You-know-who had of course scheduled a direct flight from Penang to Singapore which is beyond our range. Mike Gray has managed to slip a refuelling stop at Kuala Lumpur into our Malaysia clearance and we should be able to do it in a day.
Up until now I've been routing down airways so I prepared the next stage to Singapore the same as usual before going to Penang tower to file my flight plan. They were on emergency power when I arrived and the tiny lift up the very tall control tower wasn't working so it was quite a climb. Oh no, they said, you can't fly VFR down airways in Malaysia, you've got to fly by VFR waypoints. Of course neither I nor my GPS had any idea where any of these places were, and neither did they really, so it took four times longer to sort basically the same route as I'd originally planned.
I gathered that we would be the first microlight into Singapore Seletar for a very long time, perhaps ever. I'd also heard from various sources that along with our clearance number there were several pages of what sounded like a very complicated routing in and out of Singapore which is a small island with five big airports but Jon Cook had failed miserably to get them to me via the bank or any other way.
Eventually I managed to get Mike Grey to fax them to me direct in our hotel. Of course the hotel denied they had received anything but Mike confirmed he'd sent it. Equatorial Hotel; no hot water, no fax, better if they lost some of their six stars I think. Both did appear eventually.
We got away nice and early from Penang, a lovely morning flight down the west coast of Malaysia, a few puffy clouds about but nothing serious. We passed the first two or three waypoints before we were out of radio range with Penang but as time passed things began to look a bit murky ahead. I began to weave between big walls of cloud and then got to a point where there was no way through. We were up at 5000 ft and it was obviously too high to go over so I descended fast through a series of holes to where I could just see the ground. Cloud base was 500 ft and I was a bit shocked to see we had descended into a valley with mountains in the cloud either side of us. It was beginning to rain and visibility was dropping by the minute - get to the sea I thought - at least we can't hit anything there. In increasingly heavy rain we weaved our way down the valley but then just as things were looking better and we were coming out of the hills there was a big bolt of lightning straight ahead.
I said something unprintable to Miles and turned sharp right away from it in a direction more or less back to Penang. The coast came up, the way to the left actually looked a bit brighter than going back to Penang so I judged we might be able to go round the actual CB by now without having to go out to sea. It seemed important to stick to the beach as it was the only thing I could get a good visual reference against without the risk of hitting something. We then entered some serious rain, a positive waterfall, I was forced down to 200 ft to keep the beach in sight, the sea was completely opaque with the rain and my only sense of which way up we were was the narrow strip of yellow to our left, turning round wasn't an option, I'd have lost it for sure in the murk. A big puddle of water in my lap was soaking through inside, luckily the GPS in the centre of the console was staying fairly dry but the radio was faring quite badly, I switched it off.
My map was a soggy mess and I had no idea what to expect ahead; suddenly the beach ended and a green covered cliff face loomed up a hundred metres ahead. Miles got a few more expletives as I turned sharp right to follow the surf, but it was a fairly small headland which we got around fairly quickly, then there was a small inlet with a village, should I land? I decided No, might struggle to get out. There wasn't much time to consider it as a second headland loomed up ahead.
As soon as we were around it we were out of it, visibility improved to 20 miles in a matter of minutes and I climbed back up to three thousand feet to take stock.
We were soaked, my maps were unusable, Miles' computer had shut down, the radio seemed to be on permanent transmit but the GPS was still going strong. We still had 80 miles or so to go to Kuala Lumpur so there was a bit of time to try to dry things out. I discovered it was the press to talk button which was the problem; a vigorous shake got some water out of it which seemed to improve things and when we got near enough to Kuala Lumpur I established good comms but sometimes the button needed another good shake to stop it transmitting; I think they got a conversation between Miles and me more than once.
We were told to fly up the coast until 'three masts', big chimneys actually, and then turn inland to Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah airport which has been superseded by Sepang for most international flights. I thought we were going to get more rain on this last leg in, but we just missed it.
Some people from the bank were there waiting for us and they had fuel and stuff ready, but I thought I should try to find out a bit more about the weather before we continued. The met office had the best setup I've seen on the journey so far with both historical and live weather radar info on a screen. There looked to be some pretty nasty stuff between us and Singapore which looked likely to get worse as the day progressed.
