Petroleum Gas. They like the others had to come in at high tide and at times the high tide was at 05.00 or 17.00. Guess which one they wanted the pilot landed on.

It was very uncivilised getting up at 03.30 for a 04.45 take off; it was like working for RyanAir. You would look at the weather, pick up the pilot and launch into the gloom. Normally you were lucky and the LPG carrier would light up his tanks with floodlightsbut but sometime not which in case meant that his nav lights looked like every other Tom Dick or Harry’s nav lights. Some years previously a crew doing what I was doing were confidently approaching the helideck when there was a sudden bang and a splash and they were up to their backsides in water. They had flown into the sea without realising it. It is very easy to get disorientated at night so I used to approach crosswind so that I had the whole ship in sight, longways. It also meant that if things went pearshaped at the last moment I could fly through the helideck and out the other side.

I was contracted to be there for six weeks. As I have previously mentioned Australian flight and duty limitations were a complete mystery to me. However I did know enough to point out that as I was on a site for more than twenty eight days I was entitled to a day off, 36 hours, every seven days. We had stacks of cars on site so one day I travelled north and came upon Cossak.

Before somebody thought upon the idea of jamming a speck of sand in an oyster Cossack was an important Pearl fishing area. It was large enough to have a courthouse, school and stone built stores. The original police station is still used as a backpacker’s hotel. The decline of the pearl industry and the unsuitability of its coast line as a port saw it deteriorate until it was abandoned in the 1950s. The courthouse was a time capsule. Absolutely original and one could almost feel the atmosphere of some drunk being hauled up for causing wholesale mayhem the night before.

As my six weeks were coming to an end the word came from China that I was not needed as yet. I got on to the blower to Perth and suggested that I might be available for another six weeks. Within the hour another company roster had been written, printed and emailed to all stations.

I was now doing a twelve week stint at Karratha which in itself was a bit of a record. However with less than a week to go I was told that I was going to Broome for a few days.

I was a bit of a nuisance. I had just bought enough steaks to keep me going until I left so I was going to have to leave them behind. You cannot just travel north from Karratha to Broome; you have to go via Perth. So off I went on a Thursday, night stop in a hotel in Perth and flew up to Broome in the morning but too late to do a flight. Friday night was in the hotel and then on Saturday a flight to a rig 200 miles away to the north. The diversion was Truscott, as I have mentioned before. There was no flying on Sunday and on Monday I flew down to Perth ex contract to fly back to China. I had been halfway around Western Australia just to do a four hour flight.

When I got back to China I continued back to the UK and a month later I set out for Shekou. Just before I left I got a message to contact the base but it was too late so I did not get it until I arrived.

My company was pulling out of China……………………….

9th Aug 2015, 20:15
It was a shock but not entirely unexpected. The last G reg helicopter had departed some months before and was now wearing an Australian registration. On the pilots side there were the chief and deputy chief pilots, a couple of training captains and three or four line trainers like myself. The chief engineer and a couple of others were in an advisory capacity but only to assist in training new arrivals. There was a big plot between the British and Chinese to set up an international servicing and repair centre catering for the whole of the Far East so our continuing partnership did seem set fair to continue. However, the present operation was set up in 1984 when business practices were different so when our American masters came to have a look they may well have found that the arrangements were not as squeaky clean as Capitol Hill would have liked so they may have thought it was better to drop it.

For the Chinese company it was a nightmare. They had had the rug pulled from underneath them completely. The contracts they had negotiated with the oil companies were won on the basis that the operation was run and supervised to western standards with western personnel and these were all going to be taken away. The company needed some of us and the UK company then agreed to release those who wanted to stay. Some felt that there careers would be best left alone so they were going to depart. The chief and deputy and a training captain who were of an advanced age, who been in China for decades, plus me, elected to stay:

The Gang of Four.

Then came the negotiations regarding the salary. We had been told early on that we were being considered as working in China, not rotating from the UK, so there was no 4X2. How much? They all turned to me because I was on a contract. At the end of the day we negotiated it so that everybody got more than I was getting previously because of responsibility allowances etc. I got much the same with the bonus of continuous employment.

