16 October 2008

The Arabian Camel vs Airbus A320

By Thiru Jr

A ‘ferry flight’ is one when company pilots go to Toulouse/Sharjah to fly the aircraft home once it’s rolled out from the plant. It’s an experience akin to taking ‘a new car for a spin’. Recently, I had that rare opportunity with Capt. S.A. Tan ferrying 9M-AHG from Sharjah-Kuala Lumpur. Although Sharjah has its fair share of sights and sounds, it was a tad boring for us. So we attempted to ride a camel across the freezing desert while awaiting the aircraft to arrive from Toulouse! This post documents our brief journey and subsequent elevation as certified Airbus pilots cum camel jockeys.

First things first, the ‘chain-of-command’. Despite Capt. Tan’s vast experience as a commander, we both decided that commanding a camel is more suited for one as obstinate as the camel itself. So he asked ME to be Captain while HE volunteered to be my FO atop the camel! Since I had no problems accepting an early promotion, we got down to business immediately. After the pre-departure briefing, I commanded my camel to rise. She didn’t! I asked for the checklist again. Nose peg? Check! Hump Seat? Check! Foot Harness? Check!

Even after that, she still stayed put. My FO reminded me that this long wait is no different from some international departures. Camels are like controllers, they take orders from no one! When she finally decided to move, it was so sudden, we nearly fell off. Camels follow a strict S.O.P when getting up. To sit, a camel bends its front legs and drops before folding its hind legs. But when it wants to get up, it’s the other way around, i.e. the hind legs first before ‘taking off’.

For the ‘cruise’, FO Tan and I were pretty comfortable at 10 ft (the camel’s height plus ours) but speed control was rather difficult as our camel was somewhere between ‘pacing’ and ‘galloping’. Both my FO and I got seasick from the swaying.

Finally, our camel decided to head back to base. As Captain, I briefed my FO of strong winds and temperatures hovering around seven degrees. With barely enough time to descend and make my final approach, my camel suddenly decided to land. So I pulled the control column hard to get a ‘flare’ but it was too late. She just collapsed on her front knees for a ‘hard landing’. My FO bumped into me and I bumped into my control wheel, before making a sound as loud as the camel herself!

After disembarking, I commended my FO for a job well-done. Contemplating the experience on our ferry flight back, we agreed that camel riding is a lot similar to flying the A320s. There are briefings, procedures, checklists and various ‘phases’ of the trip. But, in some ways, a camel is far more superior than the A320, especially ‘fuel-efficiency’. A camel can go up to a week without food and a month without water. Plus you won’t get an engine or brake failure!

Anyone for camel riding?

  • Mulyadir Fitri

    Hahaha, a funny read! Maybe perhaps you can do a write up on the actual ferry flight next time? It would be interesting to read as it’s rare for us to get first hand accounts on such stuffs.

  • Jade

    That’s why they are still using camel as mode of transportation there, even the wheels can’t beat them!

  • Kian Seng

    Hi Thiru,
    what a nice post about your trip in Sharjah. i haven’t seen a camel since i came here :D

  • Annie Molly

    Hi thiru, oops capt thiru..debating still?