Four years in Indonesia – Part 1

Hard to believe but it’s been four years since I booked that one way ticket from the UK to Indonesia to start my new life as a commercial pilot. A lot’s happened in those four years, so I thought I’d share a brief summary of my journey thus far. This is part one of two which covers my first two years in Indonesia where I went from co-pilot to captain on the Cessna C208 Grand Caravan. Hopefully it might provide a bit of inspiration for those pilots still studying for that commercial license or looking for that first flying job.

First day in Indonesia arriving at Nusawiru, Pangandaran (Nov 2009)

The beginning

Friendly local in Pangandaran (Nov 2009)

“Wow! It’s a pretty big aircraft!” were my first thoughts upon seeing a Cessna Caravan for the very first time. Having been used to flying PA28s and the like, the four tonne Caravan parked on the apron at Halim airport, Jakarta was something of a beast. Our small intake of six new pilots, including myself, were about to take our very first flight in the C208 as passengers, down to Pangandaran on the southern Java coast, to see if we could get through the training course and learn to fly these things.

Despite it’s size, the C208 proved to be fairly straight forward to learn to fly. The hardest parts were learning about all the various systems, getting used to the Garmin G1000 avionics and the power lag with the turbine engine. But after just under two weeks of intensive ground-schooling and three training flights, I was signed off as good to start line training as a co-pilot. And I couldn’t be happier!

Finally getting paid to fly! (Dec 2009)

C208 Co-pilot

Line training consisted of flying with a senior captain for ten sectors and on each one I’d be tested on various things from emergencies and systems to route navigation and general handling. It took about another week before I was then signed off as a fully qualified co-pilot on the C208 but it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

On my second day on the job, I’d eaten something the night before that really wasn’t agreeing with me and ended up being incapacitated en-route thanks to major stomach cramps and nausea. The captain handled things great and we made our destination without any dramas; although I think the pax were a little nervous seeing one of their pilots keeled over the controls, vomiting into a sick bag. Great start!

Getting ready for a day’s flying in Malinau, Kalimantan (Jan 2010)

Anyway, thankfully things got much better. As a co-pilot you were moved every six weeks to a different location within Indonesia and I enjoyed seeing much of the country from the northern parts of Sumtra to almost all of Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) and Java. However, the most exciting place I got to fly in as a co-pilot was Papua.

Busy in Mulia, Papua (April 2010)
Mixing with the locals in Kenyam, Papua (May 2010)

Papua felt like another world. It’s hugely mountainous and inhabited by a totally different type of people to the rest of Indonesia. And the flying; wow! Nothing I’d ever see before in real life or on TV could compare to this. I knew almost straight away this was a place I wanted to spend much, much more time flying in.

At the time, it was also the only place our company had any Pilatus PC-6 Porters operating. I’d heard a little about them before but didn’t know that much other than what I’d seen in the movie Air America. I managed to blag a few jump-seat rides with the pilots who flew them when I had days off from flying the C208. I was smitten. Here was a type of flying I just had to get into one way or the other!

My first taste of the PC-6 (May 2010)
C208 departing Oksibil, Papua (July 2010)

After Papua, I moved to Kupang in Timor, Indonesia. This was to be another place I really enjoyed flying in and hoped to come back to soon. Kupang is located nearly 10 degrees south of the equator which puts it just within reach of the trade-winds. The combination of strong, gusty crosswinds and stunning island destinations made it something of a tropical paradise to fly in and I wanted more than just a 6 week tour here.

Enjoying the sunset in Kupang, Timor (Aug 2010)
Spot of beach time on a charter in Larantuka awaiting our pax (Aug 2010)
Volcano in Larantuka, Timor (Aug 2010)

After almost exactly a year flying the C208 as a co-pilot, I finally got the opportunity to go on our company’s captaincy upgrade course. I was on a second tour of Kalimantan at the time and had amassed just over 760 hours flying the C208 from the right hand seat. I felt very comfortable flying the C208 and was very much looking forward to the new challenges of flying as Pilot in Command.