Then we had to tell the staff that they were no longer needed. The UK company had calculated how much redundancy money they were entitled to and so that was put to them. The next day they were all in the chief pilot’s office with a Chinese lawyer who explained that in China you cannot kick long term employees out of the door with a pittance; in fact, quite a lot of money was involved. In the end it cost them several times what they had bargained for. Then came another panic. The girl who ran the spares store was the only person on the planet that understood the company spares computer and they were going to fire her. They had to make her an offer she could not refuse, fix up her visa and give her a job in the company headquarters in the UK.

The changeover came and we carried on as normal except that the rosters were now done by the Chinese admin staff. One week later, when the duty and flying hour records were a complete shambles they had to bring back our previous secretary and roster clerk who insisted on, and got, the same salary as she was getting with us before.

I now had to get an apartment by myself. The one I had been living was a bit tatty, however, I had the option of continuing in it paying the same rent as the company; about HK$ 7,000/month but I decided to look around. There was an apartment that we had given up some six months previously of the same size and in the same building that had been totally redecorated and with a new kitchen. I took it on with a rent of HK$ 4,500 equivalent. An apartment that the company had previously rented for 6,000 was going for 3,500 and that was just the tip of the iceberg.

The Chinese engineers were now totally responsible for our aircraft and how well they came up to the task. The aircraft were immaculate and smooth. Out went the old company tolerances for vibration levels, in came the new; as little as possible. Any snag, however insignificant, was attended to before the next flight. On offshore flying you pick up the passengers rotors running outside the terminal and drop them off there on return before taxiing to a parking spot for shutdown. You then proceed to the line office to attend to the tech log. Now the aircraft’s engineer would climb into the jump seat as the passengers departed and you could discuss any problems taxing back with the option, if practical, of demonstrating the fault. For me it was a new level of co-operation between the two professions.

I had now, because of the new working schedule, more time to be able to explore Shenzhen and other parts of China…………………………

10th Aug 2015, 14:07
great read

10th Aug 2015, 18:34

Your wonderful Posts need careful reading - there's so much material in them. You seem to be making a habit of saving the day for your ungrateful :* employers !

Will study your last two and maybe ask a few questions soon.

But carry on the good work ! - we can't get enough of your tales of Old China.

Cheers, Danny.

10th Aug 2015, 20:17
When Deng Xiaoping (you all know how to pronounce that) opened up China. Shenzhen, being next door to Hong Kong was a natural choice to be one the first Special Economic Zones and with it came industrial development on a scale only seen before in wartime. With it came millions of migrant workers receiving unheard of wages and with them came the entrepreneurs in the entertainment industry to relieve them of some of it. Immediately by my apartment was a ship, the MingHua, originally MS Ancerville, launched by de Gaulle in 1962. In 1973 it was bought and operated by China where it got its name. In 1983 it was beached at Shekou and was turned into a hotel and entertainments centre. The area is called Sea World and is thick with restaurants of every nationality. There are several couth bars and an expat’s club called the Snake Pit where we reprehensibles would gather to swop stories. Down the road there is what is known as the Dark Side. Small bars where one can be entertained by hostesses for the cost of a few drinks or further entertained at home with money.

Not every project was a success. A few miles east of the heliport was an enormous fairground. It had a largest roller coaster I have ever but it was closed through lack of custom. There were five golf courses within 15 kilometres of Shenzhen; three of them to Championship standard designed by household names. Between Shenzhen and Shekou there were two theme parks. One, called Splendid China, had representations of every part and ethnic race in the country. There was continuous entertainment in one part or the other and the Mongolian horsemen gave a show that would be impossible to see in this country. On of them was a lunatic riding a pair of horses, bareback, with nothing touching them except a rein and two feet going at a gallop all around the football pitch sized arena. In the evening there would be an amazing show of song, dancing and acrobatics to round off the day.

The other was The Window of the World. This was a theme park dominated by a 1/3rd scale Eiffel Tower complete with lifts and viewing balconies. Every continent in the world was portrayed in varying scale. One could travel from Japan, to Australia and walk over a Sydney Harbour Bridge staring at the Opera house and Ayers Rock. Through the pyramids of Egypt and then to Italy with the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Bridge of Sighs. Onwards, to the Arc de Triomphe and across to London; the Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament. North America was represented with the portraits on Mount Rushmore and the passé de resistance, Niagara Falls.

