PIONEERING AVIATION PERSONNEL OF CEYLON / SRI LANKA
Capt. George Ferdinand - 'Ferdy' started on Air Ceylon at Rs. 10 per flying hour
|Captain George Ferdinand - A man of valour|
|Captain, may you keep flying high, wherever you may be Captain P. Nadarajah|
|Memories of our flying days - A scholar, businessman, agriculturist, inventor, Olympian and pilot...|
|Young pilot's last flight remembered 50 years later - Death dive into the sea|
|Air Ceylon pioneer pilot ‘Captain Ma’ was a hero to us teens|
|Capt. P. B. Mawalagedera - Appreciation|
|Appreciation - Capt. Susantha (‘Sus’) Jayasekera|
|Captain ‘Sus’ Jayasekera - A former airline pilot, officer in the Royal Ceylon Air Force...|
|When a non-English speaking, sarong-clad, konde-wearing rustic dared to reach for his dreams|
|Father & Son Double Act - January 15, 2010 was a red letter day for young...|
|Living in the clouds - Enthralling hands on experiences of a SriLankan Airlines pilot|
|SriLankan Airlines appoints first lady captain|
|All female flying crew makes history at SriLankan Airlines|
|Wing Commander A M Denzil Fernando - Appreciation|
|More on Nihal Ratnayake - Pilot Extraordinary|
|Captain Errol Cramer – Appreciation|
|Capt. Emile Jayawardena|
|Lankan makes waves in the skies|
|Double up, double up – You copper coloured rice eating native...|
|Edgar Cooray Flies West|
|HISTORICAL CHRONICLE OF AIR CEYLON|
|HISTORICAL CHRONICLE OF AVIATION IN CEYLON - Page 1|
|HISTORICAL CHRONICLE OF AVIATION IN CEYLON - Page 2|
|CHRONICLE OF AVIATION IN SRI LANKA|
|COLOMBO AIRPORT, KATUNAYAKA - THEN & NOW|
|PIONEERING AVIATION PERSONNEL OF CEYLON|
|AIR CEYLON - HOME PAGE|
| INDEX |
Capt. George Ferdinand
'Ferdy' started on Air Ceylon at Rs. 10 per flying hour
April 4, 1997 marked the first anniversary of the death of Capt. George Ferdinand. His sudden death on Maundy Thursday last year, in the garden of his Melbourne home, closed the final chapter on the life of one of Sri Lanka's most versatile and respected airline pilots.
George Ferdinand ('Ferdy' to his friends) was a product of Royal College, Colombo. He was barely eighteen when in 1941 he answered the Royal Air Force call for trainee pilots to help the war effort overseas. Following selection, he received his basic flying training at Ratmalana on Tiger Moths before joining ship for the journey to the UK.
But George's voyage was interrupted when he reached Bombay. He was asked to stay back in India and act as 'nursemaid' to another Ceylonese recruit, P.B. Mawalagedera, who had contracted chickenpox en route from Colombo! Little did the pair realise that their respective careers would be closely entwined in years to come.
Finally reaching England, George progressed through RAF induction and ground school before going to Canada for advanced training on Harvard aircraft. He returned to England as a qualified Pilot-Engineer, serving on the Airspeed Oxford and Avro Lancaster bomber.
After the war ended, George Ferdinand was awaiting demobilisation in the UK when he chanced upon L.S.B. Perera, then Ceylon's Director of Civil Aviation. Mr. Perera was in England in connection with the setting up of Air Ceylon. He suggested that George return home and apply for a job with the new airline which was scheduled to begin operations in 1947.
That's just what 'Ferdy' did. Converting his RAF licence to a civil one at the Ratmalana flying school, he joined Air Ceylon not long after the first national carrier had taken wing. He started as a supernumerary Second Officer, earning around Rs. 10 to 20 per flying hour. When George later attained the right-hand seat of Air Ceylon's DC-3 Dakotas as a First Officer (co-pilot) his pay rose to the dizzy heights of Rs. 450 per month!
When George later attained the right-hand seat of Air Ceylon's DC-3 Dakotas as a First Officer (co-pilot) his pay rose to the dizzy heights of Rs. 450 per month!
One of his colleagues in those early Air Ceylon days was P.B. Mawalagedera, the former chickenpox patient. As foreshadowed earlier, their careers with the airline progressed more or less in parallel, with both being promoted to Captain around the same time.
Along the way 'Ferdy' had fallen in love with a charming air hostess named Therese Victoria. Their airborne romance ultimately led to the altar and, in time, to the births of two sons, George Jnr. and Johann.
George went on to accumulate over 10,000 hours on the venerable DC-3 before Air Ceylon decided to purchase its very first, very own turbine-powered aeroplane, the Avro 748, in 1964. By now George Ferdinand had become one of the company's most experienced and senior pilots, so it was no surprise when he was selected, along with Capt. Mawalagedera, to go to Manchester and train on the new aircraft before taking delivery and flying it to Colombo.
This pattern was repeated when George took delivery of a Nord 262 turboprop in 1967 and, in 1969, Air Ceylon's first, wholly-owned jetliner the Hawker-Siddeley Trident. Later, Capt. Ferdinand piloted Air Ceylon DC-8s on international services, having risen to the rank of Chief Pilot/Operations Manager.
ln 1978, just before Air Ceylon was disbanded George Ferdinand and his family left Sri Lanka for Africa, where he flew Avro 748s and Boeing 707s for Zambia Airways for a couple of years. It is worth noting that when Air Ceylon ceased operations, it completed 31 years of fatality-free service. That enviable, indelible record is largely due to the discipline and professionalism of pilots like Capt. George Ferdinand and others of his ilk.
After Air Lanka had risen phoenix-like out of the ashes of Air Ceylon, George Ferdinand returned to Sri Lanka as Captain on the new carrier's Boeing 707s. A move to the Lockheed TriStar was next, with George continuing to pass on the benefit of his vast experience and expertise to younger co-pilots. For this, he is remembered with fondness and respect by those beneficiaries of his training, many of whom are now Captains with Air Lanka and other international airlines.
In October 1985, at the age of 62, Capt. George Ferdinand operated his last flight, from Tokyo to Colombo, before hanging up his flying gloves for good. He is believed to be the only Sri Lankan so far to have flown right up to the retirement age for pilots.
But 'Ferdy' was not quite finished with Air Lanka. After living in the UK for eighteen months he returned to the airline in 1988 in the administrative capacity of Manager-Flight Operations, a position he held until finally retiring in November 1989.
Eventually settling down in the Melbourne suburb of Dingley, 'Ferdy' enjoyed a happy, relaxed retirement with his devoted wife Therese. He took great pride in their beautiful home and garden situated just on the fringe of Moorabbin airport, one of Australia's busiest general aviation aerodromes.
In fact, one of George's favourite latter-day pastimes was lounging in his backyard and using a radio scanner to monitor the conversations of air traffic controllers and pilots at Moorabbin. He also kept close, regular contact with other Melbourne-domiciled friends from his flying days, notably Roy De Niese and Rex De Silva.
George and Therese had become proud grandparents only a year before his death. Coming as suddenly as it did, George's passing was a tremendous shock to Therese and the family. But his wife of 38 years reflects that it is probably the way an active, mentally-sharp 'Ferdy' would have preferred to go.
His numerous colleagues in the airline industry, to say nothing of his countless passengers, owe a debt of gratitude to Capt. George Ferdinand, one of nature's gentlemen, for his dedication to the craft of aviation. May he Rest in Peace.
Roger Thiedeman, Melbourne.
06 04 1997 - Sunday Times
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Captain George Ferdinand - A Man of Valour
The article in The Sunday Times of April 6, on the first anniversary of the death of Captain George Ferdinand brought back to my mind an incident which occurred in August 1977.
I had just taken up duties as the Secretary, Ministry of Shipping, Aviation and Tourism under the newly elected Government of Prime Minister the late J.R. Jayewardene.
Communal riots had broken out and the Tamils of Colombo were swarming into refugee centres. There was pressure on the Prime Minister to evacuate them to Jaffna as soon as possible. How could this be done with a small Avro aircraft? The journey by ship was too slow and long and there were other complications.
It was in this context that I received a telephone call one morning from the Cabinet room. It was the Prime Minister. He instructed me to explore the possibility of using the DC 8 aircraft with its 180 passenger capacity to ferry the refugees across to the peninsula and to report back to him immediately.
We discussed this matter at a hastily summoned meeting at which the Chairman Air Ceylon, the Director of Civil Aviation and two of Air Ceylon’s most experienced pilots - Captain George Ferdinand and Captain Bradley (I believe he was a Canadian) were present. I was immediately struck by their enthusiasm and the fund of impish humour.
I explained the position to them and asked them what they could do to help us in this situation of grave emergency. The shortcomings at the Palaly airport were discussed. There was no ramp for a DC 8, no landing lights, no compressor to restart the aircraft engines and above all about 2000 feet at one end of the runway had
been repaired a few days before and was not ready for use.
Captain Ferdinand spoke with the nodding approval of Captain Bradley. He said that despite these problems, in view of the situation that had arisen, they were prepared to fly the DC 8 to Palaly provided I gave an order in writing and took full responsibility for the operation. They assured me that they would do their best and get over the runway problem by changing their technique of landing. Both of them would work the first flight and concert arrangements to continue the operation. The air of confidence that they exuded was really infectious.
A desperate situation called for a desperate remedy. Strengthened by the assurances given by these two men I issued the necessary orders.
The Chairman Air Ceylon, the Director of Civil Aviation and I would be with them on the first flight which was scheduled for take off at 4.30 p.m. the same day.
Instructions were issued to the authorities at Palaly to find a large open treu and some long school benches and improvise a ramp for the DC 8.
When we took off that evening there were 185 evacuees on board. The landing, although tricky was as smooth as it could possibly be and the disembarkation using the improvised ramp satisfactory. One of the evacuees came forward and speaking in flawless English on behalf of all the evacuees asked us if we could meet them before they boarded the buses to get to town. We met them on the apron. They embraced each of us and blessed us for bringing them to safety. It was Captains Ferdinand and Bradley (whose eyes were moist with tears) who received the warmest of warm embraces. It taught us that even in moments of fear, human beings could find time to express their gratitude. We were greatly moved and encouraged.
The ferrying of evacuees went on for the next two days. All credit for this difficult operation had to be given to these two gallant pilots who made this relief mission possible.
There was an amusing sequel to this operation. I was hauled over the coals by my Minister for taking all this responsibility on myself. The plain truth is that the Minister was in the Cabinet room when the instructions came from the Prime Minister and when our decision to use the DC 8 was conveyed to him. Such are the incomprehensible ways of some of our politicians! Not so the Prime Minister. As soon as the operation was completed he sent a message of appreciation and thanks to all who were involved in it.
As for Ferdinand and Bradley they will always be remembered for their courage and bravery. Truly they were men of valour.
Walter Rupesinghe, Air Ceylon
13 04 1997 - Sunday Times
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Captain, may you keep flying high, wherever you may be Captain P. Nadarajah
It was Christmas 2009. I was going through the Colombo newspapers on the Internet. I could not believe my eyes. Tears ran down my cheeks. I cried for several minutes. It was about Captain Panchalingam Nadarajah, fondly known as Panch to his friends and as Captain Nada to his colleagues at Air Ceylon. He had passed away on December 24.
I called the telephone number given in the obituary and spoke to his sons, Thaj and Nandha. I came to know Captain Nada when I joined Air Ceylon, back in 1972. Eight months later I started working in the Flight Operations Department.
Words fail to describe what a nice, friendly, honest man Captain Nada was. His roots were in the North, and he came from a good family. He and his wife raised five sons, and all of them followed in their father’s footsteps, excelling in the field of aviation. Thaj and Nandha are both flying as captains, as I believe the others are,
except for the last son, who did aeronautical engineering.
When I came to know Capt. Nada, he had been flying the DC-3 (Dakota) and the Avro-HS 748 aircraft as captain for a long time. Later, after lots of politics, the late Capt. Aussie, Capt. L. B. de Silva and Capt. Nada were trained to fly the Trident-Jet Aircraft-HS 121 as captains.
When the then operations manager, Capt. Ferdie, resigned over policy matters, Capt. Nada was appointed as operations manager. I worked very closely with him on crew rosters and other aspects of the Operations Department. I have only pleasant memories of working with him. Often, on arriving in the office, he would put his
hand on my shoulder and say “Machang”, and ask how everything was in the department, and talk about this and that.
In a country where, and at a time when, aircraft pilots were regarded as demigods, Capt. Nada remained firmly a very down-to-earth person. What impressed me was his calmness and quietness. He never got angry with anyone who worked with him, and he was never bothered by what people might be saying of him. He believed in doing what was right, and he did it.
I vividly remember a couple of incidents during his time at Air Ceylon. In 1975 or 1976, an Operations Department colleague, G. A. Fernando (GAF), now Capt. Fernando, wanted his flying log book certified for his Air Transport Pilot Licence (APTL) exam by the Operations Manager. The two of us took a bus from Borella to the Operations Manager’s house in Layard’s Road, Bambalapitiya.
We were wondering how he would respond to us visiting his home, but he was very cordial. He made us comfortable and signed the log book for Mr. Fernando, who remained with the airline till it was forced to close down in August 1979.
I will always remember Capt. Nada for the advice he would give me from time to time. Whenever I went home back to Jaffna, and then got stuck for a seat to fly back to Colombo, most of the Captains would make it their responsibility to have me on the flight.
I would go as a passenger, occupying the jump seat, or stand in the cockpit, all the way to Colombo. Capt. Nada never failed to give me this privilege.
Capt. Nada is survived by his wife Chitra, sons Thajkumar, Nandakumar, Sureshkumar, Premkumar and Panchakumar.
He will be greatly missed by his family, friends, ex-colleagues at Air Ceylon – and everyone whose lives he touched. May his soul Rest in Peace. And Captain, may you continue to keep flying, high above the others, as always.
30 05 2010 - Sunday Times
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Memories of Our Flying Days
“So you are determined to be a pilot?” my father despairingly asked me many years ago. “In that case you had better go and see Ray – he might be able to talk you out of it.”
On that promising note I was dispatched, on my bicycle, this being an earlier and simpler era, to Turret Road to meet Ray Wijewardene. A scholar, businessman, agriculturist, inventor, Olympian and pilot, Mr. Wijewardena did nothing of the sort, of course. Instead he encouraged, nurtured and enjoyed my success in my chosen field, as proud as my father would have been were he alive to have seen it.