I thought it might be wise to call it a day; at least it would give us a chance to dry out properly. I got all the paperwork sorted before we left for the hotel. They're obviously very clued up on sport aviation in Malaysia as like at Penang the charges were a very sensible 20 USD or so.
That afternoon Miles drank a considerable number of cocktails with an appearance indistinguishable from Avgas.
The radio was working fine early the next morning. They'd again made me file a VFR route which neither I or they were very sure about but it took us east of Sepang airport and almost over the centre of the city. With crystal clear visibility the twin Petronas towers looked very pretty in the early morning sunlight against a backdrop of the mountains beyond which had a sort of tablecloth cloud on them.
It would have been nice to have stopped at Malacca where I was told there were loads of microlights but I was wary of meeting more rain so we pressed on. I had a bit of trouble establishing comms with Johor Bahru just north of Singapore as from the way we were coming they were the other side of a small mountain. I got a relay from another aircraft telling me to descend to 500 ft. Which worked out at only two or three hundred feet above vast areas of palm trees. I have to confess I stayed quite a lot higher, there wasn't anything else about, one advantage of having a transponder which doesn't tell them how high you are.
As we got nearer and established direct comms the ground rose and I did descend to about 1000 ft but we were even then only two or three hundred ft above the trees; obviously they weren't very clear on their own geography, I was glad we had good visibility! After flying over their airport we were allowed to go up to 1500 ft and told to go to point x-ray. I had to confess I had absolutely no idea where that was so they vectored us into Seletar, the route they sent me was completely different to the complicated plan I'd received by fax. Mr Ng, the Singapore CAA man in charge of Seletar agreed that I couldn't possibly be expected to know where point x-ray was; "this is only known by the locals" he said.
It turns out that the Singapore CAA are the only people in the World who really understand that my UK airworthiness paperwork is pretty much worthless outside UK so I'm now the proud owner of a rather fine Singapore Permit to Fly, valid for the three days we are here.
We were whisked into the Jet Aviation hangar. The girl from the TV couldn't grasp what sort of flying machine it was and wanted me to take off and fly around inside the hangar for a bit. Even if it hadn't have been occupied by a selection of very expensive metal, it wasn't that big!
Today Miles has been occupied with various Seeing is Believing events, including a reception for staff accompanied by 30 blind children who were then all shown the Singapore Premiere of the latest blockbuster movie.... Hmm; one wonders what planet people are on sometimes.
Rather more usefully I've been looking at maps, servicing the machine and generally getting it ready for departure to Indonesia tomorrow. I'm now all set up with some plastic bags for the radio and GPS should we encounter more rain.
Had you-know-who been with Miles I'm not sure what he would have been doing in terms of routing because he simply didn't have any maps from here onwards to Sydney. Quite likely he'd found out that the four ONC's you need to get to Darwin are out of print, and like with so much of the rest of his so-called preparation he'd just given up at that point. Fortunately this was something I'd found out about before leaving UK and the great Andy Green (fastest man in the World) had sorted them out for me courtesy of the RAF.
Jon Cook on the other hand does not seem to have been doing his job of ground support much at all despite the fact that he's been here nearly a week. At least he turned up this time with the right spares where I needed them, unlike Bangkok, but I had a run in with him about not getting those complicated arrival instructions to me in Penang. Most seriously I was amazed to find that the extra fuel tanks we must have for our 450 mile crossing of the Timor sea to Australia are still at the P&M factory in Rochdale despite having been ready for dispatch since we were in Bombay! Jim at P&M did say he was a bit of a last minute merchant and whilst I've never been to Kupang I can't imagine it's much more than a 2 horse town and we're due to be there in somewhat less than 10 days time... I think he got the message that his head is going to be hard on the block if the tanks don't arrive in time.
Graham Gough, a Kiwi and Jet Aviation's maintenance foreman in Singapore was incredibly kind and like the chaps in Dubai persuaded management to cover our US $200 fuel and airport costs as their contribution to Seeing is Believing.