This feature was a semi miniature, about 100 meters across, version of Niagara Falls that used to flow for five minutes every half hour. The amount of water that had to be shifted was amazing; it would be a tourist site by itself if it were natural let alone artificial, As a teaser, this is what it looks like.

http://i229.photobucket.com/albums/ee224/fareastdriver/DSCF0104_zps0m7cwhw1.jpg (http://s229.photobucket.com/user/fareastdriver/media/DSCF0104_zps0m7cwhw1.jpg.html)

Again in the evening there was another show set with a distinctive Greco Roman theme.

The cable TV in the apartment had 100 Channels, satellite TV was yet to come. Apart from the usual overseas one like BBC, CNN and Star Sports there were multitude of Chinese programmes from all over China. Because so many people work far away from their home city they could be virtually be guaranteed to keep up with the home programmes in real time. There were special channels for Chinese opera, sports, historical films and a military channel. This channel had the best looking presenters of the whole lot, all in uniform. Watching this one could trace the whole military history of the PLA from the Chinese side, learn to strip and reassemble an assault rifle, sight and load a105mm howitzer because that was how a lot of the conscripts were taught.

Over the years I was there I was never afraid to go where no gweilo had been before. I had friends that lived in Chengdu, Chongqing, Wuhan and Luzhao. The first time I went to Chengdu they still had the early morning municipal loudspeakers urging the population to make even greater efforts that day. Hotels had to be licensed for foreigners so one could not pick any one. People would stand around a stall watching you buy something and then fall over laughing when they realised how much you had paid for it. You learned to bargain. Open at 30% of the asking price and walk away if they wont come down to half.

My contract was for one year. As time was progressing more and more of the operation was being run by nationals. I had a Chinese captain do my base check and instruments renewal and I was spending more time at home as a spare crew. They then offered me a six month extension. My contract said that it should have renewed on a year-by-year but they said it was a new contract. On that basis I choked an extra US$1,000/month out of them. They renewed my visa and as it was during the build up to the Olympics the visa regulations were draconian and it expired on the last day of my contract. I was starting to have trouble with my Chinese medical especially with my cataracts so I could see that the writing was on the wall.

A nice letter thanking me for the years I had been with them but that was it. The final trip was on a Sunday; a simple trip to the JHN platform and return. My co-pilot flew it out and I flew it back to land the last time. After the passengers had disembarked and the co-pilot went to do the paperwork I did the engine wash and finally shut it down. On an impulse I took a photo of the aeroplane.

http://i229.photobucket.com/albums/ee224/fareastdriver/B%207955_zpsxs8mc45z.jpg (http://s229.photobucket.com/user/fareastdriver/media/B%207955_zpsxs8mc45z.jpg.html)

In the planning room there was just the paperwork waiting for me as the co-pilot had gone home. The line office was empty, they knew that there was nothing wrong with the aeroplane and I signed off the tech log. There was nothing to do in the office except fill in my log book. It was 9th November 2008. My first flight in a Provost T1 at Tern Hill was 28th October 1960 so I had cracked forty-eight years and 17,879.45hrs. My headset I had bought in 1981 so that had at least 12,000hrs. I pick them both up, called up the driver and went through the terminal. Everybody had gone except for somebody I did not know that was beavering in the corner. At the front door I looked back and I could see the windsock the other side of the airfield indicating about five knots down the runway.

Then I closed the door.

11th Aug 2015, 10:08
I was starting to have trouble with my Chinese medical especially with my cataracts so I could see that the writing was on the wall.

If you could see the writing on the wall, they couldn't have been that bad! ;)

That was some flying career ... starting with the JP Mk 1 with the spindly legs!

11th Aug 2015, 11:39
starting with the JP Mk 1 with the spindly legs!

I beg you're pardon. I started off with real Provosts; not kiddycars with a vacuum cleaner in the back.

http://i229.photobucket.com/albums/ee224/fareastdriver/Provostcourse.jpg (http://s229.photobucket.com/user/fareastdriver/media/Provostcourse.jpg.html)

I'm there somewhere.