That first visit was to be followed by many more. Both to the garage in his house, filled with the latest creations he was working on, the office above with one of the first PCs in the country and also to the Ratmalana airfield, where accompanied by the faithful Cyril, his chauffeur, co-pilot and general factotum, he would fly any number of the aircraft he built from scratch.
I was but one of the many young people Mr. Wijewardene was to take under his wing. Being a naturally modest person, it took me years to piece together everything he had done in an incredibly diverse career. References to representing Ceylon in the Olympics, inventing the ‘half-tractor’, serving on the Board of Directors of Air Ceylon and many other accomplishments were mentioned casually during the many conversations we enjoyed after flying, while watching the sun gradually set over the sea, and nursing steaming cups of tea produced by Cyril. Once airborne of course, conversation was no longer possible and was conducted by gesturing, as we enjoyed the sensation of flying through the air in an ‘ultra-light’ aircraft. By this time I was fortunate enough to be flying for AirLanka, and it was a huge change from the much larger aircraft I flew professionally.
In fact there it is, in an old logbook, nestled between flights on AirLanka’s 737; From Ratmalana to Ratmalana, Type - Experimental, Registration 4R-RAW!
This was Ray’s greatest creation, the Kitfox he built and flew at Ratmalana. The manqué is now 25 years old and very popular all over the world. His was almost certainly the first Kitfox aircraft in Asia, probably one of the first sold outside the USA. As aficionado of the world-famous Oshkosh Airshow, Ray had first seen the aircraft there and fallen in love. His enthusiasm, and mechanical aptitude, was so great that he travelled to the factory in far off Idaho, USA in order to do the welding of the frame himself.
“I couldn’t claim to have built it myself, if they did the welding, could I?” he barked when I (who can barely change a light bulb) inquired as to the reason. “This is my aircraft son, I have made every bit of it.”The most bizarre of Ray’s flying machines was the Gyrocopter he produced, a weird and wonderful machine that terrified this airline pilot. So much so that it was the last aircraft we flew together.
Sadly, as the years went by and my career progressed elsewhere than Sri Lanka, we gradually lost touch. The plans we had to go to Oshkosh together never materialised as the burdens of marriage and parenthood ate up all my spare time. Many times I meant to take my sons, now older than I was when I first met my mentor, to see him while on holiday in Colombo but somehow it never happened. Now of course it is too late.
Happy Landings Sir, it was a privilege to have known you.
22 08 2010 - Sunday Times
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Young Pilot's Last Flight Remembered 50 Years Later
Death dive into the sea
Fifty years ago, 23-year-old Nihal Seneviratne had everything going for him. An old boy of Royal College, he belonged to a loving family, was the holder of a 'B' (commercial) pilot's licence with 200 flying hours to his credit and on the threshold of being employed as a pilot by an Indian airline.
But on Friday, February 19, 1954, Nihal's world literally crashed. Around 3.45 p.m., he took off from Ratmalana Airport on a solo flight in a de Havilland Chipmunk two-seat, single-engine, trainer aeroplane. It was a flight from which Nihal Seneviratne never returned. A few minutes after it soared aloft, the Chipmunk was seen performing aerobatics off the nearby coast before plunging into the sea. Despite an extensive search, no trace of the Chipmunk or its pilot was ever found, and the exact circumstances of the tragic crash remain a mystery to this day.
That fateful Friday began for Nihal Seneviratne in a much brighter, happier fashion. He had made a date for lunch with his father, Dr. A.C. Seneviratne, D.M.O. of Ragama, who observed that his son was in "exceptionally high spirits". Nihal had also promised his mother to accompany her on a shopping spree in the not-too-distant future. In the early afternoon, Nihal arrived at the Ceylon Air Academy, at Ratmalana Airport, to do some recreational flying. Although a pupil of the Academy and a qualified solo pilot, he had not flown for a few weeks. So, in accordance with usual practice, Seneviratne was sent up with an instructor for a refresher, or check flight, before being permitted to go solo again.
Assigned to Nihal Seneviratne that afternoon was Susantha W. Jayasekera, an experienced instructor (later, as Captain 'Sus' Jayasekera, he became a respected senior pilot with Air Ceylon). Jayasekera and Seneviratne climbed aboard the Chipmunk registered 4R-AAL, - arguably the pride of the Air Academy fleet, and then valued at Rs. 73,000 -and took off. After a few aerial circuits of Ratmalana under 'Sus' Jayasekera's vigilant supervision, Seneviratne was deemed competent to resume solo flight. So, getting out of the cockpit, the instructor authorized his pupil to take off alone. Interestingly, people at the Academy that day also noticed that Nihal seemed "fit as ever and in high spirits".
But when the Chipmunk failed to return within the time allotted, there was cause for concern at the Air Academy. Concern soon gave way to fear when the Wellawatte Police telephoned with a report from a domestic servant named R.T. Piyasena. According to the Police, Piyasena had just seen an airplane stunt-flying over the ocean, then crashing and disappearing beneath the surface of the sea.
An emergency was immediately declared, and a search for the Chipmunk and its pilot was launched. Captain C.H.S. Amarasekera, Commandant of the Ceylon Air Academy, and Stanley Fernando, another instructor, joined the search in the Academy's newly-acquired Hiller UH-12B helicopter. But first they flew to Wellawatte beach where the eyewitness, Piyasena, was still present. It was the intention of Amarasekera and Fernando to take Piyasena with them in the three-seater helicopter, so that he could try pointing out the spot where the Chipmunk had speared into the water. But no amount of persuasion would make Piyasena get into the Hiller. Not a surprising reaction from a youth who had just seen another flying machine dive into a watery grave.
Friday's aerial search lasted only two hours before dusk fell. All there was to show for the pilots' efforts was a large oil slick in the vicinity of the area where Piyasena thought the aircraft had crashed. The next day the quest for the downed Chipmunk resumed, with two Colombo Port Commission (CPC) launches joining in a sweep of the area. Both vessels were commanded by Mr. J. Mearns, harbour foreman and chief diver of the CPC. He took with him a fisherman from Lunawa named G.N.S. Aponsu, who claimed to know the exact spot where the Chipmunk nose-dived into the sea. Curiously, this placed the probable crash site further south of the Wellawatte location first mentioned by Piyasena.
Another diver from the Fort Development Scheme, Mr. C. Jacobs, was also placed on standby, but his services were not required. Sadly, over the next few days a methodical, exhaustive search of sea and coastline between Wellawatte and Lunawa proved fruitless, and it soon became apparent that Nihal Seneviratne had not survived the crash. Therefore, the authorities made the difficult, heartbreaking decision to call off the search.
A Board of Inquiry into the loss of the Chipmunk was convened. It comprised Mr. E.R. (Ron) Godlieb, Chief Aircraft Inspector, Mr. H.M.D. (Maurice) Jansz, Airport Controller, and Capt. C.H.S. Amarasekera. One of their first determinations was that the nearly-new Chipmunk was in airworthy condition, having received routine maintenance up to the time of its final flight. They also questioned several eyewitnesses, including Piyasena and two fire officers from the Airport Fire Brigade. The latter claimed to have seen, from a vantage point at Ratmalana Airport, the Chipmunk doing aerobatic stunts over what they estimated to have been the sea, before it
disappeared below the skyline, presumably into the ocean.
Based on evidence gathered, the Board concluded that Nihal Seneviratne had been executing a difficult aerial manoeuvre known as a 'Split-S turn', of which he had limited experience, when he lost control of the Chipmunk and crashed into the water.
A few days after the crash, in the knowledge that Nihal's mortal remains would never be recovered, a memorial service was held outside the Ceylon Air Academy hangar at Ratmalana. Joining the deceased pilot's parents and relatives at the service, which was conducted by Rev. R.C. Luckroft, Vicar of Christ Church, Galle Face, were the Prime Minister of Ceylon, Sir John Kotelawala, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport and Works, Major Montague Jayawickreme, and the Minister of Justice, E.B. Wikramanayake. A large number of Nihal's friends and Air Academy colleagues were also present.
At the conclusion of the 15-minute service, the lost flyer was bade a poignant, fitting farewell. Accompanied by several pilots in Air Academy airplanes, the Hiller helicopter that had taken part in the vain search lifted off, again piloted by Capt. Amarasekera, with Sir John Kotelawala and Mr. Wikramanayake as his passengers. When the helicopter reached the approximate site of the crash they circled over the spot before Sir John dropped wreaths in final salute to the young pilot whose promising career had been so cruelly cut short. Floral tributes were also dropped by pilots and passengers of the other Air Academy aeroplanes.
Perhaps the most eloquent accolade was paid to Nihal Seneviratne in a poem titled 'Sonnet on the death of a pilot', by Denis Jansz, in a Ceylon newspaper some days later. Jansz's touching tribute concluded: "...Let us not then count the years or months / Or days, that took this friend from us / But always think of him / As some fine silver speck that melts into the blue."
15 02 2004 - Sunday Times
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Air Ceylon Pioneer Pilot ‘Captain Ma’ Was a Hero To Us Teens
Captain P. B. Mawalagedera
Captain Punchi Banda Mawalagedara, a pioneer aviator of Air Ceylon, passed away in March this year. He was 90 years.
“Captain Ma”, as he was known to his friends, and as Peter among his British and Australian aviation colleagues, was a distinguished student of St. Anthony’s College, Katugastota. After leaving school, he wanted to become a motor mechanic. However, with the start of World War II, he volunteered to fly for the Royal Air Force (RAF). After initial flying training at Ratmalana, he was sent to the UK and Canada for further training. But by the time his period of training was over, the war was also just ending.
On returning to Ceylon, Mawalagedera decided to resume motor engineering studies. But it was not to be. When the government of the soon-to-be-independent Ceylon started up a national airline, Ceylon Airways, soon to be known as Air Ceylon, he joined the fledgling carrier as First Officer (co-pilot) on the Douglas DC-3 Dakota.
Air Ceylon made its inaugural flight on December 10, 1947. In May/June 1948, Mawalagedera was the co-pilot of a special government charter flight to Sydney, Australia, carrying a Ceylonese naval crew who were going to bring back a trawler bought by the Ceylon Fisheries Department. Thus, P. B. Mawalagedera created history as a member of the first all-Asian flight crew to fly to Australia from any country.
Between 1949 and 1953, Air Ceylon flew international services in partnership with Australian National Airways (ANA), using a pair of Douglas DC-4 Skymaster four-engine airplanes. During that period, First Officer P. B. Mawalagedera often operated domestic and regional DC-3 flights as co-pilot to Capt. Peter Gibbes, a senior ANA management pilot based in Ceylon to oversee the ANA operation.
Several decades later, at his home in Australia, Capt. Gibbes recalled pleasant memories of those halcyon days in Ceylon, flying alongside Mawalagedera and other Ceylonese pilots, such as M. R. (Rex) de Silva, George Ferdinand, Emile Jayawardena, etc.
“Captain Ma” soon earned his command (captaincy) on the DC-3. He was subsequently posted to Amsterdam during the Air Ceylon/KLM Royal Dutch Airlines partnership to fly the Lockheed Constellation and turboprop Electra. Returning to Ceylon at the end of his period of secondment, he became director of the Civil Aviation Examiner for pilots’ instrument ratings in Air Ceylon. Subsequently, he was appointed Assistant General Manager (Operations), while his good friend and colleague, Capt. George Ferdinand, was Manager Operations and Chief Pilot of Air Ceylon.
In 1964, Mawalagedera and Ferdinand were sent to Woodford, Manchester, to ferry-fly a brand-new Avro (Hawker Siddeley) 748 turboprop aircraft to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). It was Air Ceylon’s first wholly-owned turbine (jet)-powered airplane (the aforementioned Lockheed Electra had belonged to KLM).
The Avro’s arrival at Ratmalana Airport on Friday, October 30, 1964. was a “big deal.” There was extensive publicity in the local media, such as it was in those days, including a multi-page supplement in a leading newspaper to mark the occasion. Accordingly, the two pilots who flew the Avro (registered 4R-ACJ) to Ceylon, Captains Mawalagedera and Ferdinand, were feted and hailed as aeronautical heroes.
My former schoolmate and now Assistant Editor of Airways magazine, Roger Thiedeman, recalls: “For a few years after 4R-ACJ arrived in Ceylon for the first time in 1964, Captain Mawalagedera and Captain “Ferdi” (I had the pleasure of making the latter’s acquaintance in Australia 31 years later) were two people I idolised, but always from a distance, the way a teenager might idolise a favourite movie or pop star. Just because they were pilots of Air Ceylon’s new turboprop aircraft.”
It would not be wrong to say that those feelings were the same with all aviation-minded young people in Sri Lanka at the time, this writer included. In 1967, Air Ceylon purchased a second turboprop airliner, this time a French-built Nord 262. But the engines of the Nord were unsuitable for climatic conditions in Ceylon, and proved troublesome and unreliable. So when the airplane was returned to its manufacturers a few years later, the ferry pilots were, once again, Captain Ma and Captain Ferdi, who by now were synonymous with Air Ceylon.
Indeed, one of my lasting memories of Captain Ma – also from a distance – was the day he and Capt. George Ferdinand ferried the new Air Ceylon HS 121Trident three-engined jetliner from Hatfield, UK, in 1969. I was standing on a balcony of the control tower at Bandaranaike Airport, Katunayake, with a few trainee pilots from the Ratmalana flying school. When the crew emerged from the sleek, new tri-jet, to be again greeted with much fuss and fanfare, they instantly became our heroes too.
As an “airport bum” (trainee pilot) at Ratmalana Airport in the late 1960s/early ’70s, I soon got to know Capt. Mawalagedera, who had his office there. Then, with the JVP insurgency in 1971, I joined the Royal Ceylon Air Force (RCyAF) Volunteer Reserve.
One morning, at China Bay, Trincomalee, we received a signal from RCyAF Headquarters, asking us whether we wanted to join the regular Air Force. I requested time until the end of the day to make my decision, then went on an Air Force flight to Palaly/Kankesanturai (KKS).
As luck would have it, I met Captain Ma and his crew, who had just operated an Air Ceylon Avro flight to KKS. I told him I had to decide whether or not to remain in the Air Force. In his characteristic style and no-nonsense voice, Capt. Mawalagedera advised me to get demobilised and apply to Air Ceylon for a pilot’s job.
With yet another inter-airline partnership, this time with French airline UTA in place, Air Ceylon needed at least 100 new pilots. I followed Captain Ma’s suggestion, but after demobilisation from the RCyAF, I remained unemployed for a couple of years. In hindsight, though, given the direction my flying career subsequently took, it was a good move based on sound advice.
