The Club And Its History

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History of the Sabah Flying Club

The Sabah Flying Club was established at Kota Kinabalu International Airport (Jesselton Airport then) in September 1964 and made its first flight on the 9th of that month. It started in a very modest way with one Piper Colt two-seater training aircraft powered by a 108 HP Lycoming engine and a small clubhouse consisting of a lounge containing a Bar, a small office, a storeroom and a toilet. The aircraft (new) cost M$25,000/- and the clubhouse cost M$9,000/-, both payments being met from funds derived from Club Entrance fees, subscriptions, contributions from Members and issue debentures.

The main objective for which the Club was established, as recorded in its Rules and Constitution, is to encourage the study and practice of flying as a science or pastime or for utility, an aim which the Club never lost sight of notwithstanding that, in later years, it become considerably involved in the catering business.

At the start the Club was very successful. The active flying membership was 60 with over 100 associate memberships and the Piper Colt, at the incredibly small charge of M$36/- per hour, was nearly always in the air. The flying training staff at the outset consisted of an Honorary Chief Flying Instructor, Captain D. Baker and one Honorary Assistant Flying Instructor, Mr. J. Wallich, and both were kept extremely busy. One Private Pilot’s license was gained before the end of, 1964.

The year 1965 produced a satisfactory total of 17 Private Pilot’s Licenses and, with the acquisition of two additional single-engine general purpose aircraft, one a Piper Cherokee 140 and the other a Piper Cherokee 810 C, the Club become firmly established in the flying training business. During the very productive years 1965 to 1968 a most satisfactory total of 68 Private Pilots Licenses was achieved.

In the early years the flying training available was for Private pilot’s Licenses, Night Ratings and Assistant Flying Instructor Ratings but at the present time the full range of training includes also Full Instructor (QFI) Ratings. The Club is also authorised to carry out training for Instrument Ratings and Multi-engine conversions but unfortunately it is unable to undertake this training for lack of a twin engine aircraft.

In addition to flying training the Club also devoted much attention to Social flying, under which scheme,  Members who were pilots could hire the Club aircraft for pleasure or private purposes at a charge above the training rate although still very reasonable. Social flights began to be popular with flying Members as from 1966 and remained as a useful source of revenue for many years thereafter, although, regretfully, the number of such flights is now considerably reduced, partly  due to the much higher social rates the Club is now obliged to charge in an attempt to cover expenses. For the benefit of Members who were not pilots, or who although undergoing pilot training had not yet qualified for a Private License, and who wished to carry out Social flights, the Club arranged for such flights to be flown by Instructors or specially trained senior Private License holders, at a small extra charge. The aircraft mostly used for Social flights in the early years was the Club’s Piper Cherokee 180C, a very good aircraft for the purpose. In later years Social flights were also flown in twin engine aircraft.

In 1967 the Club embarked upon a programme of Joy Rides for members of the public which was enthusiastically pursued up to 1979 when it was discontinued due to rising operational costs; The Joy Rides were held on most Public Holiday periods and were nearly always well patronized. The airports and airfields at which Joy Rides were held are Kota Kinabalu, Labuan, Kota Belud, Kudat, Keningau, Sipitang, Sandakan, Lahad Datu, Tawau, Semporna, Pamol, Sabah Palm Brunei, Miri and Bintulu At Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Tawau and Miri the Joy Ride period was usually 8.30 am to 10 pm and until about 6 pm at the other places. At Sandakan, Tawau and Miri night flying was carried out with the aid of oilcan flares, there being no electric runway lighting installed at that time. The flying was done by Instructors and senior PPL’s carefully selected and checked out and the several thousand joy-ride passengers were carried without any mishap whatsoever.

The Joy-Rides were particularly popular at rural airfields where people always turned up in large numbers. The rates charged were usually M$7.00 per adult and M$4.00 per child or scholar, which rates in most cases enabled the Club to cover expenses without making any profit. Unfortunately due to heavily increased operational costs Joy Rides are no longer carried out on a regular basis, but an occasional Joyride operation is held at Kota Kinabalu up to sunset time only.

