2000 hours in the air

Today saw me fly my 2000th hour and they’ve sure clocked up quickly since I started flying for a living! 2.5 years ago I had barely a tenth of that. To commemorate the occasion one would usually head to a local bar with some friends and buy everyone a drink but alas there’s rather a lack of those out here in Malinau. So instead I thought I’d stay in and write a few words on each of the aircraft types I’ve flown since I started flying just over six years ago.
Scottish Aviation Bulldog
This aircraft is what got me hooked on the idea of flying back in the mid-nighties. Whilst I was at school, I was lucky enough to be in the RAF cadets and occasionally we’d get a chance to go flying with an ex-Red Arrows pilot in one of the RAF’s Bulldogs out of Colerne Airfield. Annoyingly I don’t have any photos of the couple of occasions that I went, nor do I have any logbook entries for it but the memories will always be with me. There’s nothing quite like pulling a 4G loop. Awesome little machine! 
Piper PA28 Warrior/Cadet
Parking up at Sandown Airfield on the Isle of Wight
I know these get a lot of flack from folk in aviation as a “spamcan” but I reckon it’s a little unjustified. Sure it’s not the most exiting thing on three wheels but it’s very easy to fly, docile in the stall (unlike some training aircraft) and not too expensive to operate. It’ll land on most surfaces and doesn’t need too long a runway either. I’ve had more than a 100, mostly, enjoyable hours flying all over the UK in one of these. G-GFCB will always be a bit special to me as for nearly a year it was my little PA28 as no-one else ever used to hire it!

Piper PA34 Seneca II
I flew the one in the foreground (not the monstrosity behind it!)
I don’t know if it was because this was the aircraft I did my multi-engine instrument rating in or not but I’m not a fan. I never got the hang of landing the thing properly, it was always more of a meeting with the runway rather than a landing. On one engine and with a bit of weight in it you’d barely be able to climb. It wasn’t especially nice to throw about the skies either nor was it especially fast. Not an aircraft I have fond memories off; especially getting rather lost over the NDB at Exeter Airport trying to do that bloody awful non-precision approach!

Piper PA28R Turbo Arrow III
Parked up at Kemble Airfield on a tea and cake run
Probably one of my favourite aircraft this one. If I had to pick one to actually get from A to B, this would be it. I’ve only ever flown one and that was G-BNNX from Bristol Flying Centre. Fast, easy to fly and could actually carry four adults with their bags AND enough fuel to actually go somewhere. And go it would! 140kts+ IAS in the cruise made for quite rapid progress across the skies of England once you got up onto the airways. Bristol to Jersey in about an hour to go to the zoo for the day was one memorable trip I had with a couple of friends.
Piper PA31 Chieftain
Parked up at Oban Airfield having flown it in from Edinburgh
I was lucky enough to a number of trips in one of these out of Bristol, thanks to the fact the owners used to charter a couple of my flying school’s instructors to fly it for them. As they were instructors on multi-engine piston aircraft, I could tag along in the right seat and get to fly it on empty legs. Even faster than the Turbo Arrow and much more stable than the Seneca, this is a great machine to get from A-B if there’s a few of you. Quite noisy mind if you’re not sitting up front with a headset on.
Cessna C208B Grand Caravan
Stormy skies over El Tari Airport, Kupang
The first aircraft I was paid to fly and the first Cessna I’d ever flown. I could write pages and pages on the Caravan as it’s the aircraft I have most experience with flying both as a co-pilot in the right seat and then as captain in the left seat. My company has a huge fleet of these and I’ve been lucky enough to fly ones with less than 70 hours on the clock, equipped with the latest G1000 avionics and auto-pilots. i’ve also flown the older, Legacy, versions with the more traditional 6-pack instrument setup. As to which is better, I’m not so sure. I love having the moving map, it’s great for situational awareness but I still like the good-old 6-pack to give me the information for actually flying the thing.
The Caravan is a great aircraft for hauling a tonne of cargo/passengers from main airports into much smaller strips. It’s not too hard to transition onto from smaller aircraft and you soon get used to it’s size. I love the challenge of landing it in big crosswinds that we get in Timor; sometimes beyond the POH’s demonstrated crosswind. It can also stop very quickly if you need it to offering powerful brakes and reverse thrust. It’s not hard to see why they’re so popular in developing countries.
Piper PA18 SuperCub
Looking rather pleased having spend 2 days flying the Cub
This was an aircraft I’d always wanted to try. Anyone you speak to about Cubs say they are wonderful and you really won’t know how wonderful until you go and try one. Lovely, light controls which feel like an extension to your thoughts when flying. It’s an aircraft you don’t look inside for information; you fly it by feel. The visibility it offers thanks to a low set combing and plenty of glass is fantastic. The SuperCub’s STOL capabilities are also excellent. With a bit of a headwind on take-off you barely use 50m of runway I reckon! One day I really must own one of these….
Pilatus PC-6 Porter
The Porter in it’s natural environment
And finally we come to my latest steed, the legendary Porter. Like most people I first saw these in the movie Air America. At the time, I could never imagine that I’d be able to almost live the same life (minus the people shooting at me). The Porter is an amazing aircraft. It’ll go into and out of pretty much anything you care to call an airstrip. It’s built incredibly solidly but also very light (average empty weigh is about 1400kg with 2800kg max take-off weight) and can carry an impressive amount of cargo whilst still maintaining 1000ft/min climb rates. The controls are very responsive and again, like the Cub, it’s very easy to fly by feel. I’m still learning everyday I fly it and it’s a real privilege to be using it for it’s original purpose i.e. going to places other aircraft would struggle. And right now, I have no desires to move onto anything else. This really is the ultimate for me I reckon.
So, what was I doing on my 2000th hour I hear you ask? Well, I was flying a Porter from Malinau to an 400m airstrip called Data Dian this morning in some rather nasty weather. The wet season is still in full swing here in Borneo. Thankfully the weather report I got before leaving was correct and the clouds did offer enough holes in the various layers to allow me to get into and out of the airstrip safely.
Matt Dearden

Matt Dearden

English born professional pilot, writer, blogger and columnist. Currently flying the Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter in Papua, Indonesia.

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3 Responses

  1. Axel Pliopas says:

    I know I’m a little late, but hey, I’m only reading this right now… so…. congratulations on your 2000 hours and also on the way you celebrated it…. flying the Porter!

  2. Viltsu says:

    Nice fleet you have flown. Reading your stories have made me a Porter fan 😉

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