After joining Air Ceylon as a First Officer, and immediately after a strike by Air Ceylon pilots, I was elected to the committee of the Pilots’ Guild. With Captain Ma as Assistant General Manager (Operations), we had a love-hate relationship. There was never a dull moment when he was around. I remember his advice to me, as a young “union man”, when one day he gave me a lift home. Another pilot was heard to comment that pilots and Air Ceylon management were in cahoots. “That’s right,” Captain Ma said. “Get to know your enemy before you fight him. Kill the enemy first, before he kills you.”
Controversial though Capt. P. B. Mawalagedera may have sometimes been among the Sri Lankan pilot and airline fraternities, his dedication, professionalism, and contribution to commercial aviation cannot be denied. He will be greatly missed by those who knew and flew with him.
Postscript: Capt. Mawalagedera pre-deceased his wife, Mavis, by only a month. As Mavis Wijeratne, she too made her mark with Air Ceylon on December 10, 1947. But unlike the man who would later become her husband, Mavis’ major contribution was unplanned. As she recounted to Roger Thiedeman and me in August 1997, Mavis was working as a receptionist for the newly-formed Air Ceylon when it was preparing for its inaugural flight. On the day of the grand occasion, the stewardess who had been appointed to crew Air Ceylon’s first official passenger flight took ill. Mavis was urged to take her place – and that’s what she did.
As an untrained stewardess on the inaugural DC-3 Dakota flight to Jaffna/KKS and Madras (now Chennai) and return – flown by Captains Peter Fernando and C. H. S. Amarasekera, Miss Mavis Wijeratne (later Mawalagedera) unwittingly wrote her name in the annals of Sri Lankan commercial aviation history.
Captain G. A. (Gihan) Fernando
22 05 2011 - Sunday Times
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Capt. P. B. Mawalagedera - Appreciation
The death occurred in March this year of Capt. Punchi Banda Mawalagedara, a pioneer aviator of Air Ceylon. ‘Captain Ma’ as he was widely known – and also ‘Peter’ by British and/or Australian aviation colleagues – was a distinguished student of St. AnthonyCollege, Katugastota. After leaving school, he wanted to become a motor mechanic. However, when World War II started, he volunteered to fly for the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1941. After initial flying training at Ratmalana, he was sent to the UK and Canada for further training. But by the time his period of training was over, the war was also just ending.
Upon returning to Ceylon, Mawalagedera decided to resume motor engineering studies. But it was not to be. With the government of soon-to-be-independent Ceylon starting up a national airline – Ceylon Airways, which soon became known as Air Ceylon – he decided to apply for, and obtained, a job as First Officer (co-pilot) on the Douglas DC-3 Dakota. Air Ceylon made its inaugural flight on December 10, 1947. In May/June 1948 he was the co-pilot of a special government charter flight to Sydney, Australia, carrying a Ceylonese naval crew who were going to bring back a trawler bought by the Ceylon Fisheries Department. Thus, P.B. Mawalagedera created history as a member of the first all-Asian flight crew to fly to Australia from any country.
Between 1949 and 1953, Air Ceylon flew international services in partnership with Australian National Airways (ANA) using a pair of Douglas DC-4 Skymaster four-engine airplanes. During that period, First Officer P.B. Mawalagedera often operated domestic and regional DC-3 flights as co-pilot to Capt. Peter Gibbes, a senior ANA management pilot who was based in Ceylon to oversee the ANA operation. Several decades later, at his home in Australia, Capt. Gibbes recalled pleasant memories of those halcyon days in Ceylon, flying alongside Mawalagedera and other Ceylonese pilots such as M. R. (Rex) de Silva, George Ferdinand, Emile Jayawardena, etc.
‘Captain Ma’ soon earned his command (captaincy) on the DC-3. He was subsequently posted to Amsterdam during the Air Ceylon/KLM Royal Dutch Airlines partnership to fly the Lockheed Constellation and turboprop Electra. Returning from Amsterdam at the end of that period of secondment, he became Director of Civil Aviation Examiner for pilots’ instrument ratings in Air Ceylon. Subsequently, he was appointed Assistant General Manager (Operations) while his good friend and colleague, Capt. George Ferdinand, was Manager Operations and Chief Pilot of Air Ceylon.
In 1964, Mawalagedera and Ferdinand were sent to Woodford, Manchester, to ferry-fly a brand-new Avro (Hawker Siddeley) 748 turboprop aircraft to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). It was Air Ceylon’s first wholly-owned turbine (jet)-powered airplane (the aforementioned Lockheed Electra had belonged to KLM), so the Avro’s arrival at Ratmalana Airport on Friday October 30, 1964 was a ‘big deal’. There was extensive publicity in the local media – such as it was in those days – including a special, multi-page supplement in a leading newspaper to mark the occasion. Accordingly, the two pilots who flew the Avro (registered 4R-ACJ) to Ceylon, Captains Mawalagedera and Ferdinand, were feted and hailed as aeronautical heroes!
In fact, my former schoolmate and now Assistant Editor of ‘Airways’ magazine, Roger Thiedeman, recalls: "For a few years after 4R-ACJ arrived in Ceylon for the first time in 1964, Captain Mawalagedera and Captain ‘Ferdi’ (I had the pleasure of making the latter’s acquaintance in Australia 31 years later) were two people I practically idolised, but always from a distance, the way a teenager might idolise a favourite movie or pop star. Just because they were pilots of Air Ceylon’s new turboprop aircraft."
It would not be wrong to say that those feelings were the same with all aviation-minded young people in Sri Lanka at that time, this writer included. In 1967 Air Ceylon purchased a second turboprop airliner, this time a French-built Nord 262. But the engines of the Nord were unsuitable for climatic conditions in Ceylon, and proved to be troublesome and unreliable. So when the airplane was returned to its manufacturers a few years later, the ferry pilots were, again, ‘Captain Ma’ and ‘Captain Ferdi’, who by now were synonymous with Air Ceylon.
Indeed, one of my lasting memories of ‘Captain Ma’ – also from a distance – was the day he and Capt. George Ferdinand ferried the new Air Ceylon HS 121Trident three-engined jetliner from Hatfield, UK in 1969. I was standing on a balcony in front of the control tower at Bandaranaike Airport, Katunayake, with a few trainee pilots from the Ratmalana flying school. When the crew emerged from the sleek, new tri-jet, to be again greeted with much fuss and fanfare, they instantly became our heroes too!
As an ‘airport bum’ (trainee pilot) at Ratmalana Airport in the late 1960s/early ’70s, I soon got to know Capt. Mawalagedera, who worked in an office there. Then, with the advent of the JVP insurgency in 1971, I joined the Royal Ceylon Air Force (RCyAF) Volunteer Reserve. One morning at China Bay (Trincomalee), we received a signal from RCyAF Headquarters asking us whether we wanted to join the regular air force. I requested time until the end of the day to make my decision, then went on an air force flight to Palaly/Kankesanturai (KKS). As luck would have it, I happened to meet ‘Captain Ma’ and his crew who had just operated an Air Ceylon Avro flight to KKS. I told him that I had to soon decide whether or not to remain in the air force. In his characteristic style and no-nonsense voice Capt. Mawalagedera advised me to get demobilised and apply to Air Ceylon for a pilot’s job. With an agreement with French airline UTA then in place, Air Ceylon evidently needed at least 100 new pilots. I followed Captain Ma’s suggestion, but after demobilisation from the RCyAF I remained unemployed for a couple of years. In hindsight, though, given the direction my flying career subsequently took, it was a good move based on sound advice.
After joining Air Ceylon as a First Officer, and immediately after a strike by Air Ceylon pilots, I was elected to the committee of the Pilots’ Guild. With ‘Captain Ma’ as Assistant General Manager (Operations), we had a love-hate relationship. There was never a dull moment when he was around. I remember his advice to me, as a young ‘union man’, when one day he gave me a lift home. Another pilot was heard to comment that Pilots’ Guild and Air Ceylon management were in cahoots with each other. "That’s right," ‘Captain Ma’ said. "Get to know your enemy before you fight him. Kill the enemy first before he kills you."
I can still picture Capt. Ma waiting for the crew transport, reading the daily news paper, out in the front lawn at his Ratmalana home. .Controversial though Capt. P.B. Mawalagedera may have sometimes been amongst the Sri Lankan pilot and airline fraternities, his dedication, professionalism, and significant contribution to commercial aviation cannot be denied, and he will be sadly missed by those who knew and flew with him.
Post Script: Capt. Mawalagedera pre-deceased his wife Mavis by only about a month. While still Mavis Wijeratne, on December 10, 1947 she also made her mark with Air Ceylon. But unlike the man who would later become her husband, Mavis’ major contribution was unplanned. She was working as a receptionist for the newly-formed Air Ceylon when it was preparing for its inaugural flight. But on the day of the grand occasion, the stewardess who had been appointed to crew Air Ceylon’s first official passenger flight took ill. Hurriedly, Mavis was urged to fill the breach – and that’s what she did. As an untrained stewardess on the inaugural DC-3 Dakota flight to Jaffna/KKS and Madras (now Chennai) and return – flown by Captains Peter Fernando and C.H.S. Amarasekera – Miss Mavis Wijeratne (later Mrs. Mavis Mawalagedera) unwittingly wrote her name in the annals of Sri Lankan commercial aviation history.
‘To fly west my friend flight we must all take, for a final check"
Capt. G. A. (Gihan) Fernando
06 05 2011 - The Island
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Appreciation - Capt. Susantha (‘Sus’) Jayasekera
Captain ‘Susantha Jayasekera (affectionately known to many as (‘Sus’) had to answer the inevitable call from above on June 15,2010 at the age of 84, just three weeks prior to his 85th birthday, after a colourful and a fully accomplished career as an Airline Pilot, Officer in the Royal Ceylon Air Force Volunteer Reserve, Flying Instructor and successful businessman.
As a student at Royal College, ‘Sus’ demonstrated his intellectual aptitude and excelled in his studies. He grew up with a persuasive self-confidence to fly an aircraft one day. His father, Sam Jayasekera (who was in the legal profession), always had an ambition to mould his son as an engineer. Several attempts made by ‘Sus’ to fulfill his childhood ambition, therefore, always met with his father’ s concrete resistance and disapproval, maintaining that "only birds and fools fly".
Sam Jayasekera enrolled him as an apprentice at the Civil Aviation at Ratmalana Airport to pursue a career in aeronautical engineering. Being alongside pilots opened up many opportunities. Perhaps this convinced his father later to finally pay for his flying lessons. Finally ‘Sus’ graduated and became an accomplished light aircraft pilot.
‘Sus’ was appointed as an assistant flying instructor at the Air Ceylon Academy and later sent to Australia for Instructor’ s training under the Colombo Plan Fellowship where he qualified to fly Douglas DC-3 Dakota. On his return to Sri Lanka he was absorbed into the national carrier - Air Ceylon.
The determination and steadfastness which he inherited as a child had never ceased. Consequently he decided to go to London in quest of a British Air Transport Licence. His mother, Emily Jayasekera supported his cause after the early demise of his father in 1952.
‘Sus’ was never the type to tolerate internal politics of a working environment. A situation at Air Ceylon led him to go to Australia. On his return to Sri Lanka, after four years, he resolved to help his very capable mother to run their inherited business, the Armour Restaurant.
Capt Sus was also involved in many business partnerships with investments, some of which were as Chairman Midaya Ceramics Company with Dayasiri Warnakulasooriya, Chairman Miridiya Hotel, Anuradhapura, the late Mr. M.R. Fernando (my elder brother) and a few other enterprises.
Once a pilot, one’ s urge would always be to ‘ fly’ whatever direction one travels in life. This may be why, perhaps, he volunteered as a reserve pilot with the RCYAF when the JVP insurgency was at its peak.
‘Sus’ was professional, chivalrous to the word, and determined to the hilt. That very admirable quality paved once again for him to join Air Ceylon in later years.
At the end of 1979 Air Ceylon was dissolved and flying schools were privatized. Capt. ‘Sus’ Jayasekera seized the opportunity yet again to fly Air Taxies from the Maharaja Training School at Ratmalana.
‘Sus’ was an unassuming, kind and gentle man with a magnanimous heart which he opened to anyone at any time, be it professionally or otherwise. This was the very reason that he was never lonely after his retirement and his residence was always full with old colleagues, students and dear friends who visited regularly to keep him company and seek advice.
Once prior to a London bound flight ‘Sus’ invited me for dinner and at the dinner table asked me: “Tilak, which Sri Lankan flight are you taking tonight?” My casual answer was ‘ the direct flight to London’ and our conversation on that subject came to an end.
A few hours later, I had comfortably settled down into my seat inside the SriLankan Airbus and the plane started to glide forward towards the take off point when an airhostess thundered: “Will passenger Tilak Fernando please identify to one of the crew please.” More alarmed, more than curious, I got up from my seat and another air hostess ushered me into the cockpit.
Captain Gihan Fernando, the pilot on that particular London flight said he had received a phone call that evening from Sus to show me the takeoff and landing of the Airbus. I thanked him and sat behind Gihan and the first officer and watched the full operation enthusiastically like a schoolboy. In London at Heathrow Airport I watched the landing.
‘Sus’ certainly had wanted to give me a surprise and a rare experience inside the cockpit of an airbus. That was ‘Sus’ Jayasekera, always charismatic, spontaneous and ever willing to help others, a noble quality which he left with us all to emulate.
Sus was a fitness fanatic. His two-hour walk every evening, come rain or high waters, came as a prayer and every important event at home or outside had to wait till he finished his daily walk.
Dear ‘Sus’ , my friend, your demise is an irreparable loss to all of us, your family, relatives, friends and all who had come to know you in your sojourn in this human world. I shall always treasure that unforgettable cockpit experience as an indelible recollection of you.
May you attain Nibbana.
Dr. Tilak S. Fernando
26 10 2010 - Sunday Times
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Captain ‘Sus’ Jayasekera
The death occurred on 15th June of Capt. Susantha Wijesoma Jayasekara. A former airline pilot, officer in the Royal Ceylon Air Force Volunteer Reserve, flying instructor, and businessman, he was better known to all and sundry as ‘Sus’, or ‘Captain Sus’.
Born on July 8, 1925, the only son of Sam and Emily Jayasekera, he studied at Royal College and Pembroke Academy. When World War II broke out, Sus attempted to join the Royal Air Force (RAF) even though he was under age. But his father followed Sus to the recruiting office and ‘persuaded’ him to return home.