The Club is proud of its Joy Rides operations, spread over a period of twelve years, not only as regards the 100 per cent safety factor achieved but also from the standpoint of advancing a knowledge of aviation amongst the population generally and the rural people in particular and it regrets the enforced almost complete cessation of Joy Rides. The cost of a Joy Ride ticket at the present time is M$12.00 for an adult and M$7.00 for a child. Recently The Club has decided to make Joy Rides free of charge.

At the end of 1968 the initial rush to obtain Private Pilot’s Licenses had abated and in the period 1969 to 1973 a comparatively modest total of 30 PPL’s was achieved, although additionally many student pilots reached the stage of flying solo but for one reason or another were unable to complete the PPL course. The drop in flying training operations, however, was more than compensated for by a substantial increase in the volume of social flying which reached a popularity peak in this period.

In the year 1971 the Club decided to operate commercial charter services and towards the end of the year obtained a Charter Permit no. 60/71 from the Ministry of Communications, Kuala Lumpur. The next step was to engage commercial pilots and purchase a suitable twin-engine aircraft and to complete these tasks the Club’s Chief Flying Instructor was sent to Singapore early in September 1971 where he engaged two commercial pilots, one rated for single-engine aircraft and the other fully rated and finalized the purchase of a used Piper Aztec Model D. This aircraft unfortunately, was damaged in an accident at Ranau airfield in November 1971, without, however, any injuries being suffered by the occupants. But after this unlucky beginning the Club’s commercial charter service expanded and flourished to’ a degree which surpassed all original expectations. By 31 October 1974, when the charter service effectively ceased, although it did in fact continue on a reduced scale up to 31 December 1974 when the Permit, expired, pe Club’s fleet excluding Government jet aircraft and helicopters, had grown to 7 single-engine aircraft, 5 twin-engine aircraft and one helicopter. The number of commercial pilots employed had increased from the original 2 in 1971 to no less than 11 excluding Government Jet pilots and helicopter pilots.

In 1972 the Club began to make preparations to set up its own Engineering Branch, maintenance of its aircraft having been carried out previously by Malaysian Airways first at Labuan and later at Kota Kinabalu, with more checks being done by the Royal Singapore Flying Club, and by November 1972 stiff opposition from the Air Registration Board had been overcome and the engineering facility set up in a small way in a hangar on the east side of Kota Kinabalu Airport with a staff of one Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineer and two Technicians. From that modest beginning the Club’s engineering section continued to expand as more aircraft were added to the fleet and at 31 October 1974 the Licensed Engineers’ strength had risen to four, excluding Jet Engineers, and Technician/Hangar Helper strength to about twenty. Approval had been obtained from the Air Registration Board for carrying out all categories of airframe checks but major checks on engines had still to be carried out elsewhere, usually Singapore or Australia. The Club’s aircraft engineering section was not the first private venture of that sort to be established in East Malaysia but it certainly became the largest by a very wide margin.

In early 1973 the Club opened branches at Labuan and Sandakan and in mid-1974 a branch at Tawau was established. One of the Club’s single-engine aircraft was stationed at Labuan and flying instruction was given by various RMAF Officers who had been appointed as Instructors by the Club. A hired Cessna 150 aircraft was provided for Sandakan and a local commercial pilot was appointed as Instructor. The Cessna 150 was withdrawn in due course and replaced by a Club single-engine aircraft, and a senior private pilot was posted to Sandakan to handle Member’s social flight requirements.

The aeroplane provided for the Tawau branch was also single-engine general purpose aircraft and the flying training/social flights were carried out by a Club Assistant Flying Instructor.

Notwithstanding that a reasonable amount of flying, mainly social flying was done at all three Branches the revenue derived did not cover operating expenses and in due course the branches had to be closed down, the last closure being Labuan, the most “successful” branch, in November 1978.