C208 parking up in Samarinda, Kalimantan (Oct 2010)

C208 Captain

Thanks to a rather large volcano eruption on the island of Java in November 2011, we were unable to do any flight training at our usual training base of Pangandaran due to the large amounts of volcanic ash in the air which is no good for turbine engines (as flight BA-009 can testify to). So, we ended up taking two C208s to Bengkulu in central Sumatra to complete the captaincy training alongside an initial co-pilot training course.

Naturally this wasn’t going to be a smooth ride and catching flu on the second day of the course was not ideal. Being bedridden for much of the course, I very nearly had to forfeit completing it as I was unable to start the flight training. But with just two days remaining, I managed to muster up the strength to get out of bed and go flying.

The main two things one needed to master for the upgrade was learning how to start the PT-6 turbine engine and the different perspective of flying from the left hand seat. Up until now, the captain had done all the engine starts, so it was a new and very important thing to learn. The perspective of the LHS took a little getting used to with a number of off-centre landings but after four training flights I was signed off as PIC of the C208.

Movember in Medan, Sumatra (Nov 2010)

As per the co-pilot training, my first ten flights were to be with a training captain but this time they were sitting in the right hand seat and I was in the left. Again, plenty of questions and scenarios were gone through as well as route familiarisation from our Medan base in Sumatra which was to be my first base as captain.

However, the desire to return to Kupang was still strong and when I got wind of it becoming a permanent base for our company, I put in for a transfer. And in February 2011, I moved permanently to Kupang to fly the C208 there as captain.

Stormy skies over Kupang, Timor (March 2011)
Surf charters to Rote, Timor (April 2011)
C208 approach into Sabu, Timor (June 2011)
Flying LHS somewhere over Timor (June 2011)

I had a fantastic eight months there flying initially during the wet season which bought with it some of the most challenging weather I’d had to fly with. That weather included 35kts gusting crosswinds at times along with monster thunderstorms and squall-lines separating the various island I was trying to fly between. Dry season at least did away with the thunderstorms but that gusty wind persisted and I relished the challenge of landing the C208 beyond it’s maximum demonstrated cross-wind abilities of 20kts.

Last days flying the C208 in Kupang (Aug 2011)

I learnt a lot flying the C208 out of Kupang and made some life-long friends along the way but the desire to fly the Pilatus Porter in Papua had never gone away. I’d kept in touch with one of the PC-6 pilots who’d mentioned me to the Pilatus fleet chief pilot/manager, Sven Imsand. But I was still relatively unknown to him until a chance meeting in Pangandaran back in May 2011 where I met him for the first time.

Thankfully we got on just great and he was keen for me to start on the PC-6. He promised as soon as an opening became available, I’d get a shot at it. Luckily I didn’t have to wait long and a few months later I got the email I’d been waiting for:

Hi Matt,
don’t worry one bit. After Sam, you’ll be the next one I train on the Porter. You’ve showed me plenty of enthusiasm for the Porter and for our type of flying and I am certain, you’ll absolutely love it.
Cheers

Sven

—ooOoo—

Coming up in part two, a Supercub, more training, survey flying, jungle flying, mountain flying and my last two years flying the PC-6…

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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9 Responses

  1. Cabani says:

    Great story mate!

    I can’t wait to read the second part.

    Cheers
    Ignasi

  2. Fantastic and very inspirational read! Roll on part II !!

  3. So nice 🙂 Waiting for the 2nd part. I’m trying to apply to Susi Air and this inspires me to continue the pursuit of my dream 🙂 Thanks

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience! it’s important!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Great story! keep them coming

  6. Sergi Rincon says:

    Wow… it made my day! Good job mate!

  7. Matt Dearden Matt Dearden says:

    Thanks all! Part 2 is now up :o)

  8. Rage says:

    Fun times!! I was flying up in Tanzania,kenya ,uganda and south africa in the bush. Absolutely love it! Im now in the UAE as a type rated instructor on the 208. I really miss bush flying. Would really love to come down to Indonesia to fly up there. Fingers crossed!

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