Speaking to this writer and aviation magazine editor Roger Thiedeman in August 1997, Sus reflected that his interest in flying originated at a very young age, probably in the mid-to-late 1930s, when he was taken by an uncle to watch a small aircraft take off and land on the infield of the Colombo Racecourse. Later, as a teenager, he would go with friends to observe aviation activity at Ratmalana Airport, then little more than a rudimentary airfield.
During the war years, he often rode his bicycle to the ‘Thunmulla’ junction’ at Bullers Road to watch RAF aircraft operating from the Racecourse airstrip - Ceylon’s ‘secret weapon’ in repulsing the Japanese air raids of Easter Sunday, 1942.
‘Sus’ also recalled watching seaplanes at Colombo Harbour, from the family home in Kotahena. All this fanned the flames of his aeronautical ambitions. But his father, who wanted Sus to become to be an engineer, tried to dissuade him from a career amongst the clouds by telling Sus that "only birds and fools fly". After the war, when Sus was 22, his father took him to meet a friend, Capt.
David Peiris, the civil aviation commandant of Ratmalana Airport. After a short interview, Sus was asked to report to the chief engineer of the Colombo Flying Club to commence work as an apprentice aeronautical engineer.
But that only served to strengthen Sus’s resolve to take to the air. He went on his first flight in a Tiger Moth biplane flown by a pilot named Srikantha, becoming even more captivated by the desire to learn to fly.
Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that for his maiden flight Sus wore the flying helmet of the club’s legendary and much-respected chief instructor, Flt. Lt. Robert ‘Dunkie’ Duncanson.
Eventually, Sus’s persistence paid off, when his father relented and agreed to pay for flying lessons. Sus counted it a privilege to have Duncanson as his flying instructor.
While continuing to work as an apprentice engineer at the flying club, Sus had several opportunities to fly with pilots who had returned to ‘civvy street’ after war service. One of them was a young pilot named P.B. Mawalagedera (later to become one of Sri Lanka’s most senior and experienced airline pilots and managers), who gave Sus his first demonstration of a loop, in a Stinson L-5 airplane. In time, Sus became an accomplished light aircraft pilot and instructor in his own right, while accumulating flight time (hours) for his ‘B’ (commercial pilot’s) licence. Earlier, after he had earned his ‘A’ (private pilot’s) licence, his ‘gold wings’ were pinned on his chest by his mother at an awards ceremony. Subsequently, Sus was appointed assistant flying instructor at the Ceylon Air Academy, which had been established by the Ceylon government. In 1953, when Ceylon acquired its first helicopter, a Hiller UH-12B (4R-AAO) - which preceded the purchase of two Westland-Sikorsky S-51 Dragonfly helicopters for the Royal Ceylon Air Force (RCyAF) in 1955 - he was one of the first pilots to receive rotary-wing training along with Captains C.H.S. Amerasekara and David Peiris.
Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawala and other government officials used the helicopter extensively. When Sir John went on weekend trips to his Kahatagaha Mines, Captain Sus often served as his personal helicopter pilot.
Also with Sus at the controls, the Hiller was used to convey Santa Claus to Christmas parties and Carols by Candlelight at Police Park, as well as conducting nocturnal joy flights at carnivals. Sus also flew the helicopter and fixed-wing airplanes on aerial photography sorties, including one memorable assignment in an Auster with a visiting photographer from Time magazine to take a photo of sunrise over Adam’s Peak.
In 1956 Sus was sent to Australia on a Colombo Plan Fellowship. While Down Under, in addition to an Australian ‘B1’ instructor’s rating he obtained endorsement to fly the Douglas DC-3 Dakota. On his return to Ceylon, Sus was invited by Capt. Peter Fernando, then operations manager of Air Ceylon, to join the airline. Toward the end of 1959 the national carrier had only two DC-3s for domestic and regional services.
To boost the modest fleet a third DC-3 was purchased in the UK, and Captain Sus was chosen to command its delivery flight to Ceylon in January 1960. Assisting him on the flightdeck were First Officer Harry Ratnapala (later Hatharasinghe) as co-pilot and Radio Officer Geoff Frugtneit as navigator. That aircraft, which was registered 4R-ACI, survives - but only just - in non-airworthy condition at the Sri Lanka Air Force Museum at Ratmalana.
Later, Sus went to London and obtained a British Air Transport Licence using his own resources. He was founder-secretary of the Air Ceylon Airline Pilots ‘ Association, which was formed during the time of the Air Ceylon/KLM partnership, which ran from 1956 to 1962. Sus and his fellow unionists even shared the dubious distinction of organising Ceylon’s first pilots’ strike! Sometime afterward there was a vacancy for the post of general manager of Air Ceylon.
The Pilots’ Association backed Capt. Peter Fernando, while other pilots lobbied for the airline’s engineering manager to be awarded the job. In 1962, when the latter was appointed, Captain Sus quit his job and went back to Australia, returning to Ceylon only in 1966. Perhaps not surprisingly, Air Ceylon didn’t re-hire him, probably because of his ‘track record’ with union activity. So he got involved in the family business of running the Armour Restaurant in Kotahena.
I got to know Captain Sus in 1969 when I joined the Flying Training School at Ratmalana. He was my basic flying instructor on the Tiger Moth, his other two student pilots at the time being Hiranjan Bibile and Rohan Wijesinhe. Today, Capt. Hiranjan flies for SriLankan Airlines, Capt. Rohan for Qatar Airways, and I am with Singapore Airlines. Sus was a soft-spoken gentleman, not known for using strong language while teaching us fledgling pilots.
I remember how, as a ‘night owl’, he found it difficult to rouse himself from bed in the mornings - while we waited at the airport for him to arrive for our flying lessons! In 1971, when the JVP insurgency broke out, Captain Sus volunteered along with a few of us to join the RCyAF as reserve pilots. He was the oldest civil pilot to join the first batch of volunteers and I was the youngest.
Other cadets were Senerath Wattewewa, Herbie Karunatileka, Faizal Abdeen, Sriyan Wanigasekara, and David Pieris (not to be confused with the former airport commandant and helicopter pilot of similar name). At China Bay, our ground instructor, Corporal Jayakody, took us for PT (physical training) in the wee hours of the morning. He dismissed us at 0630hrs, but because our No. 1 Squadron commenced duties at 0700, that gave us only half an hour to shower, shave, have breakfast, and report to the Squadron for flying training.
But because ‘Corporal Jack’, as we called him, didn’t wear a watch and depended on us for the time, our modus operandi was to advance our watches by about ten minutes. Captain Sus was also party to this ruse, to make our life easier. This went on for several days until the officer in charge noticed Jayakody getting back to his billet early!
Subsequently, after being demobilised from the air force, during Minister Leslie Goonewardene’s period in office as Minister of Communications, Captain Sus was able to join Air Ceylon again. He was assistant to training manager Capt. C.K. Pathy. During his second stint with Air Ceylon, Captain Sus flew the DC-3, Hawker Siddeley (Avro) 748, and the Hawker Siddeley (D.H. 121) Trident jetliner. He was a ‘good operator’ who kept abreast of all the modern trends in aviation.
In 1977, when the International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations (IFALPA) threatened to blacklist Colombo International Airport-Katunayake on the grounds that it was unsafe, Captain Sus and First Officer Milinda Ratnayake went to Amsterdam to plead for a moratorium on such action, based on an assurance given by Sri Lanka’s President J.R. Jayawardene that steps would be taken to improve air safety facilities in Colombo. In 1979, after Air Ceylon ceased to exist and flying schools were privatised, Captain Sus flew light aircraft for the Maharajah Organisation’s Air Taxis training school at Ratmalana. He was elected president of the Air Line Pilots Guild of Sri Lanka and I was its secretary. Meanwhile, he kept up his business interests at the Armour Restaurant. Sadly, Captain Sus’s wife Ganji predeceased him after a protracted illness.
Although he retired prematurely from active flying, Sus remained a mentor to all. His students, wherever they were based, often dropped in at his home down Fredrica Road, Wellawatte, to ‘talk shop’.
I am privileged to share his birthday: July 8. A few years ago I called Captain Sus on our mutual birthday while flying over Istanbul, Turkey, at 30,000ft, using one of the aircraft cabin telephones - he was thrilled! Unfortunately in latter years Captain Sus lost hearing in both ears, probably a legacy of all those hours aloft in noisy DC-3 cockpits. A few years ago he gave me all his aviation books, knowing that I will look after them. As time went by our visits became few and far between; but it never diminished Captain Sus in my estimation as an aviator in a million.
To paraphrase Anglo-American aviator and poet John Gillespie Magee, Jr, from his legendary poem ‘High Flight’:
Sus slipped the surly bonds of Earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; sunward he climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds - and did a hundred things others have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there, he chased the shouting wind along, and flung his eager craft through footless halls of air.Up, up the long delirious burning blue he topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace where never lark or even eagle flew. In conclusion, as another unknown but famous author put it: ‘To fly West, my friend, is a flight we must all take for a final check.’ May he attain the supreme bliss of nibbana.
Capt. Gihan A. Fernando
27 06 2010 - The Island
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When a non-English Speaking, Sarong-clad, Konde-Wearing Rustic...
Dared to Reach for His Dreams
All in a Knot
One morning in August 1952, a shy, nervous man arrived at the Ceylon Air Academy at Ratmalana Airport for his first flying lesson. Aged in his mid-forties, he was considerably older than most other would-be flyers. But that was not the only thing unusual about this man. Speaking Sinhala only, he was attired in the traditional garb of the unsophisticated village mudalali: shirt, coat and sarong, with hair tied at the back of his head in a konde (knot).
Almost without exception, the world of private flying was then populated by more 'refined' folk from wealthy aristocratic families, educated at so-called 'good' schools. So, not surprisingly, this aspiring aviator and his 'country bumpkin' demeanour attracted disbelieving stares and derisory comments from sundry onlookers. Who, some sniggered, did this sarong-clad gamarala with a konde think he was by climbing into the cockpit of a trainer aircraft, the hallowed preserve of only the rich and well-bred?
But even if Attanagalley Wickramarachchi Millawalage Don John Paulis Appuhamy understood such comments, he pretended not to hear. He was, after all, made of sterner stuff. One day not long before that August morning, Paulis Appuhamy (also nicknamed 'Ukku Mahathmaya') went to Ratmalana Airport with his eldest son Vijitha Kumara, who wanted to watch the aeroplanes taking off and landing. Soon, Paulis became fascinated by the thought of flying those machines, and diffidently approached one of the flying school instructors. Speaking in Sinhala he said, "Sir, I would love to fly a 'plane. Can you teach me?"
The instructor turned to him in surprise and replied, "But how can you fly with your hair in a konde?" In those days, instructors and student pilots wore close-fitting leather helmets with built-in headphones for communicating with each other in open-cockpit aircraft like the de Havilland D.H.82 Tiger Moth. Obviously, such headgear would be difficult, if not impossible, to fit over someone's head with a tonsorial protruberance at the rear. However, Paulis was not dissuaded. Proudly caressing his konde he insisted, "I have no problem with my konde, sir, so I would still love to fly."
But the instructor had further concerns. Apart from the added discomfort-not to mention safety hazards-that someone might encounter in a cockpit whilst wearing a loose, flowing sarong (instead of 'streamlined' flying overalls), it would be difficult, if not impossible, for a trainee who spoke no English to absorb instruction both in the air and in the classroom; not to mention reading the theory material that all pupil pilots had to study.
After taking the man on a brief joy flight, it soon became apparent to the instructor that this man of simple, 'rural' appearance was an enthusiastic individual who was determined to learn how to fly an aeroplane. Moreover, he seemed to have an intimate knowledge of technical matters. So, he was introduced to the flying school's Chief Flying Instructor, Captain C.H.S. Amarasekera, and another instructor, Susantha ('Sus') Jayasekera. Unlike the other scoffers and 'doubting Thomases' at Ratmalana, Amarasekera and Jayasekera saw the potential in this callow villager and to their credit-decided to take a chance on teaching him to fly.
What they did not realize at the time was that Paulis Appuhamy, despite his 'native' bearing and inability to speak English, had a proud family heritage and was a talented and respected person in his own right. Born on December 21, 1905, in the Attanagalla area, as a young boy Paulis discovered an aptitude for all things mechanical. Despite his village upbringing, he was fortunate to attend Ananda College, Colombo, thanks to the support of a family friend, Mr. D.C. Senanayake.
Later, Paulis inherited his father's bus transport business. At its prime, the modestly successful private company boasted a fleet of 36 buses operating to such destinations as Colombo, Kandy, Kurunegala and Hanwella.
Sometime around 1940, the prosperous 'bus mudalali' married a 17-year-old girl, many years his junior. Today, Paulis Appuhamy's widow-who is alternatively known by her maiden name of Annette de Saram or Mrs. Wickramarachchi-remains in residence at the family's Attanagalla walauwa 'Siri Medura', not far from the Colombo-Kandy Road. A formidable, intelligent lady with sharp memory recall, this matriarchal figure has her finger firmly on the pulse of all matters concerning the family's estate and fibre-milling business.
Annette de Saram blushingly recalls the early days of her marriage: "Though we were well-developed physically I was only a child. Because of that, even after marriage, my father wanted me to stay with my parents for another two years." In time, her union with Paulis Appuhamy was blessed with two sons and two daughters.
As his public transport business prospered, Paulis continued applying his mechanical talents to the operation of his buses, the family's motor cars, as well as to the fibre-milling machinery. He also acquired a keen interest in, and talent for, photography, while building up an impressive collection of rare and expensive cameras.
With his mastery of mechanical matters, it was hardly surprising that when the time came for Paulis to learn flying, he took to it with ease. 'Sus' Jayasekera was impressed by the fact that this non-English speaking pilot wearing a sarong (attire hitherto unheard of in an aircraft cockpit!) with his hair in a konde proved to be a keen and competent pupil. For his part, Paulis Appuhamy is reported to have said: "Guwan yana padhaveemeydi mata kondaya bhadavak vuney nehe." ("While flying a 'plane, my konde was not a hindrance.")
Returning to 'Siri Medura' after his first flying lesson, he told his wife, "Menike, I'm not afraid to fly. I will somehow get my licence." And indeed he did. After the usual course of instruction, during which he sometimes flew with bare feet on the rudder bar (pedals)-another unconventional practice, A.W.M.D.J. Paulis Appuhamy was issued with Private Pilot Licence No. 139, on October 5, 1953. Faithful to Sinhalese custom, he presented his instructor with a bulath atha (betel leaf sheaf) as a mark of gratitude and respect on that momentous occasion.
