Captain Clmo Jayawardena
The big jumbo has come from the French land and as the French themselves say it is ‘annus mirabillis’ the miracle year, finally and finally the wait is over. The world will now see the Big-Bus that we all awaited for so long to see. As the years roll, none would talk of delays on delivery dates and how late the bird flew in. These would be like words written on a blackboard, erased forever. But the aeroplane will grace the sky and perhaps re write all the records of commercial aviation when the mega-miracle A380 dominates the international air-routes.
Singapore Airlines went into the record books as the launch customer. Some of my old friends from SIA would fly the A380. Perhaps Luke would too, and this story is about him. Luke of the yesteryear and how he first flew as a cadet and how young Luke and I went romping the skies in our own special way writing a few new lines in the flight training manual.
He was from Johor Baru in Malaysia. His roots were in South India where years ago his grandfather had done a Robinson Crusoe and ended up in the Malayan Peninsula. Luke was named after one of the four gospel scribes. Luke really isn’t his name. It is a pseudonym I use just to give him some anonymity. Not much protection, but one is to three are playable odds. Like in Rumplestiltskin the manikin, you are welcome to guess the name.
We first flew to Seoul. He, straight out of flying college and me as old as the hills, driving the ‘Jumbo’ classic, the lovable 747. The first thing I noticed about him was his socks, black and white diamond shapes, a mini version of the flags they swing at Grand Prix finals – if Luke swung his feet, a Ferrari would pass underneath. That we sorted out the first day itself. In Seoul he went shopping and the next day he was Zorro, waist to toe, black as a crow.
His flying credentials were all there, somewhat mixed up between what they teach in modern flying schools and how to apply the ‘ivory tower’ jargon to cope with the big 747. As for raw handling of the aeroplane all his skills were intact, only they were in bits and pieces and spread in places like a Irida Pola (Sunday Fair). They had to be streamlined, the wet market needed to be modified to a ‘Seven-Eleven’ – that was my job.
The next round we went flying to Europe, his first run to the unknown, like Gagarin in his Sputnik, young Luke flew to Rome. The flying was same as before, a bit mixed up amidst the hundreds of aero dynamical paraphernalia that spelled out from the encyclopaedic collection of books that he had to study.
That’s when I decided to change the tide.
‘Luke my friend,” I said to him in a fatherly fashion.
‘You and I are from similar fields, you from Kerala and me from Sri Lanka. These Min Drag Curves and VFEs and WAT limits and VLEs are too much for us. Just remember when you pull the stick back, the houses will become smaller and when you push the stick down, the houses will become bigger, that’s climbing and descending this monster,” I explained the simple theory of flight.
“As for landing my friend, Kudurai Madiri Pona, just ride it like a horse.”
That was it. We flew over Europe and he flew like a Trojan, bravely battling the weather and the overcrowded skies. Every time he came in to land it was pure and simple Kudurai Madiri Pona and the big jumbo responded and touched down on the concrete as smooth as a honeymoon lover.
On the way back we flew via Colombo, that’s my home ground. I requested the radar controller to give Luke a very short ‘four-mile’ final. They know me well here and the controller said: “No problem Captain.”
I was depicting what we did in the Old Hong Kong Airport or what we do in the Canarsi Approach in New York; both, most demanding. A ‘four-mile’ final is a challenge for anyone. I was throwing him in the deep-end and I had no doubt Luke could manage. He came in tight and right, like Hop Along Cassidy and rode the horse straight and beautiful to do a perfect landing. Gone was the Kampong kid and his ‘Irida Pola’ flying, this was Takashimaya and Robinsons rolled into one, everything was in place, nice and shining and professional to the tee.
That was our little story, Luke the ‘jockey’ and me. Sometimes in the field of training the script needs a little changing. New acts to be introduced to suit the stage. That is the essence of teaching, different hurdles for different horses. It wasn’t for Luke to learn what I knew, more so, it was for me to know who he was and what he could cope with. That part was difficult to find in the flying training manual, and so was Kudurai Madiri Pona.
The world has gotten older and young Luke now wears four stripes and flies in command of Boeing Triple Sevens, fly-by-wire and multiple computers. I met him a few times, flew as his passenger too with great pride. “Captain Luke is in command,” the stewardess announced, and silently and gratefully I said ‘Amen’.
I saw him walking down the aisle, looking for me. Same old Luke in his flat and uncombed Julius Ceaser hairstyle. He came to my seat and grinned and shook my hand and lightly lifted his trouser leg and said: “Captain, the socks are black and it is still Kudurai Madiri Pona.”
One day I am sure Luke will fly in command of the gigantic A380. That’s a certainty. It would be the zenith for any pilot. Luke is ready, that I know. He is competent, polished and professional and will wear socks as black as midnight. It’s nice that he remembers his beginnings. That’s what flying is all about, that’s what life is all about.
Kudurai Madiri Pona – ride it like a horse. Some flying lesson.
Captain Elmo Jayawardena