Phil Kemp
12th Aug 2015, 00:03
What a great account, FED. Great to reconnect after all these years and catch up on the rest of the story after I left that area of the business. :cool:

John Eacott
19th Oct 2015, 00:19
On another trip down memory lane, this was issued to me 50 years ago while I was still driving on L plates ;)

A licence to operate a Flying Machine issued by the Ministry of Aviation: magic :cool:



9th Nov 2015, 00:13
ALLISON 250: Does anyone remember DCA's new directive in 1968 that pilots/LAMEs complete a theory course on the Basic Gas Turbine, to be certified to fly or maintain the Bell206, FH1100, Hughes500?

This course was initially conducted by Hawker Pacific in Sydney by Instructor Frank Pink (1968). It was attended by 3-4 LAMEs and one pilot.

I need verification that I was that pilot. There was a photo published in a Hawker Newsletter of the group I have described, around the Allison 250.

Anyone kept those Newsletters? I would appreciate your help in this matter. Thanks, in anticipation of good memories.

16th Nov 2015, 10:53
Anyone remember anything about Anglia Helicopters Ag-Bell 206 G-BIJC that was supposedly written off in a landing accident at Mogadishu sometime in 1989? Helicopter was cancelled by the CAA 12/12/1990.

Welsh Wizzard
17th Nov 2015, 11:04
Yes I remember BIJC..........I owned and operated it between 1985 - 87 in SWales before it was sold and went to Africa. How can I help ?

28th Nov 2015, 11:31
I too am a keen plastic modeller - I run Whirlybird (we make after market items for the plastic modelling hobby, and I'm particularly inrerested in helicopters).

I am currently looking at helicopters used in the North Sea oil and gas industry, with a view to producing model kits or conversion sets for them.

If you want to see some of the things I've produced, look at our website (under construction at the moment, but it will give you an idea of what we do):

www.whirlybirdmodels.com (http://www.whirlybirdmodels.com)

This year, for example, I did a conversion kit to make G-BALZ, and previously I did several S-61N conversion kits (for aircraft from Bristows, KLM, BA and Schreiner), S-58Ts from BA, Bristow and KLM, and a BA Boeing Vertol 234.

This year, I'm trying to do some sets for Super Pumas - probably a SAR one (either G-JSAR or one of the Bond ones) as well as rig support aircraft from Bristows, Bond etc. Can anybody help me with good detailed photographs of the aircraft (close up so that I can see all the small maintenance markings etc. if possible), and also enough information so that I can help the modellers out there to use and modify the existing 1/72 model kits (Italeri are still producing 1/72 Super Puma kits, but the Heller ones seem hard to find)? I need to know which features (such as fuselage length, window configuration, sponson design etc.) apply to which aircraft - they seem to vary quite a lot from operator to operator.

I am also interested in any other helicopters used in the North Sea, so any information would be very welcome.

Thanks in advance for your help.

John Eacott
11th Dec 2015, 05:57
With more trips down Nostalgia lane, I recently found this publicity shot of Dave 'Wobbly' Warren and yours truly taken for a recruiting brochure. If anyone comes across Dave then embarrass him with this :p


11th Dec 2015, 06:48
Possible caption, John...

"Really?.. You know, you're the first person to have said that to me".

5th Jan 2016, 17:59
If DennisK is the former colleague of Roy Spooner previously trading as Spoonair/Spooner Aviation then I hope this thread finds you in good health. Sadly Roy flew off to that Great Aerodrome in The Sky on 17th December - he always spoke highly of you and I will make mention of the company's endeavours at Father's funeral on 29th January to which you are most welcome.

6th Jan 2016, 15:58
Dennis K is indeed the man...hopefully he will see this in time. Sad news about your father...I knew him only in passing but he certainly made an impact at Shoreham.

30th Apr 2016, 19:02
In reply to:

"Does anyone have a good photo of G-AWAP?":

Following the recent tragic accident involving a Airbus Super Puma, I was minded about a similar incident involving G-AWAP shortly after I stopped being a regular passenger on board for GEGB overhead line inspections. A search lead me to this forum and the above request for any photos of G-AWAP. Well here are a couple




The pilot in the head-on shot I believe is Capt. Tom Wotters a Vietnam veteran from Iowa. Others at the time in addition to John Crewdson were Cdr Phil Bartlett ex RN and Capt. David Hetreed ex Arny Air Corp.

