Defence: The Brave Die But Once

It is a sad day for the nation. We lost two Ops Daulat heroes, Major Mohd Hasri Zahari RMAF, and Major Yazmi Mohamed Yusof RMAF.  The nation mourns for them.  What happened to them 21 minutes into their flight, 60 kilometers North Northeast from the Kuantan Air Base will not be known until the Board that has been set up to investigate this incident comes out with its final report.

Details are sketchy.  The pair took off at 11.09am and communications was lost at 11.30am.  They were said to be performing a Functional Check Flight, which requires a rather complex form of flight manouvers depending on the function that needs to be tested.  For example, an aircraft that has recently had an engine change will need a specific profile for that Functional Check Flight.

If it was a Functional Check Flight, the crew would have had a checklist that they needed to follow.  They would record their findings according to each of the item, in sequential order, given in the checklist for them to perform before signing off upon completion of the Functional Check Flight.

Something must have happened in the midst of the flight that only the Board would be able to deduce after gathering all the facts.

Officers and men (and women) of the Royal Malaysian Air Force, like in the other services, are paid to die if necessary.  When they step into the aircraft, no matter how well they are maintained, there is that nagging little part in their mind that knows that there is a chance that they might not come back alive.  Just as we drive to work every day.  When we leave home, how sure are we that we will get to see our family again?  But the pilots knew what was expected of them when they applied to join His Majesty’s Armed Forces.  We, as Malaysians, know that these two would die for anything as long as others may live. My only grouse is, every time something like this happens, instant “experts” flood the Internet with baseless accusations and theories.

THEORY NO.1 – LIKE MH370 THE RMAF RADAR PEOPLE ARE SLEEPING AGAIN, THAT IS WHY THE AIRCRAFT IS STILL MISSING

For those who still think that radar covers everything that is above the surface of the Earth, please have someone swing a baseball bat at your head – repeatedly.  Radar only covers some 15 percent of the surface of the Earth.  The Air Defence people did not sleep that night when the MH370 went missing.  They saw where it went until the aircraft went out of radar coverage.  You can read more about it here. The details of the flight may have changed a bit as we have learnt much more about what happened at night, but the RMAF was spot on with its procedures.

In the case of the missing BAe Hawk 108 aircraft, you must first know how radar works.  The radar transmits a radio beam which bounces off a flying object, and the beam that is bounced back is received by the radar’s receiver.  This is then translated as an image on the radar screen for the operator to see.

I explained a bit more early this month on how the RMAF Air Defence radar works.  Please read about it here.

The Hawk went down.  Which means it no longer reflected any beam for the radar receiver to receive.  How can there be any image showing on the screen?  So based on the last seen position, a search-and-rescue team was dispatched by helicopter to the last known location of the missing Hawk.  They found the bodies of the pilot but not the aircraft.  This I shall answer in…

THEORY NO.2 – THE HAWK IS MISSING BECAUSE THE RMAF DOES NOT KNOW WHERE IT IS

This is the obvious, actually.  If the RMAF know where the aircraft is, this theory of your would be academic.  But no.  If you expect to find a wreckage that is almost intact, think again.

In 1996, ValuJet Flight 592 fell out of the sky after taking off from Miami and disappeared in the Everglades.  The DC-9 aircraft with 110 on board was shredded into pieces by the impact.  It took months before they could retrieve as many pieces of the wreckage that could be found.

In 1993, an RMAF PC-7 crashed into a paddy field in Perlis.  The PC-7 is a much slower aircraft compared to the Hawk.  When I arrived at the scene, it too was shredded into pieces.  Nothing that resembled an aircraft could be seen.  We found the engine a couple of days later buried 12 meters deep in the soft paddy field.

The ground where the Hawk is said to have gone missing is a secondary jungle that is swampy in nature.  The wreckage could be in there somewhere. All we need to find is the impact point.  This may also be related to Theory No.4.  But that is for later.

THEORY NO.3 – THE HAWK IS AN OLD JUNK

How old is old for an aircraft?

I shall not compare military aircraft to civilian airliners.  I shall not even compare the Hawk to the C-130H that we have been operating since 1976.  They conduct different missions and face different kind of airframe stresses.  However, be mindful that the Royal New Zealand Air Force operates C-130s that are more than 50 years old.  Older than I am, in fact.

I will then compare the Hawk to another aircraft that probably faces even greater airframe stresses – the F-16A.  The United States Air Force retired its F-16s that entered service in 1979 only five years ago.  Therefore they were in service for 33 years!  The Hawk has been in service in the RMAF for 22 years now.  The USAF has over 5,000 aircraft and the average age of 25 years!  The Republic of Singapore Air Force only retired its A-4SU after 31 years in service.  In fact, our F-5Es entered service in 1975 and was only retired in 2015 the same year the RSAF retired its F-5Ss after 36 years!  Was it old?  Ask a Tiger-driver how superb the F-5 was as it was retired.  Only the avionics could be considered old.

THEORY NO.4 – WHY DIDN’T THEIR CHUTES OPEN? DON’T THEY HAVE EJECTION SEATS?

The bodies were found 20 meters from each other.  An eyewitness said that she saw both men with their chute deployed.  I don’t know how credible this eyewitness is.  I hope that she is not as credible as the makcik who said she saw the MH370 somewhere in the North Andaman Sea from 40,000 feet.

Truth be told, I am sure that the top brass are as equally perplexed as I am.  That is why they have convened a Board to investigate this.

Could they have ejected?  Perhaps.  I can only think of them being too low and were in a full dive when they did so.  Back i the 1980s, an Aermacchi MB-339A that was performing aerobatics went into a dive.  The air crew ejected but they were too low and the orientation of the aircraft was not one in which they could have ejected safely.  At least one of the air crew wen through the wall of a house.

Being in full dive would also explain the missing aircraft as it could be in shreds with a large portion of it down in the swampy ground.  I can only speculate here and I hate to speculate.

So, let us just let the RMAF conduct their investigation and we get on with our daily lives, can we?  And in the meantime, let us offer our heroes some prayers, and pray that the family they have left behind be given the strength to face the dark days ahead until light comes shining back into their life.

And stop hiding behind user names and keyboards while hitting out at the RMAF over this incident.  Cowards will die many times while the brave die but once.

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