In mid-1973 the Club’s commercial charter operations were assisted by the Sabah State Government which purchased two 8-10 seat twin-engine (piston) aircraft, one a Piper Navajo and a Piper Chieftain. The State Government also arranged for three Alouette helicopters to be transferred to the Club from the RMAF. The Club received fixed monthly amounts from the State Government towards the operation, maintenance and general up-keep of these five aircraft (2 F. W. and 3 Rotary) and in return the Club granted to the State Government the concession of 50% discount on all its charter rates. Since considerable use was being made of the Club’s aircraft by Government Ministers, Senior Officials and other Government Officers at that time, the saving to Government on air transportation costs was undoubtedly considerable.

The Club is proud of its Joy Rides operations, spread over a period of twelve years, not only as regards the 100 per cent safety factor achieved but also from the standpoint of advancing a knowledge of aviation amongst the population generally and the rural people in particular and it regrets the enforced almost complete cessation of Joy Rides. The cost of a Joy Ride ticket at the present time is RM12.00 for an adult and RM7.00 for a child.

At the end of 1968 the initial rush to obtain Private Pilot’s Licenses had abated and in the period 1969 to 1973 a comparatively. Modest total of 30 PPL’s was achieved, although additionally many student pilots reached the stage of flying solo but for one reason or another were unable to complete the PPL course. The drop in flying training operations, however, was more than compensated for by a substantial increase in the volume of anal flying which reached a popularity peak in this period.

In the year 1971 the Club decided to operate commercial charter services and towards the end of the year obtained a Charter Permit no. 6(D)/71 from the Ministry of Communications, Kuala Lumpur. The next step was to engage commercial pilots and purchase a suitable twin-engine aircraft and to complete these tasks the Club’s Chief Flying Instructor was sent to Singapore early in September 1971 where he engaged two commercial pilots, one rated for single-engine aircraft and the other fully rated and finalized the purchase of a used Piper Aztec Model D. This aircraft unfortunately, was damaged in an accident at Ranau airfield in November 1971, without, however, any injuries being suffered by the occupants. But after this unlucky beginning the Club’s commercial charter service expanded and flourished to a degree which surpassed all original expectations. By 31 October 1974, when the charter service effectively ceased, although it did in fact continue on a reduced scale up to 31 December 1974 when the Permit, expired, the Club’s fleet excluding Government jet aircraft and helicopters, had grown to 7 single-engine aircraft, 5 twin-engine aircraft and one helicopter. The number of commercial pilots employed had increased from the original 2 in 1971 to no less than 11 excluding Government Jet pilots and helicopter pilots.

In 1972 the Club began to make preparations to set up its own Engineering Branch, maintenance of its aircraft having been carried out previously by Malaysian Airways first at Labuan and later at Kota Kinabalu, with moor checks being done by the Royal Singapore Flying Club, and by November 1972 stiff opposition from, the Air Registration Board had been overcome and the engineering facility set up in a small way in a hangar on the east aide of Kota Kinabalu Airport with a staff of one Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineer and two Technicians. From that modest beginning the Club’s engineering section continued to expand as more aircraft were added to the fleet and at 31 October 1974 the Licensed Engineers’ strength had risen to four, excluding Jet Engineers, and Technician/Hangar Helper strength to about twenty. Approval had been obtained from the Air Registration Board for carrying out all categories of airframe checks but major checks on engines had still to be carried out elsewhere, usually Singapore or Australia. The Club’s aircraft engineering section was not the first private venture of that sort to be established in East Malaysia but it certainly became the largest by a very wide margin.

Back in 1972 the State Government had drawn up plans for the purchase and operation of an Executive Jet aircraft and bestowed responsibility for its operation and maintenance on the Sabah Flying Club. This action on the part of the State Government was undoubtedly an indication of the high regard in which the Club was held by Government and the Club keenly appreciated being entrusted with this very important operation.

Preparatory steps taken by the Club were to recruit suitable pilots and engineers with jet air craft experience and send them to the United States to carry out conversion training at the Grumman Company’s establishment. Additional accounts and administrative staff were also engaged to handle the enormous amount of extra paper work. Flight Stewards were also engaged at a later stage in the proceedings.

To facilitate maintenance of both the Club aircraft and the Government Jets the Club reorganised its Engineering Section into two divisions, one for Light Aircraft and Helicopters under the control of an Engineer-in-Charge and the other for Government Jet Aircraft headed by an Engineering Manager.