After gaining more experience, Paulis progressed from the Tiger Moth biplane to the Academy's newly-acquired and more advanced de Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunk monoplane. Now qualified to carry passengers, he would often take his son Vijitha Kumara on joyflights. One day, he lost his way but had the good sense to make a precautionary landing at the Puttalam (Palavi) airstrip. Just as the people at Ratmalana Airport were preparing to send a search aircraft, Paulis and his son returned in the Chipmunk, much to the relief of everybody, not least his wife Annette.
But Mrs. Wickramarachchi continued to worry about her husband's new love affair with airplanes. Her concern was not eased when she witnessed the fiery, fatal crash of a Tiger Moth one day when she had accompanied Paulis to Ratmalana for his lesson. Yet, she remained supportive of his aviating activities, and in 1953, at a special function for Academy pilots who had made their first solo flights, Annette de Saram was chosen to greet the chief guest, Sir John Kotelawala (then Minister of Transport & Works; later Prime Minister of Ceylon), with a bulath atha.
Although Paulis Appuhamy enjoyed his freedom as a private pilot, he did not neglect the running of his bus company. But later, he gradually scaled down his aeronautical pursuits and, around 1954/55, eventually stopped flying altogether.
On January 1, 1958, all private bus companies in Ceylon were nationalised by the Bandaranaike government, to form the Ceylon Transport Board (C.T.B.). Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, whose ancestral estate in Horagolla is also in the vicinity of Attanagalla, had been friendly with Paulis Appuhamy since their younger days. But the sudden loss of his family bus transport business-for which he received no compensation-was a bitter pill for Paulis to swallow, and his relationship with the Prime Minister was soured as a result.
Around 1963 Paulis Appuhamy suffered a stroke, and continued to battle its debilitating effects for another ten years. He passed away on February 23, 1973. Today, even in death Paulis is revered with affection and pride by his widow and their children-not least for creating Sri Lankan aviation history by successfully rising above prejudice and discouragement to become the nation's first (and probably to this day the only) non-English speaking, sarong-clad, konde-wearing private pilot.
(With acknowledgements to Mrs. Annette de Saram-Wickramarachchi, Capt. G.A. Fernando, Mrs. Ivy Fernando and Capt 'Sus' Jayasekera for their invaluable assistance in the preparation of this article.)
05 03 2006 - Sunday Times
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Father & Son Double Act
January 15, 2010 was a red letter day for young Shavantha Pedris. That’s the day he was appointed a Captain with the national carrier, SriLankan Airlines. Even more significantly, his father, Ranjit, is still an active captain with the same airline. Surely this is unique in Sri Lanka: a father and son serving together as captains with the nation's flag-carrier. There have been other combinations of fathers and sons who had become captains in Sri Lanka, but the fathers had moved on to fly for other international airlines by the time their sons had risen through the ranks. That is why Ranjit and Shavantha have created Sri Lankan aviation history.
Shavantha studied at Royal College and at the Royal Institute, Colombo where he obtained a degree in Information Systems. At the Royal Institute he was head prefect and took an active part in cricket and swimming. After undergoing training in Oklahoma, USA on Cessna 152 and Cessna 172 aircraft for his Commercial Pilot's Licence (CPL), he joined SriLankan Airlines in 2002. Five years later, after flying the Airbus A320, A330, and A340, he returned to the USA where he obtained his Air Transport Rating, which qualified him to be an airline captain. A committee member of the Air Line Pilots' Guild of Sri Lanka, Shavantha continues to serve as the organisation's assistant secretary. He is also is a Crew Resource Management (CRM) Facilitator for SriLankan Airlines.
On the other hand, Shavantha's father, Ranjit Pedris, is a totally Sri Lankan aviation 'product'. Also an Old Boy of Royal College, after joining the flying school at Ratmalana he obtained both his CPL and Airline Transport Pilots' Licence (ATPL) in Sri Lanka. He has flown a variety of commercial aircraft, such as the HS (Avro) 748, Boeing 707, Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, Boeing 737, and A320. Today, Capt Ranjit Pedris is a commander on both the A330 and A340 airplanes with SriLankan Airlines.
Together, this father and son team have done the Sri Lankan flying fraternity and SriLankan Airlines proud.
Capt. G. A. Fernando
03 02 2010 – The Island
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Living in the clouds
Enthralling hands - on experiences of a SriLankan Airlines pilot/ captain both on and off the air
He is a strange temperamental paradox. Despite being an affable disposition and radiant countenance, he has been living in the clouds for the past 18 years. He has to. He is a pilot.
For SriLankan Airlines Senior Pilot and Captain Nimal Rambukwelle, flying has been a childhood passion, the profession being in his chromosomes. His father Anil was Sri Lanka's first Jet Captain who flew the Air Ceylon's DC 3 and Avro and the Trident to Singapore, Bangkok and Chennai.
Capt. Rambukwelle after disembarking an Air Lanka flight with the First Officer and cabin crew.
Nimal was trained at the Royal Air Force base at Begin Hill, Kent at 22 after primary and secondary education at both S. Thomas College and Royal College. He joined SriLankan as a second officer in 1987, promoted as First Officer in 1990 and Captain in 1996.
Ready to fly
Capt. Rambukwelle is ready to fly. He is now at the SriLankan Airlines Flight Operations Department at Katunayake, an hour prior to departure on a flight to London. He checks the weather, the route and the fuel. There is a telex update where the weather conditions right up to London 30 minutes. Then there is the CAVOK check as well. (CAVOK is the acronym for Ceiling and Visibility OK) depicting ideal weather conditions for landing at Heathrow.
There is also a NOTAMS check, another routine check, to ensure clarity of the flight path. Certain routes are embargoed in instances of VVIP movements. (For instance, if President Chandrika Kumaratunga is flying from the President's House to Parliament grounds on Independence Day, commercial aircraft are forbidden to fly that route. There could be such movements in other parts of the flight path as well).
Now it is time to embark. All passengers are seated. All external checks prior to boarding. Then, cockpit checks. The London flight is required to have around 75,000 kgs of fuel, while the Bangkok flight needs a mere 20,000 kgs due to closer proximity. The maximum gross weight of the Airbus A 340 is 260,000 kgs while net weight should be 178,000 kgs. The gross weight of the short distance flight are around 180,000 as the fuel weight is less. It is also imperative that the fuel has to be dump fuel to the landing height so that the aircraft would be at below maximum landing weight.
Then the engine pressure ratios are checked and it varies from the temperature and altitude of the destination. For instance, Katunayake is at 20 feet above Mean Sea Level while Zurich is at 1400 feet. The minimum oil pressure should be 13 pounds per square inch.
It is now time for Air Traffic Control clearance and taxiing. The Airbus A 330 has two Rolls Royce Engines while the A 340 Aircraft has 4 CDM engines. He reaches for the four master switches of the four engines, which droning at speeds at 22.7% of the total, depending on the altitude and the ground temperatures which are computer generated. The aircraft is taxied off the runway at the time all engines are stabilised and between 10 and 30 knotts. Power is provided for take off, climb and cruise.
The aircraft is lifted at the pre-determined speed, based on the performance manual. The pilot non - flying calls the pilot flying when the speed has reached for lift off which is at between 140 and 165 knotts. The pilot flying lifts the aircraft from the control columns and when airborne, the landing gear (wheels) are retracted.
If the captain feels that the aircraft is not safe at the time of take off ( which is Velocity 1) and if the speed of the aircraft on the runway, he would have to continue the takeoff. Otherwise, the aircraft would not have the distance remaining to stop safely and an overrun could occur.
Standing outside an A 340 Airbus which was on order for the national carrier prior to painting at Toulouse where he was there for training to fly the aircraft
The London route
The 11 hour flight would cruise over the southern tip of India over Madurai and Trivandrum, the Indian Ocean and Arabian seas over Muscat. Then, it is Iranian air space entering Turkey from the East. The aircraft moves towards the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, Hungarian capital of Budapest and Bucharest, Romania's capital. It is Vienna in Austria and Germany's Frankfurt, Belgium's Maastrich. Then, it is over the English Channel and north of the White cliffs of Dover towards Lambourne where there will the radar guide towards landing at London's Heathrow International Airport
There have been three emergency landing in his career. Emergency landings are done and the pilot has to be agile to execute it manually as the computers will show the problem. There was an instance where one of the four engines of the A 340 was unserviceable and the aircraft had to emergency land at Abu Dhabi which was the most appropriate for maintenance. The passengers were disembarked and flown to London on another aircraft while the aircraft was ferry flown to Colombo.
The second instance had also been also on a London flight where there was a passenger suffering from cardiac arrest while flying over Zurich. There was a doctor on board the flight and Heathrow allowed an emergency landing on a priority basis.
Father Anil Rambukwella (extreme right) standing outside Beach Craft E185, a survey flight used by the Survey Department for aerial maps.
Another interesting landing that he made was at the Kaithak Airport in Hong Kong where it had to descend a hill which had the measuring equipment and the Instrument Landing System in the aircraft at a pre-published system. Capt. Rambukwella had to do a right angled ( 90 degrees) turn to the right. If the Hong Kong Airport authorities did not see it due to the low clouds and the heavy rain which is not unusual for Hong Kong, the aircraft would have crashed into the mountain! Otherwise, it was mandatory for the him to start climbing higher.
One of the most interesting flights that he has done soon after qualifying was been a flight on a single engined Cessna 150 from Kent to Toulouse in France with colleague Richard Reynolds, a British Airways Concorde pilot today. The cycle was concluded when he had to return to Toulouse for the training in the Airbus aircraft A 320 in 1992, A 340 in 1994 and A 330 in 1999.
One of his saddest days was during training in the A 340 in Toulouse. It was a test flight which was carried on an A 330 where the pilots aboard that aircraft were to subsequently to train Sri Lankan pilots and Capt Rambukwella had been asked how to reach Kandy. The test aircraft had crashed and the entire crew died.
He said that he enjoyed flying to all SriLankan Airlines destinations. Sometimes, he gets bored during the long haul flights. He revealed that what he enjoyed most at that time was filling the Daily Mirror Crossword puzzle!
Nimal has also been flying Sri Lankan VIPs. It has been twice with President Chandrika Kumaratunga to Male on April 11, 2000 and Chennai on April 7, 2003.
Others had been former UN Under Secretary for Disarmament, Jayantha Dhanapala, from Frankfurt. Then it was UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister from London in 2002 and Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar from Kuwait to Colombo where both of them had been seated in the cockpit in the instructor's seat.
Genes and exceptions
As in the case of the Rambukwellas, the national carrier has a series of second generation Captains and First Officers. There are father/ son and uncle/ nephew combinations. It also has the first husband/ wife as first officers, possibly a world record.
The father/son combinations starts with the Nadarajah family where father Panchalingam Nadarajah was the Captain of now defunct Air Ceylon with four his sons in aviation. Eldest son Tajkumar, was a Captain at Sri Lankan Airlines and now in the same capacity with Singapore Airlines. Younger sons Nandakumar and Panchakumar both First Officers of the National Carrier while youngest son Premakumar is Aeronautics Engineer there.
Others include father (Captain) Dudley Ranabahu and son First Officer Sam Ranabahu while nephew/ cousin Rohan Moonemalle (only son of retired Court of Appeal Judge C.L.T. Moonemalle) is also a First Officer. Also father (Captain) Ravi Thambapillai and son (First Officer) Dilranjan Thambapillai, father (Captain) Ranjith Pedris and son (First Officer) Shevantha Pedris, father (Captain) Duleep Vedanayagam, and son ( First Officer) Dinesh Vedanayagam while there is father (Captain) Jayantha Jeevandara and son (First Officer ) Anushka Jeevandara.
The husband and the wife combination is Hemantha and Anusha Siriratne, who are both First Officers. Aviation regulations demand that there has to be at least one captain on each flight and the day that one of them is promoted to the command, (rank of captain) they could navigate the same aircraft as spouses.
There is also another special uncle/nephew combination of former Sri Lanka opening batsman Sunil Wettimuny and his nephew Pravin Wettimuny, (son of the other Sri Lanka opener and brother of Mitra Wettimuny). Of the sons who did not follow their father's footsteps was Capt. Hiranjan Bibile, son of Sri Lanka's internationally acclaimed founder Professor of Pharmacology Prof. Senaka Bibile.
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A Reunion At 40,000 Feet
A reunion at 40,000ft. Capt. Gihan Fernando (L) and Capt. Elmo Jayawardene. (Picture taken by a “Singapore Girl”)
A few days ago, I was looking through some books and I came a cross a dusty old copy of "A Gift of Wings" by Richard Bach, given to me by my friend Elmo. Inside it said "To Gihan in remembrance of our biplane days when we flew Tiger Moths in RMA with such limited horizons and such strong bonds of friendship created in our world of aviation."
It took my mind back to our flying school days in Ratmalana (RMA) thirty eight years ago. In those days, RMA was less busy as all the commercial jet traffic operated from the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA). Once the domestic aircraft like the Air Ceylon Dakota (DC3), the Avro 748 and the Nord 262 left for their respective destinations, in the morning, the trainee pilots had the airfield to themselves, till the arrival of the Indian Airlines, Vickers Viscount or till some Royal Ceylon Air Force (RCyAF) VIP flight arrived. Then everyone was grounded till that aircraft left. Most of us took off and landed on the patch of grass between the parking apron and the runway. They told us that it was to save the tires. I remembered how Elmo and I took off on a cross-country flight one misty March morning from Ratmalana, in a HAL Pushpak aircraft to Ratnapura , Beruwela and back. The Pushpak was an Indian built, two seater aircraft, powered by a reliable Rolls Royce Continental 90 HP engine. It was one out of two or three training aircraft that were serviceable in the Government Flying Training School at Ratmalana. Mr. V. V. Giri, the then Indian President had gifted this aircraft to the ‘youth of Ceylon’.
Soon, with the sun in our eyes we flew East towards our first destination Ratnapura. Elmo was flying while I was the Passenger/Observer and Navigator. The first checkpoint on the map was Ingiriya and then we pressed on, on our flight - planned track. Elmo was working with Air Ceylon and I was a recent school leaver. We were both clocking flying hours to be Commercial Pilots. Between us we had less than two hundred hours of flying experience under our belts. Although this experience was less than a drop in the ocean where airline flying was concerned, in our minds we were ‘aces’ who had sole control over a flying machine that roared on at a record - breaking speed of 60 Knots! (Roughly 70 MPH). We were the lords of the air and had freedom of the skies. None of our aircraft were equipped with radio. Air Traffic Control clearance was obtained from the Control Tower, by telephone before the proposed flight!
