I didn’t even know where Pulao Tioman was. It turned out to be less important than where the airfield was, on the island.
Runway right on the beach. Mountains north, east and south of the pavement. On base leg you head right for a sheer mountainside. On final approach you are hemmed in by high terrain and obstructions on all sides.
Low and slow towards touchdown, you are committed. A mountain straight ahead looms larger and larger.
Landing short, long, or even not landing at all, is not an option after you turn final. No missed approaches here.
There is no coastal plain. The asphalt runway competes with marsh and sand on a sliver of beach. A mountain soars to 1,000 feet less than 1 nautical mile from the threshold piano bars. Less than half a mile to the side of the runway is another 1,000-foot peak.
Think of the offshore wind shearing off the peaks.
Just a quarter-mile off the other end of the runway, a rock face leaps to 500 feet, and peaks above 2,000 feet, just a mile and a half away.
Unless you are flying an F-16 jet or a helicopter, you won’t outclimb that on a go-around. The terrain simply climbs faster than most light airplanes can.
If this were the Alps this would be a great ski run!
Anthony and Jeffrey are qualified by the Malaysian aviation authority for this arrival. Jeffrey flew us in. After we added a few kilos to our gross weight at lunch, Anthony would fly the departure.
The Cessna 172 approach chart’s base leg specifies 65 knots, descending to 300 feet, far below the mountain peaks. Turn from base to final at 60 knots, 40 degrees of flaps, and then you are committed to land.
If you are fast or long, you will hit the rock face at the departure end of the runway. If you turn away, you will eat coconut trees. Or eat the Control Tower. Your last meal in this world.
I learned to fly final approaches at 60-65 knots. Because of that 5-knot spread, I fell prey to the indolence that a few fuzzy-wuzzy knots here and there were okay. Add 5 knots for the wind, 5 knots for gusts, 5 knots for Mother Theresa… .
I remember my first outpattern solo. My excuse was a short approach dictated by air traffic control. The approach was pure frenzy. Before I knew it, I was over the pavement, willing the airplane to touch down … at 70 knots, the speed the airplane normally climbs on takeoff.
I touched down. Three times. With increasing violence, even as the airplane hopped toward the grass beside the runway. To end the agony, I pushed full throttle, and the trusty Lycoming engine didn’t stumble or hesitate. The little airplane leapt for the sky. I was already at climb speed, after all. Moron.
Later, pilot friends like Kevin and Windwalker gave me religion about nailing 60 knots on final. Not 65, not 55. Iyoy even taught me to fly 50-knot short-field approaches at full flaps with confidence, touching down whisper-soft on the piano bars, full stop in less than 400 feet.
This is how I really learned to fly. Pilot friends with thousands of hours took me under their wing.
Today I trail student pilots in the Omni pattern, flying long downwind legs that look like cross-country sojourns to Basa Air Base, 12 miles away. I can’t cut inside them to turn base, so I grudgingly follow the line of lemmings, burning fuel, muttering darkly about putting machine guns on my airplane.
At Tioman, Jeffrey flew a perfect approach. A fleeting glimpse of the checkered hut on the mountain, individual tree branches on the mountainside, then we were turning final, trees skimming by just below, threshold flashing past.
Just 10 seconds from base-to-final turn until threshold, and touchdown soon after that.
As we taxied in, we laughed at the “vulture’s row”, the line of pilots who arrived earlier, heckling every landing. Only the scorecards were missing.
We had a fantastic lunch of nasi lemak and beef rendang on a stunning beach. I regretted not bringing my trunks, or even shorts that I could wade in.
All too soon, we had to leave. Then they decided to swap passengers and airplanes.
Posted from Manila, 01 April 2010.
Next: I get to fly Angelina’s airplane!