I Was a Pilot for One Day in Malaysia
Did you ever dream of becoming a pilot? I did. I wanted to learn to fly a plane and be friendly with the clouds. I wanted to be up there in the sky, looking down into the earth below, so far away from everything and everyone. But flying is expensive, so I never got around to having lessons. Until recently, that is.
It was a foggy day when I let myself out that September morning from my cousins’ place in Woodlands, Singapore. I was to meet Derrick, the young Singaporean guy paying for my flying lessons, in Queen Street bus terminal where we would take a cab to Senai Airport in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.
I remember being very stressed at that time. I left the apartment early and would have arrived on time at the bus station if not for a guy who kept on following me from the Woodlands station. In wanting to lose him, I’d inadvertently taken the train going to Pasir Ris instead of towards Bugis.
In any case, visibility was still poor so when we arrived at the FRAS Flying Club inside Senai Airport, we still had to wait for a while for the weather to clear. In the meantime, Captain Ingo Noka, the co-owner of Asia Pacific Leisure Flying holding the Pilot for a Day tour, told us a bit about the airport and what would happen during the flight. When the Piper Warrior aircraft was ready, he went through the pre-flight checks, showing us what pilots do before boarding the plane.
Everything must be checked; from the flaps (that there are no loose parts), to the wheels, fuel (to make sure there’s no water), engine, and propeller, among others. Capt. Ingo didn’t have an instructor’s license (yet), so he turned us over to Capt. Boo Jing You, another FRAS member who just came back from a teaching session.
Capt. Boo showed me how to interpret the various thingamajig in the instrument panel. There’s one telling you how level the plane is, another showing how far you’re up from the ground, a compass, a GPS, an ice detector (umm…not used much), and air speed. Like what Capt. Ingo did from the outside, he also went through a checklist to make sure everything was working the way it was supposed to.
After getting clearance from the air traffic control, up we went! I couldn’t sit still, I was so excited to be in the pilot seat, although of course, I did nothing but take pictures. I could hear Capt. Boo through the headset talking to the air controllers, and I couldn’t believe I was such in a small plane. The Piper Warrior PA-28 is a light aircraft that’s really designed for flight training and personal use, and if it’s not used for the Pilot for One Day program, it’s used by students racking up hours to go towards either their licensure as a pilot or as an instructor.
The Piper seats four people, and I looked back every now and then at Derrick, who seemed relaxed and unworried even when Capt. Boo turned over the controls to me at 1,500 ft. I never knew planes can be so responsive! When I turned the yoke a bit to the right, the plane turned right immediately. I turned left, up, down, and generally, had so much fun acting as a pilot for a few minutes high up in the Johor Bahru airspace.
Alas, all good things must end, so after 40 minutes, Capt. Boo turned us back to Senai Airport. I could see the runway come up, and no matter how much I asked, Capt. Boo wouldn’t let me land the plane (boooo). It was a good thing anyhow, as our landing was smooth and we arrived in one piece.
Despite this minor disappointment (as if), it was definitely the experience of a lifetime for me! Even though I wouldn’t be able to do it again (for one hour, it costs US$320 and I don’t have many friends as loaded and as generous as Derrick), I’m more than happy I got to do it at all. Next time I find some cheap tickets to Singapore, I’d surely be back, flying lessons or not!
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Aleah Taboclaon is a freelance writer and editor. She likes running (completed one marathon, training for the next!), diving (PADI open water diver), and traveling with her Kindle. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!