The first Grumman Gulfstream II twin jet executive aircraft arrived at Kota Kinabalu early in 1973 and forthwith went into service. A second identical aircraft arrived in early 1974 and both aircraft were fully engaged on V. V. I. P. and V. I. P. flights to and from many different countries. The Club did an excellent job as regards both flight operations and maintenance and the aircraft were always available for flight when required.

Apart from pilots, flight engineers, maintenance engineers and flight stewards, the number of technicians and hangar helpers had increased considerably with the arrival of the Government Executive Jets and the Club at that time employed and controlled a very large engineering force.

The Club was not paid any fees and did not receive grants for operating and maintaining the Government Jets, but all expenditure incurred was recovered through the medium of a monthly account with the State Government.

By 31 October 1974 the total number of Jet aircrew personnel employed by the Club was 15, made up of 8 Captains, 2 First Officers, 3 Flight Engineers and 2 Flight Stewards.

Meanwhile, the State Government had placed orders in the United States for two Boeing 707 four engine jet aircraft and the Club made tentative arrangements for dealing with these large aircraft. However, when the first aircraft arrived in Sabah control of the Government Jets had already passed out of the Club’s hands.

On 1 November 1974, by Order of the State Government, the Club’s commercial charter services, its operation of the Government Jet aircraft and its Engineering facility were transferred to a newly formed General Aviation Company at Kota Kinabalu, and the Club was left with its flying training and social flight operations which incidentally had not been neglected notwithstanding the Club’s involvement in other flight operations.

No doubt the change-over had points in its favour. Commercial Charter services and the operation of large jet aircraft is no doubt work proper to a Commercial Aviation Organisation and not a Flying Club. Be that as it may the Sabah Flying Club did an excellent job and it is proud of its achievements. It was in fact a very interesting period in the life of the Club, which, quite apart from the operational achievements, was beneficial to many people both flying and non-flying since it provided them with employment, enabled them to broaden their experience and in some cases to pass on to better things.

As from 1 November 1974, the aircraft fleet formerly controlled by the Sabah Flying Club was divided between the Club and the newly formed General Aviation Company and the Club found itself in possession of seven single-engine aircraft, three twin engine aircraft and one helicopter, in fact more aircraft than it could afford to upkeep from the revenue derived from flying training and social flights and it was obvious that most of the aircraft would have to be sold. The helicopter was quickly sold to the General Aviation Company and in 1976 two single-engine aircraft, a Cherokee 180 C and a Cherokee 140D, were disposed of to the newly reopened Sarawak Flying Club, the 180C being sold and the 140D donated. The year 1978 saw the departure of four more aircraft, a Cherokee 140 being sold to a businessman in West Malaysia, a Piper Pawnee crop-duster sold to a Company in the Philippines and a Piper Astec “E” twin-engine aircraft sold to a. Company in the United Kingdom. The fourth aircraft, a Piper Arrow 200, was unfortunately lost in a flying accident.

During the years 1978 to 1982 the Club was extremely fortunate in being granted 10 Private Pilots Flying Scholarships (2 per year) by the Sabah Foundation, Kota Kinabalu, which scholarships were of inestimable value to the Club and were most highly appreciated. The scholarships also benefited the State in so far as four of those who gained Private Licenses at the Club passed on to obtain Commercial Licenses in the United Kingdom and are now serving as pilots, one with the National Airline and three with a Malaysian General Aviation Company based in Sabah.

The Club is also grateful to the Sabah Foundation for the award to two Assistant Flying Instructor Scholarships.

With the cessation of the Sabah Foundation PPL Scholarships in 1982 the Club made representations to the Foundation asking for the grant of a further ten scholarships which, however, it was not possible for the Foundation to approve.