The city of Ratnapura was in a valley beyond a range of hills, which we had to cross before we flew overhead our turning point on this triangular cross-country. On this day however, it was decided that we would not fly directly overhead but turn short and head towards Beruwela to carry out some "real flying!" By "real flying" what was meant was flying at "deck level" which is along the beach, sometimes even below the level of the coconut trees.
Let me hasten to add that "Low flying" was an exercise that was taught to us by our Instructors lest someone attempts it incorrectly and kills himself. The unofficial low flying area was the Bolgoda Lake. But officially the instructions were; "Don’t fly low because if you do, soon you will be harping in the high altitudes." Sometimes, we had to carry out cross-country flights to far away places like Kankesanturai, Jaffna (KKS). On the return leg, since we were not radio equipped, we had to descend to an extremely low altitude (below the tree tops), after passing Puttalam and follow the coastline. This was to enable us to fly under the approach path of the "Big Jets" landing at the BIA. The high point in that operation was the attempt to fly our little aircraft between the Pegasus Reef Hotel and an old shipwreck, along the coastline. Since one was low flying all the way from Puttalam, the adrenaline was already in the system and it was a "piece of cake".
So it was somewhat usual for us ‘Aces" to hone our low flying skills on the Beruwela to Ratmalana leg.
A few minutes after turning towards the coast, something made me ask Elmo what he will do if he has an engine failure. This question was usual because whenever a single engine aircraft pilot flew he was supposed to have a plan of action in the event of engine failure. Back at Ratmalana, we even practiced this by making every landing a power off (idle throttle) landing. What was unusual was the timing of the question. Because as soon as I asked this from my friend Elmo, there was a big bang and the engine wound down from a regular cruising power of 2100rpm to about 1200rpm. Even with the throttle fully forward we could achieve only about 1700 rpm, which was not enough to keep our aircraft flying straight and level. So we had to make a gradual descent.
Elmo, being the pilot in command, promptly took matters to hand and decided that we could not make it to RMA and therefore should make it in the shortest distance to the coast before we ran out of altitude. My job was to look out for suitable fields to land the aircraft in a greater emergency such as a total engine failure! The engine was vibrating significantly with a loud banging noise. There was a smell of high Octane fuel in the cockpit. However, the engine oil pressure and temperature were observed to be normal. Above this unholy din I could hear Elmo shout in Sinhala "Orasang kiyapan machang, Orasang kiyapang!" (Say your prayers machang , say your prayers!)
A few days before this eventful day, Rohan, another Trainee Pilot and I were doing a preflight engine run up and observed heavy misfiring of the engine. On investigation we found that the plug leads from the Magneto/Distributor had been misconnected. In addition to that one set of leads was not even connected! (For redundancy, every cylinder head of the RR C 90 engine had two spark plugs and therefore two plug leads.) After an investigation, the mechanic who did the daily inspection (DI), was issued with a severe warning to be more careful in future. Most of us suspected that this poor guy taking the fall for an act of deliberate sabotage. A few months before, the Flying School boys had organized themselves into a Trainee Commercial Pilots Association (TCPA) because of certain irregularities taking place in the school. The year before they even went on strike. The management resented this. A few of us, being the organizers of the association, were targeted by them for ‘rocking the boat.’ They were an autocratic bunch anyway! I remember the Chief Maintenance Engineer those days was known as ‘Engine Caesar’ (pun intended!).
With the above background in mind it was quite obvious to me that the engine problem may be due to the ignition system. But smell of fuel was a mystery. We moved from one potential emergency landing field to another and eventually worked our way to the coast. The most logical place to land was the beach. Now we were down to two or three thousand feet. There were Fair Weather Cumulus clouds around. To get to the coast in the shortest possible distance I remember Elmo flying through a puff of cloud. Just as we cleared this cloud, right in front of our nose was an airfield! It was Katukurunda the disused World War II airfield which was used as a week-end racing track. Quick, no time to lose "Let’s land there." Now we had excess height. So we carried out the standard Forced Landing Procedure to Katukurunda. After losing height we approached from the West. On the final approach we could see a few cars on the runway! I think they were from a driving school nearby. When we got closer they got out of our way. As soon as we were safely beyond the runway threshold and sure of making a landing, I shut the engine down after, concurring with Elmo and the propeller came to a dead stop.
The resulting silence was eerie. The idea of shutting down the engine quickly was to prevent any chance of fire in the engine. Because of the strong smell of fuel it was suspected that unburned fumes were leaking from the engine. We didn’t want to run the engine longer than absolutely necessary.
As we came to a stop on the runway, we could see some people from the vehicles in the vicinity approaching the aircraft. Perhaps noticing the stopped propeller. In a matter of minutes we had a curious crowd around the aircraft. One of the drivers even offered us a screwdriver to open up the engine cowl to have a look.
We had to politely tell him that we were not allowed to do that but instead had to wait for the FTS Authorities to come and rectify the situation. Leaving me to control the crowd Elmo commandeered a bicycle and rider who gave him a ride on his bar to the Nagoda Hospital, to inform the FTS Authorities.
Within two hours ‘Engine Caesar’, a Mechanic and the Deputy Commandant of the FTS were at the site. When they opened up the engine cowl they found that two spark plugs had come adrift and were hanging on the leads while another was loose. The conclusion was that someone had not tightened the spark plugs properly or had deliberately kept them loose! Hopefully an inquiry would be done later. For the present they tightened all the plugs. Elmo and I then walked along the runway in the direction of our proposed take off path and cleared it of all stones and coconut husks etc.(to the best of our ability). In a while we were airborne and heading towards RMA. Needless to say, I was imagining all kinds of engine noises on our way back. Within the hour, we were safely parked by the FTS hangar.
If I remember right, we ended up at the ‘Midway House’ for a quick beer before walking up the Airport Road under the midday sun. ‘Midway House’ was what everyone called the Airport Club. Although March 1971 had an unusually high number of incidents culminating in a fatal crash at the airport, no official inquiry was held regarding the maintenance standards of the FTS. By April 1971 the country was in turmoil with the advent of insurgency and the FTS had to be temporarily closed. All these incidents were swept under the carpet.
Our "horizons" certainly did widen when we flew as First Officers (Co pilots) with Air Ceylon and Air Lanka. Elmo and I briefly shared the same flight deck for a few hours in a Boeing 707 during training back in 1979. After that it took another 27 long years for us to fly together again. It was in 2006 that we found ourselves again in the Flight Deck of a Singapore Airlines (SIA) Boeing 747-400 aircraft. Elmo being a Line Instructor on the Boeing, had to supervise and train me from Singapore to Melbourne. It was truly a reunion at forty thousand feet!
Elmo is retiring from SIA, after a brilliant career there, to come back to Sri Lanka, thus reversing the usual trend, creating a "brain gain", to give some of his knowledge and experience back to "aviation" in Sri Lanka.
Good luck my friend. As you retire, may you enjoy good times, good friends, good memories. For all you’ve done, for all you are, you’re wished the very best.
Capt. G. A. Fernando
28 05 2007 - The Island
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SriLankan Airlines Appoints First Lady Captain
SriLankan Airlines recently marked a significant milestone in the country’s aviation history when captain Anusha Siriratne was appointed as the national carrier’s first lady captain.
Manoj Gunawardena, the airline’s CEO, said, “Our heartiest congratulations to capt. Anusha Siriratne. This is a significant event for the national carrier. Sri Lanka has been in the forefront of women’s empowerment, and it is certainly high time that a Sri Lankan woman took command of an airliner.”
Interestingly, capt. Anusha and her husband capt. Hemantha Siriratne also made history as the first husband-wife pilot duo in the country. Capt. Hemantha received his captain’s appointment earlier this year.
Captain Anusha is modest about her appointment and brushed off her achievement, which had been her childhood ambition.
“Women have lagged behind in the field of aviation in Sri Lanka, in comparison to the rest of the world. Even in neighboring countries such as India, women have been airline captains for many years now,” she said.
“It doesn’t make a difference whether you are a man or a woman when flying. The circumstances don’t change, the weather is the same, and the aircraft doesn’t know the difference!” she said.
Capt. Druvi Perera, acting senior manager flight operations, said, “Every pilot at SriLankan is elated at this achievement. We now have several more female first officers in the fleet and hope to see them in command in a few years.”
Pradeepa Dahanayake, head of human resources, said, “SriLankan has long been in the forefront of equal opportunity for women in this country, and capt. Anusha’s appointment places the national carrier once more in the limelight.”
SriLankan has several lady managers in senior positions in most of its nine divisions. It also has women in areas that have traditionally been dominated by men, such as aircraft engineering.
Capt. Anusha also manages her career and her role as a mother very well – her daughter Anika is now five. She took a year off from flying when Anika was born.
“It’s been my dream to be a captain one day. I’ve been very fortunate to have come up to this point, and my husband and parents have been wonderfully supportive of my career. All the instructors, pilots and staff of the flight operations division have also been very helpful,” she said.
Capt. Anusha joined SriLankan as a cadet pilot in June 1998. She served as a second officer on the Lockheed L1011 Tristar fleet and in 1999 was promoted to first officer. At the time, the airline was phasing out its aging Tristars with the advent of the all-Airbus fleet, and she became a first officer on the A320’s, A330’s and A340’s, flying to cities throughout SriLankan’s network of destinations in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
A past student of Holy Family Convent, Bambalapitiya and of Ladies College, she obtained her private pilot’s license at CDE Aviation, and her commercial pilot’s license in Texas. Prior to joining the National Carrier, she had a short stint as an instructor at Sky Cabs in Ratmalana.
28 03 2010 - The Island
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All Female Flying Crew Makes History at SriLankan Airlines
SriLankan Airlines’ lady pilots have quietly revolutionized aviation in Sri Lanka, with several international flights being carried out by all-female crews.
Captain Anusha Siriratne and Junior First Officer Madini Chandradasa were the first all-female crew, operating a flight from Colombo to Trichy and back on 1st November 2009. Each leg on an Airbus A320 aircraft took one hour.
They repeated the feat on New Year’s Day 2010 by flying to Karachi and returning, also in a twin-engined A320, with each flight taking three hours and forty minutes.
The airline currently has four ladies among its 189 pilots, the others being Senior First Officers Chamika Rupasinghe and Roshani Jinasena.
SriLankan’s Head of Flight Operations, Captain Druvi Perera, said: "These flights by Capt. Siriratne and Junior First Officer Chandradasa are a milestone at SriLankan Airlines. SriLankan does not discriminate between men and women in its recruitment for any post, including pilots, and it was simply a matter of time before our lady pilots made history with an all-female flight."
"Of course, the all-female crew flights are no different to those operated by male pilots. At SriLankan, where safety is of paramount importance, what matters is not a pilot’s gender, but his or her experience, training, and expertise," added Capt. Perera.
SriLankan has a perfect flight safety record over more than three decades of operations, the result of some very tough standards for its pilots. All pilots must have a minimum of seven years of commercial airline experience before being considered for the respected post of Captain.
Capt. Anusha Siriratne, 34, is at present the first and only lady Captain at SriLankan, and has been flying since 1998. She has flown aircraft such as the Lockheed L1011 Tristar, Airbus A320, A330, and A340. But she is adamant that there is nothing special about an all-female flight crew.
"Women took to the air only a few years after the Wright Brothers invented the airplane, and some have been pioneers in aviation, although there have been fewer women flyers than male ones. Many airlines around the world have women pilots, and there is absolutely no difference between the flying of male and female pilots," said Capt. Siriratne.
She has been making history since becoming a Junior First Officer a dozen years ago, becoming the country’s pioneering First Officer in 1999, and then being promoted to Captain in 2008. She and her husband, Capt. Hemantha Siriratne, are also the first husband-wife duo to be Captains at SriLankan. A past student of Holy Family Convent, Bambalapitiya and of Ladies College, she is also a perfect example of a working mother, with a six-year-old daughter.
Junior First Officer Madini Chandradasa said: "Flying for our National Carrier has certainly been a rewarding experience. The senior pilots at SriLankan possess a wealth of experience which youngsters can learn from. But I must say that there was no difference in flying with a male Captain, and flying with Capt. Siriratne, who is greatly respected in the airline and has served as a role model for other women pilots."
Madini, 22, is a past student of Visakha Vidyalaya who joined SriLankan two years ago.
All four lady pilots trained in SriLankan’s Cadet Pilot Training Programme, which has launched the careers of hundreds of pilots over the last three decades who have gone on to distinguish themselves both at the National Carrier and in other airlines throughout Asia and the Middle East. Entry into its Cadet Pilot Training Programme is especially competitive, and most cadets today possess university degrees, as well as experience in flying light aircraft and small commercial aircraft.
Senior First Officers Chamika Rupasinghe and Roshani Jinasena are now flying the long-haul A330 and A340 aircraft to Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East.
Chamika, 32, was a Flight Stewardess who joined the airline’s Cadet Pilot Training Programme in 2005 and earned her wings. A past student of Visakha Vidyalaya, she graduated from the University of Sri Jayawardenapura with a degree in Mathematics, Statistics and Physics, and is also CIMA qualified.
Roshani, 26, joined the airline as a Cadet Pilot in 2005. She holds a BSc in Management from the University of Surrey, and is a past student of Ladies College, the British School, and the Colombo International School.
Capt. Perera says the airline is very pleased with the progress of its lady pilots. "SriLankan Airlines encourages more young women to seriously consider careers as airline pilots. As our first four lady pilots have proven, the sky is the limit," said Capt. Perera.
03 04 2010 - Lankapuvath
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Wing Commander A M Denzil Fernando - Appreciation
The death occurred recently, in the USA, of Wing Commander Denzil Fernando. He was literally a high flyer in the Royal Ceylon Air Force and later, the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF). I first met him when I was a cadet pilot in the volunteer arm of the RCyAF. He was then a Flight Lieutenant and Officer Commanding Flying Training at China Bay, Trincomalee. To those of us fledgling pilots addicted to ‘Air Ace Picture Library’ comic books, his sharp features made him resemble our comic book hero ‘Dogfight Dixon’. So, ‘Dogfight’ he became to some of us! But what impressed us most was his dedication to the task of teaching pilots, amidst the sweltering heat and vibration of a DHC-1 Chipmunk, day in and day out. It was obvious that he was passionate about aviation.