1st May 2016, 10:23
I too would be interested to know more about G-BIJC and the circumstances of her being in Somalia. Surely Mog was a war/famine zone in 1989? What was a british reg helo doing out there at that time?

2nd May 2016, 12:10
Prince Michael of Sealand sent me these images of G-AWAP:



2nd Dec 2016, 20:26
This pilot is Fred Le Grys. The only teetotaller to get a hang over on Coke, My boss in Sumburgh, Shetland in 1972/3

2nd Dec 2016, 23:12


23rd Mar 2017, 10:38
PANews well done, that was a great discovery and completes the post! :ok:

For those just joining the thread PA is referring to post #1063 (http://www.pprune.org/6806594-post1063.html) on page 54 which talks about a special exercise conducted by the British Army using Westland Scouts conducting evaluation missions for the Scottish Police in 1968.

Thanks to PA we can now complete the crew photo:

Back row: (L-R), Sgt Young, Insp MacLeod, Insp Rhoden, and Insp Inglis
Front row: (Order unknown) Major Maurice Taylor of the Lancashire Fusiliers, Captain Jerry Jones of the Royal Corps of Transport, Ronnie Matthews of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Regiments and Lt. Norman Overy

Norman Overy is my grandad

Buster the Bear
15th May 2017, 20:35
Aerial view of the ceremony to mark the start of building the M1 at Slip End/Pepperstock, near Luton, in April 1958. The motorway opened the following year. BEA Whirlwind?


18th May 2017, 04:42
This sure was an interesting thread until they ran Savoia off. I can only look at so many pictures of an Astar in the Himalayas.

Rotor Work
26th Sep 2017, 08:38
Unlikely to be Bristow: not their colours, and unusual for them to have anything to do with a Jettie in Tassie :hmm:

It's possibly Airfast: maybe even Vowells although not their colours either.

I remembered seeing this post a year or two ago,
Came across another photo of this JetRanger over the weekend, It is ROTOR WORK's VH-AHV
Russ Ashton was a Hydro Engineer.
I believe it left Australia for PNG as P2-AHV (Rotorspot)
ROTOR WORK's VH-AHQ and VH-AHU were both in the red and white livery arriving in Tasmania and working for the Hydro in the mid 1970's
Regards RW

8th Dec 2017, 23:09
This pilot is Fred Le Grys. The only teetotaller to get a hang over on Coke, My boss in Sumburgh, Shetland in 1972/3

hi I'm after history of my granddad will be lovey to hear some storys or photos of him when he was younger :ok:

9th Dec 2017, 12:30
This sure was an interesting thread until they ran Savoia off. I can only look at so many pictures of an Astar in the Himalayas.

It is high time that the Mod Central asked him to return. He has an enormous trove of fascinating stuff that would make a welcome break from Nepal and vegetarianism .......................:ok:

9th Dec 2017, 14:47
I've just come across this nostalgia thread. Since this died when I posted it on its own, here it is for the delight of old and young alike. 29.11.67, just fifty years ago


9th Dec 2017, 15:51
Norman Overy is my grandad

Whatever happened to Uncle Norman, I remember doing my first ever TQ (Lynx with Maj Overy in 1980 and him reminding me the TANS worked better if the Doppler switch was turned on!

Old Age Pilot
9th Dec 2017, 17:17
It is high time that the Mod Central asked him to return. He has an enormous trove of fascinating stuff that would make a welcome break from Nepal and vegetarianism .......................:ok:

What actually happened to Savoia? I always thought he seemed like a very unlikely candidate for getting banned.

He seemed like a decent, knowledgeable person with seemingly well thought out posts. Certainly a valuable contributor to Rotorheads.

Definitely a less nostalgic place without such frequent contributions.:confused:

Self loading bear
9th Dec 2017, 19:12
I dont think you reflect the whole story right.
Please look at the clear post on 10 january 2014.

I too would like to see new contributions of Savioa or from one of his other user names.
But I also think Senior Pilot has handled this in the right way.

Now back to thread.
There must be more readers who could contribute to this particular thread.

Let me start: Who has photos or the story of the KLM S61 which was hoisted from Kotter or Logger platform by a B234 after it shed a blade while stationary (I think a Norwegian B234)

Cheers SLB

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