In 1977/78 the Club drew up plans for the establishment of a Commercial Pilots Training School at its premises and obtained Northern Sarawak, having acted in that capacity without a written Agreement for several previous years, in which period the Club gained commission amounting to S$10,916.00. The Club’s period of activity as an official Representative unfortunately coincided with the rationing of aviation petrol (AVGAS) in the Region and it became a matter of not only trying to sell an aeroplane but also to arrange for an adequate supply of fuel. This was a difficult combination and although there were three near-sales, one twin and two singles, the deals did not go through. The Agreement expired on 30 April 1980 and the Club did not seek renewal in view of the difficulties mentioned above.

The last of the Club surplus aircraft, all of them unserviceable, were sold to an Australian Company in 1985. These aircraft comprised a twin engine Piper Seneca I and a single-engine Piper Cherokee 180 Archer, and another Seneca I used by the Club but not owned and sold with the Owner’s permission. This sale left the Club temporarily with only one aircraft, a single-engine Piper Cherokee Challenger 180, but the situation improved shortly afterwards with the purchase of a 1982 model Piper Tomahawk 2.

The Piper Tomahawk is a specialized training aircraft powered by a 112 HP Lycoming engine with the comparatively low fuel consumption of 4 1/2 gallons per hour. The Tomahawk has only two seats, including the pilot’s seat and while good for basic training it is of limited use for other aerial work. It is also the approval of the Director-General of Civil Aviation, Malaysia, for the proposed training syllabus. However, the considerable funds required could not be raised and the project, which at that time would have been the first of its kind in Malaysia, had to be shelved.

In 1977 the Club received approval from the Director-General of Civil Aviation, Malaysia for the carrying out of flying and ground training for the Instrument Rating. The Sabah Flying Club is to this day the only Flying Club in Malaysia to be granted such approval, which is an undeniable testimony to the Club’s training methods, techniques and capabilities. Since the approval was granted the Club has trained eleven pilots for Instrument Ratings with eleven revisions/renewals, which is a reasonable effort but not what it could have been if the Club’s serviceability of twin-engine aircraft had been better and avionics equipment more up to date.

Unfortunately, training for the Instrument Rating stopped in 1980 since the two twin-engine aircraft on which it had been carried out became due for ma]or airframe inspections and engine changes and were permanently grounded since the Club did not possess the necessary funds required to restore the aircraft to serviceable condition.

In May 1979 the Club officially became the Authorised Piper Aircraft Distributors Representative for Sabah, Brunei, and of limited aerobatic capability and the Club hopes to give it in part exchange for a fully aerobatic aircraft when the financial position permits.

The Piper Cherokee 180 has four seats, including the pilot’s seat and is a good all round aircraft of which the only disadvantage is the fuel consumption of it’s 180 HP Lycoming engine which is 8 gallons per hour at normal cruise power.

The Club regrets having been obliged to dispose of its twin-engine aircraft some years ago for financial reasons since it cannot now undertake training for multi-engine conversions and Instrument Ratings, for which types of training the Club has a fully qualified Instructor, but priority is for an aerobatic single engine aircraft, while the acquisition of a twin-engine aircraft will have to remain in the limbo of wishful thinking at least for a long time to come due to the very high costs of purchasing and operating.

In order to give itself more time to devote to flying operations the Club has leased its ground and upper floor premises to private Companies and is now relieved of the problems of catering and the handling of a large staff. The monthly rentals which the Club now receives from the Companies are the best it could obtain and although the combined rentals present a fairly reasonable figure in the present circumstances the latter is in fact insufficient to fully cater for the Club’s flight development programme plus meeting day to day expenditure and the Club’s flying activities are for that reason likely to remain on the modest scale already described, for the foreseeable future.

Further to the matter of leasing of its premises, which in past years meant the leasing of its two restaurants, it was always necessary for the Club to either self-operate the restaurants or lease them, in order to obtain funds with which to subsidize its flying training operations since the cost of the latter could not be fully met from the flying fees charged plus revenue derived from social flights and the Club did not receive a subsidy from any outside source. The leasing of the restaurants was never entirely satisfactory but on balance it was preferable to self-operating. If only for the reason that the Club was relieved of the need to employ a large catering staff with all the attendant problems and difficulties.