During a routine patrol one Sunday morning, when we were attached to the Task Force Anti-Illicit Immigration (TAFAII) of the Army at Kankesanturai (KKS), we spotted General ‘Bull’ Weeratunge driving down to Casuarina Beach for a swim. Suddenly there was a twinkle in Denzil’s eyes and he said, "Let’s beat him up." (‘Beat up’ is a phrase used by pilots for a very low pass over a ‘target’.) So saying, he commenced a wide descending turn over Palk Strait and flew towards the good General who was now wading into the shallow waters of that idyllic beach. The twin-engine de Havilland Dove was flying so low that when I looked out of my right side cockpit window I could see a whirlpool of sea spray under the propeller. Denzil kept flying the aircraft with great precision until, literally seeing the whites of the General’s ever-widening eyes, we pulled up over his head. That night we were instant heroes at the officer’s mess!
Another day we beat up an Indian Navy destroyer named Godavari, which was standing on duty at Katchathivu Island. We flew low passes from several directions, and each time the destroyer captain gamely turned to face us head-on.
Although Denzil was promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader, he never ‘pulled rank’ on us. The working day ended at 1300hrs (1.00 pm), and each evening would find Denzil jogging with the rest of us up and down the runway at China Bay. On some weekends he would organise trips to Nilaveli and Marble Beach. He also looked after his officers and men. When the base was short of onions and chilies, we use to airlift them from KKS.
Most importantly, he never lost an opportunity to teach us lesser mortals the art and science of flying aeroplanes, be it night flying over the island, bad-weather flying, beating up ponies at Delft, or elephants at Lahugala. He taught me to use the VHF (Very High Frequency) radios in the aircraft, and the basics of twin-engine flying (the aircraft at the Ratmalana Flying Training School, where we volunteers came from, were neither radio-equipped nor twin-engine types).
Denzil was also a qualified civil pilot. When he knew that I was studying for my civil licences while serving in the RCyAF Reserve, he authorised me to use an air force Chipmunk on a cross-country flight as a requirement for my Private Pilot’s Licence.
After I was demobilised from the air force reserve, we went our separate ways. Five years later I was hired as a pilot by Air Ceylon and Denzil was Officer Commanding of No. 2 Squadron of the SLAF. While I was being trained on the Hawker Siddeley (Avro) 748 at Katunayake, Denzil was also somewhere in the aerial vicinity. When he discovered that it was I who was being trained, over the radio he asked my instructor, Capt. C. K. Pathy, as to how I was progressing. Here was an aviator whose interests in people went beyond the limits of the air force.
The last time I met Denzil Fernando was in the late Seventies, at Ratmalana Airport. We landed in a HS 748 in bad weather, and he was waiting on the ground, as all professional pilots should, for the weather to clear before taking off in his SLAF Douglas DC-3 (Dakota).
Retiring from the SLAF in 1980, after 21 years of service, Denzil joined the Royal Oman Police as an Air Operations Officer. There he won many medals for his dedicated service. Although we were out of touch with each other, I received information of Denzil’s progress through many expatriate colleagues who had flown in Oman.
He was a good boss, a friend and mentor in my fledgling years. May he rest in peace.
‘To fly west my friend is a flight we must take for a Final Check.’
Capt. G. A. Fernando
03 03 2008 - The Island
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More on Nihal Ratnayake - Pilot Extraordinary
With reference to the tribute to J. E. M. A. N. Ratnayake by Iranganee, may I also comment?
As senior school boys interested in the art and science of flying, it was a pleasure to have seen him perform over the Colombo Race Course at a Royal Ceylon Air Force (RCyAF) Air display in 1963 or 1964. How can one forget the introduction of the general public to loops, hammerhead stalls, stall turns, wingovers, barrel rolls, hesitation rolls etc. he performed on the Hunting Jet Provost (JP) aircraft.
Jet Provost handing over ceremony - 1959
It was rumored in the Air Force that once he flew so close to the ground, along the runway, that he scraped the ends of the radio antennae found on the bottom side of the fuselage. It was also said that while he was training in the Royal Air Force College at Cranwell, he could withstand more "G forces" than even his experienced instructors. They used to black out while he was still conscious and in control. When aerobatic flights are carried out, the pilots are subjected to centrifugal forces which make their blood rush out of their heads, blacking them out. Yes, he was a maestro on the JP!
After leaving the RCyAF he worked as Chief Flying Instructor of the Flying Training School at Ratmalana. He was a strict disciplinarian. Some of his trainees are now senior airline pilots in Sri Lanka and abroad. They remember him with awe. How can one forget the aerobatics he performed in the Chipmunk at the "avurudu celebrations" at the Ratmalana Airport in 1968? He also had a short stint with Air Ceylon.
"Nick" was the first civilian instructor recruited to the Royal Singapore Air Force (RSAF). He was hand picked and was recommended for the job by the Royal Air Force (RAF). When he retired, he was flying C 130 Hercules transport aircraft. He was then appointed the Chief Ground Instructor of the Singapore Airlines Flying College in Singapore.
By this time he had put on a bit of weight. The cadet pilots fondly called him Jabba (the hut) after the Star Wars character. Many a Singapore Airline (SIA) Captain and First Officer went through his able hands when they were fledgling pilots. Take heart Iranganee, he is still a flying legend to many pilots.
I met him only once. It was a pleasure to have shaken his hand.
Capt. G. A. Fernando,
05 08 2007 - The Island
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Captain Errol Cramer – Appreciation
The death occurred recently of Errol Michael Gerald Cramer. An Old Boy of St. Peter’s College, Bambalapitiya, he joined the Royal Ceylon Air Force (RCyAF), in the early 1960s and was appointed a Sergeant Pilot. Other members of his batch were Siddique Sally, Mike Siebel, and Cecil Marambe. In fact, they were the first batch of airmen who were directly promoted as Sergeants in the RCyAF, resulting in more than a few raised eyebrows in the Sergeants’ Mess. My first encounter with Errol Cramer was in 1970 while I was an ‘airport bum ‘at Ratmalana, watching aircraft come and go. One day a RCyAF de Havilland Dove landed and a smart-looking pilot emerged to fix the aircraft’s tail support trestle. He was pointed out to me by fellow-‘bum’, Vajirapanni, as the "guy who will be joining Air Ceylon soon". We watched in awe because joining Air Ceylon, as a pilot, in those days was only a distant dream for us.
In Errol Cramer’s case, his reputation preceded him. For instance, we had heard that one day he had been flying a Hunting Jet Provost in formation with similar aircraft, and his wingman had lost visual contact with him because his wing got in the way. Without breaking off and reformatting, the wingman decided to lower the wing again to re-establish visual contact. Errol was so close to him that the wingman’s aircraft touched the forward part (horn) of Cramer’s elevator which resulted in his Jet Provost shooting upwards. The resulting ‘G’ forces caused Errol to black out momentarily, and when he came to the airplane was in a vertical climb! One can only imagine what would have happened if the wing had touched the rear part of the elevator, causing damage and a more serious potentially fatal vertical dive with loss of control.
After an illustrious career in the RCyAF, in 1971 Errol Cramer joined Air Ceylon, the national carrier, as a First Officer (co-pilot). His batchmates in that intake were S. Yogenthiran and U. Ramanayake. After a short stint as First Officer, he earned his command on the Douglas DC-3 Dakota and, later, Hawker Siddeley (Avro) 748. He also flew as a First Officer on Air Ceylon’s sole HS 121 Trident jetliner. While in Air Ceylon, Cramer served as Secretary of the Air Ceylon Pilots’ Guild for many years.
During this period, early on most mornings he would fly the Survey Department’s Beechcraft E18 aircraft on photo survey flights. They would get airborne at first light and fly to the designated area. Onboard as navigator would be the late Roy de Niese, plus a photo specialist and, invariably, a Flying School trainee clocking up Instrument flying time for his Commercial Pilots’ Licence. I was one of those trainees who benefited from practising instrument flying under Errol’s supervision. This aerial work helped the Ceylon Government to develop the Mahaveli Scheme into what it is today. In 1979 Errol was seconded to the newly formed Air Lanka as a First Officer. There he flew the Boeing 707 and Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, initially as a First Officer and later as Captain.
Errol was always good-natured and kind, especially to junior pilots. I remember how one day in 1977, before the formation of Air Lanka, I was his First Officer on an Avro 748 flight to Ratmalana from China Bay (Trincomalee). As we were approaching the runway, it was suddenly obscured by heavy rain (the weather forecast had said nothing about this) so we had to divert to Katunayake. It was raining heavily there too. By now we were running out of fuel and needed to land as soon as possible. In those days they didn’t have Ground Radar that could read our height. The Radar Controller could only give us headings to line up with the runway.
We were approaching from the sea. In the HS 748, we had a three-pointer altimeter which had a reputation of giving wrong interpretation. Sure enough, when we crossed Kapungoda radio beacon we noticed that we were only 300ft above ground instead of 1,300ft. Errol did not panic (we were somewhere over the Negombo Lagoon); as his experience kicked in, he maintained the 300ft altitude for a few seconds more until we sighted the runway dimly in the rain – with the windscreen wipers fighting a losing battle – and landed.
Never autocratic, Errol’s quiet confidence was an inspiration to all. Crew Resource Management (CRM) came naturally to him. I remember another time while we were ‘holding’ in and out of cloud in moonlight, waiting for bad weather below to clear so that we could land at China Bay. Errol handed over the controls to me, his junior First Officer, as he was "getting disorientated’’. Today, ‘disorientation’ is blamed for many an incident and accident in the world of international aviation. But Errol was a professional pilot who knew his limits and led by example.
As luck would have it, when Air Lanka flew to Melbourne and Sydney in the early Nineties with the TriStar, I was Captain and Errol was my co-pilot. None of us had ever been to that part of the world. I was really glad that I was flying with him as his mature outlook was definitely an asset to a new boy like me.
One of Errol Cramer’s more memorable flights with Air Lanka occurred on May 24, 1992. As described by Roger Thiedeman in ‘Airways’ magazine, November 1999, a chartered Air Lanka TriStar 500 departed Colombo for Nagoya, Japan with 150 Japanese men and women, all members of the secretive and murderous ‘Aum Shinri Kyo’ cult. Also onboard was charismatic cult leader Shoko Asahara. At the controls of the TriStar were Captain David Hawkes, an Englishman, and Errol Cramer as his co-pilot. An hour after takeoff the cult members began objecting strongly to the presence in the passenger cabin of two off-duty Air Lanka crewmembers. Attired in casual clothing, these two were there in their capacity as Ground Turnaround Engineer and Load Sheet Officer to manage the aircraft on its return to Sri Lanka from Japan, without passengers, after the charter flight. The cult members demanded that the two ‘deadheading’ employees vacate their economy class seats and sit in the galley (meal preparation and serving area) instead.
When all attempts at reason by the purser failed, Captain Hawkes emerged from the cockpit to try to resolve the situation. But the cult members immediately surrounded him and pinned him against the bulkhead (wall) of the passenger cabin, preventing him from returning to the flight deck, while subjecting him to noisy abuse and threats. Meanwhile, at the controls of the TriStar, Errol Cramer became concerned that Hawkes had not returned from the cabin. Sensing that something was amiss, he gently banked the airplane in what he hoped was an unobtrusive turn back toward Colombo. To cut a long story short, thanks to Errol’s decisive and discreet action, the aircraft landed safely at Katunayake and, after intervention by local authorities who admonished the cult members and demanded that they behave themselves, the flight to Nagoya resumed, but with a change of crew.
Errol was a man of many interests, including cars and motorcycles, and as a great story-teller he would hold your attention for hours, especially on long flights. Above all, Errol had the capacity to laugh at himself, which made him very popular with everyone who had the privilege of knowing and working with him.
After retiring from flying at the age of 62, Errol Cramer was employed as an Inspector in the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka, and then as Manager Flight Operations for Mihin Lanka.
May he Rest in Peace.
I hope there’s a place, way up in the sky
Where pilots can go when they have to die.
A place where a guy could buy a cold beer
For a friend and a comrade whose memory is dear.
A place where no doctor or lawyer could tread,
Nor a management-type would e’er be caught dead!
Just a quaint little place, kind of dark, full of smoke,
Where they like to sing loud, and love a good joke.
The kind of a place that a lady could go
And feel safe and secure by the men she would know.
There must be a place where old pilots go,
When their wings become heavy, when their airspeed gets low,
Where the whiskey is old, and the women are young,
And songs about flying and dying are sung.
Where you’d see all the fellows who’d ‘flown west’ before,
And they’d call out your name, as you came through the door,
Who would buy you a drink, if your thirst should be bad,
And relate to the others, "He was quite a good lad!"
And there, through the mist, you’d spot an old guy
You had not seen in years, though he’d taught you to fly.
He’d nod his old head, and grin ear to ear
And say, "Welcome, my son, I’m proud that you’re here!
For this is the place where true flyers come
When the battles are over, and the wars have been won.
They’ve come here at last, to be safe and alone,
From the government clerk, and the management clone;
Politicians and lawyers, the Feds, and the noise,
Where all hours are happy, and these good ol’ boys
Can relax with a cool one, and a well deserved rest!
This is Heaven, my Son. You’ve passed your last test!"
— Captain Michael J. Larkin, TWA (Ret.), ‘Air Line Pilot’ magazine, February 1995.
"To fly west, my friend is a flight we must all take for a final check"
Capt. G A Fernando
25 01 2012 - The Island
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Capt. Emile Jayawardena
In our home town of Moratuwa - People always called him Captain
He flew Spitfires and Dakotas - In the golden age of aviation
I certainly could never be the pilot he was
I probably would never be as good a human being either
I would only be the Captain's son - I wish I could tell him this, but I can't
He is long gone - That is what is so sad about it
I'm sure those of you who have lost loved ones - With things unsaid
Would know what I'm talking about
Capt. Elmo Jayawardena.
06 05 2001 - The Island
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Lankan Makes Waves in the Skies
On Thursday July 17, at 12.30 p.m. Pacific Standard Time (PST), two men in a small four-seater, single-engine airplane took off from John Wayne Airport, Orange County, California and headed east. Nothing seemingly unusual about that. But some 17 hours later, when the sleek little Diamond Star DA40 touched down at First Flight Airport, Kill Devil Hills in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, it had broken aviation records within a context of considerable significance.
Adventurous duo: Laksen Sirimanne and Assaf Stoler
Most significant, perhaps, for readers of The Sunday Times is that one of the two pilots-indeed, the one who did most of the flying-was Laksen Sirimanne, 38, a talented, versatile and adventurous Old Josephian who has been living, studying and working in the USA since 1983.