The removal of the Airport Terminal with all ancillary services to a new site on the east side of the runway in August 1984 created serious problems for the Club in so far that the patronage of its restaurants decreased sharply resulting in a serious drop in revenue when the restaurants were Club operated and making them difficult to lease to reliable Companies when self-operation was given up. The Club, of course, had been aware of the proposal to re-site the Kota Kinabalu Airport Terminal and had endeavoured to make provision against the move only to find its plans for financially meeting the situation were upset when an apparently solid leasing for its ground floor restaurant ended in failure after just over a year and the Lessee of the upper floor restaurant did not renew his lease due to poor patronage of the restaurant. However, as already stated, the situation has now become stabilized with rentals from the lease of both floors being regularly received.

The question might be asked as to what has the Sabah Flying Club accomplished and has it been of any benefit to Malaysia generally and Sabah in particular and the answer is believed to be in the affirmative for the following reasons:-

In 1964, when the Club first began to operate it was the only Flying Club in East Malaysia. Prior to this, all candidates for Private Pilot’s Licenses has to proceed to West Malaysia, Singapore, or elsewhere, The Sabah Flying Club is still the only Flying Club in East Malaysia having, unlike some other Clubs formed later, managed to weather the storm and remain in business.

In the early years East Malaysia was not well developed as regards general aviation services and some trunk roads now in use had not been constructed, in which circumstances the Club’s Social Flight service for Members proved most beneficial, enabling Members to visit places in an hour or so which by surface transportation might have taken days to reach.

The Club’s former extensive Joy Rides programme, much appreciated by the general public judged from its undiminished patronage, was of great benefit mainly to the Rural population. Many villagers were enabled to see an aeroplane close up for the first time and the joyrides on which they embarked could be said to be an educational as well as a pleasurable experience.

As regards flying training, at one time (when it operated multi-engine aircraft) the Club could provide the full range of training except for the Commercial Pilots License, for which training it had in fact made preparations to carry out but was unable to do so due to lack of the necessary starting funds.

At the time of its extraordinary expansion, i.e., the years 1972 to 1974, the Club provided jobs for a large number of persons both aircrew and ground staff and helped many of them in the furtherance of their careers.

The club, after assessment, may provide a subsidy to worthy students aspiring to be a pilot and help the student overcome financial constraints in obtaining the license. No less than 20 such students have received such subsidies.

The club also provides club employees a scholarship to qualify as either a Flying Instructor or Assistant Flying instructor in exchange for a bond. A good example is our previous Flying Instructor and our present Assistant Flying Instructor.

In recent times, the club has embarked on a Community Service project by assisting any student recommended by schools or institutions that may benefit from student grants. The grants are purposely given to a student in need and not necessarily as a reward for excellent academic results. The club also gives periodic grants to various non-governmental organisations and institutions assisting those in special needs.

In February 2011, the Sabah Flying Club took part in the Philippines Hot Air and Air Carnival at the Clark Airbase. 13 club members took part and some flew our Cessna to Clark and back. It was a very useful trip for the members as the Hot Air Balloon event will next be held in Sabah and it is very likely that the Sabah Flying Club will be involved.

In the past, our aircraft has also flown to and taken part in the Langkawi Maritime and Air show.

The club has also received approval by the DCA to resume training of students and this is a very important step as we have suspended training for almost a year after a directive by DCA to all flying clubs. Our thanks to Capt. Fong and Albert James for assisting in getting all the procedures in place for this approval.  5 new students have been approved by DCA to start training.

Our Community service projects are on-going with 6 deserving students being given monthly allowances to help them with their subsistence. One of them, Wong Tee Kiat scored 4 As and is a top 5 Science student in the recent STPM. One other OKU student, Pendi Purwanto Wong with Cerebral Palsy and is Spastic Limbic which we assisted last year has graduated as an Audio Engineer and is working for RTM.

From 12th to 14th March this year, the club is proud to have organised a Charity Joy Ride in Tawau and our thanks go to our organising committee under Davis Eswar and Richard Liau. Thanks also to Mahmud Shah for all the necessary paperwork and approvals and to our pilots Capt. Fong, Albert James and Richard Ong who flew about 70 school children and some adults.