In a broader aeronautical perspective, the duo set new US and World speed records for a transcontinental flight by an airplane with a takeoff weight not exceeding 2,205lb (1,000kg). But the icing on the cake was the final destination of the DA40 and the year in which the record was achieved. Kill Devil Hills is the site of the Wright brothers' historic first powered flight of December 1903, nearly 100 years before Laksen Sirimanne and his co-pilot, Assaf Stoler, landed there at the completion of their own epic journey.
After graduating in Physics at the University of Southern California in 1988, Laksen has worked as a research and development engineer in the field of medical research and technology, designing heart valves and mechanical hearts. More recently, he obtained his second Master’s Degree, this time in Aerospace Engineering, with a specialization in Astronautics. Combined with the Private Pilot's Licence he obtained in 1992, that makes Laksen arguably the closest thing Sri Lanka has to a potential Space Shuttle astronaut. In fact, he has an application pending with NASA's astronaut candidate selection programme.
Far from being a nerdy bookworm, Laksen Sirimanne has successfully combined his stellar academic and professional careers with a host of adventurous and exploratory pursuits, which include mountain-climbing, sailing, canoeing, hang-gliding, hot-air ballooning, bungee-jumping and photography. In 1994 he climbed the Himalayan peak of Kala Pattar (18,200ft/5,547m) with a multinational group and planted the Sri Lankan flag. On another occasion, having been refused a visa by the Chinese authorities, he 'smuggled' himself into Tibet and trekked through a 19,200ft (5,852m) pass.
That same year, 1997, he went to Irian Jaya (West Papua), and also visited a primitive tribe on the island of Sulawesi (Celebes). To get to Sulawesi from Surabaya, Laksen hired a light aircraft and, with a daring Indonesian pilot, flew there despite dense haze and smog from the Sumatran forest fires that had begun that year.
Apart from a safari in Africa-where he reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro-and a creditable one-day climb of California's Mt. Whitney, Laksen lays claim to being the first Sri Lankan to set foot in Antarctica after travelling there aboard an ice-breaking ship in company with a team of Russian scientists. At the opposite end of the globe, he parachuted onto the North Pole and, again, hoisted the Sri Lankan flag to honour the land of his birth.
Undoubtedly, a passion for aviation runs through Laksen's blood. His father, Don Lionel ('Siri') Sirimanne was one of the first onboard radio officers hired by Air Ceylon at its inception in 1947. Siri was later seconded by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines to serve on its international route network. Similarly, Laksen's mother Olga (née Gunasekera) was an Air Ceylon pioneer, being amongst the earliest flight attendants (or 'air hostesses', or 'stewardesses', as they were known then) recruited by the fledgling Lankan airline.
When Laksen learned that a new transcontinental light airplane record was up for grabs, he approached Sunrise Aviation, a flight training and aircraft rental company in Southern California. Laksen not being an airplane owner himself, Michael Church of Sunrise helpfully introduced him to Israel-born software engineer Assaf Stoler, the owner of a Diamond Star DA40 registered N559DS.
Laksen soon discovered that he and Stoler have much in common. Both are graduates of Sunrise Aviation's flight school, they nurture an adventurous bent and possess similar intellects, and are new fathers too. They 'hit it off' straightaway. Stoler agreed to allow his airplane to be used for the record attempt with the stipulation that he would go along as second pilot and look after such tasks as navigation and engine and fuel management, while Laksen did most of the pilotage.
Diamond Aircraft DA40
Although a high-performance airplane, the DA40-of Austrian origin, and built by Diamond Aircraft Industries of London, Ontario, Canada-lacks the range to cross the continental USA nonstop. So, Laksen and Assaf began planning fuel stops on their west-to-east route. They selected St. John's Arizona; Amarillo, Texas; Fort Smith, Arkansas; and Sparta, Tennessee. Next, there were a few logistical problems to overcome. Their estimated time of arrival (ETA) at a couple of those airports was scheduled for ungodly hours, notably at Sparta where they were due to land at 4.00 a.m. Fortunately, a kind operator there promised to wait up for the DA40 and its two intrepid pilots, so that he could refuel the airplane and send them on their way with minimal delay.
And so the day of departure arrived. The airplane was loaded with only the minimum of baggage, consisting of navigation charts and maps, sandwiches, and bottles of water. Nothing else. Extra clothing, for use when Laksen and Assaf arrived in North Carolina, and for their return flight, was sent ahead by FedEx courier.
Amongst the small crowd of well-wishers to see them off were Laksen Sirimanne's wife Mai and their three-month-old daughter Kaitlyn, as were Stoler's wife and their baby. Lifting off from John Wayne Airport's Runway 19L with Laksen at the controls, N559DS turned in the direction of its first stop. Replenishing fuel tanks at St. John's, the DA40 continued past Albuquerque, New Mexico as dusk fell, proceeding just south of the Rockie Mountains. But even though the little airplane now droned through night skies, it was clear of any dangerous high terrain.
All fuelling stops were accomplished with perfect precision. Arriving at each location within ten minutes of ETA, one of the pilots would supervise the refuelling process while the other headed for the rest room. Then they would switch roles, with the 'rested and relieved' pilot continuing the pre-flight check while the second one took a rest break. Within a few minutes, the DA40 was back in the air, on the next leg toward its North Carolina goal.
The Wright Brothers Memorial in Kill Devil
Finally, after nearly 17 hours of uneventful flying, at around 9.00 a.m. local time (6.00 a.m. PST) on Friday July 18, Laksen, Assaf and the Diamond Star landed at Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk-surely the most historic airport in the annals of aviation-to create their own small piece of history in the centennial year of Orville and Wilbur Wright's momentous achievement.
To their delight and satisfaction, Sirimanne and Stoler learned that they had set a new US and World record-ratified by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI)-with an average cruise speed of 159mph (138 knots). There was further elation-perhaps tinged with annoyance-with the discovery that they had even beaten the FedEx delivery of their clothing to Kitty Hawk!
Whether this record lasts for only another four months or four decades, as Michael Church of Sunrise Aviation puts it, "...the point will be the same: the flight was well planned and executed, and will be a lasting accomplishment and source of pride for its two principals."
And Sri Lankans everywhere, whether aviation enthusiasts or not, could also be justifiably proud of this latest achievement by Lankan-born academic, scientist, engineer, pilot and adventurer, Laksen Sirimanne.
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“Double up, double up – You copper coloured rice eating native...”
Starting off as an aircraft mechanic and skyrocketing to a pilot, 74-year-old Edgar Cooray has many a tale to share with Kumudini Hettiarachchi, Pic by Sanka Vidanagama
Edgar: A contented man.
The bulky “log book” lies on the coffee table with hundreds of entries, meticulously noted in a tiny but neat fist. Some pages have sepia-toned photos, souvenirs of a by-gone era, and with each flick of a page, the memories flow……………Here are the Apollo 12 astronauts, Richard Gordon, Alan Bean and Charles Conrad with Arthur C. Clarke. One of them wanted to sit in the cockpit, so I traded my seat. We were flying from China Bay to Ratmalana. Apollo 12 was the second US manned mission to land on the moon.
....The trip with Yuri Gagarin (the first human to orbit the earth) was “insignificant”. There was no time to chat. We picked him up at Ratmalana and dropped him off at China Bay.
....The visit of Pope John Paul II was memorable. We took him back to Italy on a special Air Lanka flight. In retirement in his cosy home at Negombo, it is a walk down the corridors of time for Squadron Leader Francis Edgar Cooray, now 74.
He was a callow youth of 16, still in school at St. Anthony’s College, Panadura, having done a stint at St. Sebastian’s College, Moratuwa, when an advertisement lured him to apply for a course that would see them being trained in England.
“We didn’t know what we were getting into,” he smiles, recalling the blur of events that followed. His application being accepted, he had to face an interview with the then Commander of the Royal Ceylon Air Force (RCyAF), Group Captain G.C. Bladon.
Sirimavo visits squadron to say thank you
From among the yellowed memorabilia, Edgar pulls out a few books where one describes their recruitment: “Batch number three consisted of 10 young school leavers, hurriedly prepared for their initiation as budding servicemen by seconded RAF NCOs, who taught them the basics of wearing a uniform, marching and saluting officers. Two weeks later after a myriad of injections and vaccinations which were then mandatory for foreign travel, this group of youngsters left Colombo....”
The ship, Edgar remembers clearly even so many years later. “It was the P & O Liner ‘Stratheden’, he says and it took them 26 days to reach their destination. “We were free,” he says, adding that thrilled to be let loose from home and family, the first thing he and the others bought were tins of cigarettes.
The future was set, so he thought. The three-year aircraft apprenticeship over, it was back on the ship ‘Chusan’ heading for home.
While they were the pioneers of the aircraft servicing technicians, parallely the first local pilots were also being trained – Paddy Mendis and D.D.S. Seneviratne in England and Harry Goonetileke in Sri Lanka.
The first day of work, as put down on paper by 10025 LAC Edgar Cooray, recreates the scenario: “Double up, double up – You copper coloured rice eating native ……… You come back after a few years in England with a thundering bloody accent and think you are …..” had been the words of Station Warrant Officer Sergeant Jayawardena that greeted them at Katunayake on January 18, 1955.
Eight of them had been brought from Colombo in a three-tonner the day before and while attempting to settle down in their billets, the older hands had dropped by to make their acquaintance.
Ready to fly
When one of the older hands, with “handle-bar” moustache had been introduced as Pilot Officer Upali Ratnayake, they had jumped to attention and answered his queries with “Yes, Sir”, “No, Sir” until someone else had informed Ratnayake that he was expected for guard duty that night. Several visitors later they had realized to their chagrin that even their empty packets of cigarettes were missing.
Their duty at Katunayake entailed servicing aircraft before and after flights but what Edgar didn’t know at that time was that this was not his destiny.
The RCyAF wanted more pilots and had recruited a batch of three outsiders, one of whom, Noel Lokuge, skyrocketed to fame as the first pilot to eject himself from a jet, and one from within the service itself. Three months later, the second batch was recruited as pilots and the serviceman who got in was Edgar.
“That was in 1960, followed by another momentous event in my life,” smiles Edgar, for six months later he married Madonna, who has been at his side since then. Madonna’s family had been introduced to Edgar by Walter Fernando, who later became Commander of th SLAF. He was our best man, says Edgar.
Of the three who joined for flying training, he was the only one who saw it through, he says, adding, “so there was no passing out parade, the Commander called me to his office and pinned the wings on my shirt pocket.”
Edgar flanked by Gordon and Bean, with Arthur C. Clarke in the rear
Do you know who my instructor in jet flying was, a new technique at that time, asks Edgar, answering, “Paddy Mendis, who also became Commander later”.
It was during his flying career that then Commander Harry Goonetileke gave him command of the No 2 Transport Squadron and nominated him as one of the few pilots for VVIPs including then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
“We flew her to the Maldives on a two-day trip,” he says and stayed at the same hotel where she was put up. There weren’t many hotels there then, he explains.
When Mrs. Bandaranaike visited the squadron to thank them for helping to quell the insurgency in 1971, it was none other than Edgar who flew her there and back. “We had ferried casualties during the insurgency operations in our fixed-wing aircraft,” he says.
But the most important contribution during the insurgency was when “all of a sudden” he and a fellow-pilot were called upon to fly a small aircraft from airfield-to-airfield to bring back ammunition from New Delhi.
With the Pope
During his illustrious career, having flown 5,687 hours precisely, he resigned in December 1976 to do a short-lived stint with Air Maldives, coming back to Sri Lanka when the company folded up, joining the Sri Lanka Air Force on the request of then Commander ……. Harry Goonetileke to be in charge of Herons, Doves and Dakota DC-3s, followed by the post of Commandant of the Bandaranaike International Airport at Katunayake when civil aviation was brought under the mandate of the SLAF.
But for Edgar being in one place was not meant to be. The offer by the Chief of the Royal Oman Police, Felix de Silva, a Sri Lankan, to take up the post of Operations Officer of the Royal Oman Police Air Wing was irresistible.
His most poignant memories, however, are of Pope John Paul II whom he had the honour of flying back to the Vatican, along with another pilot, after his visit to Sri Lanka in January 1995.
“Air Lanka gave us a plane fitted with a special bed for His Holiness. Every time we passed a country we would call on radio and pass on his compliments,” he says.
Now having fulfilled his dreams of flying, Edgar Cooray is a contented man, not only surrounded by his many souvenirs but also by many friends all over the world, with whom he is in touch every single day on e-mail.
08 11 2009 - Sunday Times
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A few days ago we heard the sad news of Squadron Leader Edgar Cooray’s death. A product of St. Anthony’s College, Panadura and St. Sebastian‘s College, Moratuwa, in November 1951, a few days after his 16th birthday, Edgar was selected by the then fledgling Royal Ceylon Air Force (RCyAF) to go to the Royal Air Force (RAF) in England for technical training as a member of the so-called ‘Brat Pack’ comprising other young men like himself. The brainchild of Air Marshall Trenchard of the RAF, the scheme was created for boys from Commonwealth countries above the age of 15½ to be recruited and trained as apprentice mechanics at the No. 1 School of Technical Training, RAF Halton.
Edgar was the youngest in his batch. After training, he returned to Ceylon in 1955. He was one of the first local mechanics assigned to maintain the Westland (Sikorsky S-51) Dragonfly, the first helicopter type acquired by the RCyAF. It was a noisy flying machine which could be heard long before one could see it. As the helicopter was then something of a novelty, the RCyAF was keen to send it to all parts of the Island. In Edgar’s own words, "Like Mary’s lamb, every where the Dragonfly went, Cooray was sure to go!" In common with many other airmen in the RCyAF at that time, Edgar’s hero was Mahendra Situnayake, a pioneer helicopter pilot who had just returned after graduating as an officer from the RAF College at Cranwell, also in the UK.
While most of the ‘Brats’ who were trained in UK left for greener pastures in ‘civvy street’, young Edgar decided to stick it out with a few others in the RCyAF. Subsequently, he was selected as a cadet pilot and commissioned as a Pilot Officer in 1960. Now his hero became his friend and mentor. After a long and illustrious career with the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF – as the RCyAF had become), Edgar retired in 1977 as Commanding Officer of No. 2 Squadron whilst holding the rank of Squadron Leader. The No. 2 Transport Wing was the stable of the air force’s de Havilland Herons, Convair 440, and two ‘old-faithful’ Douglas DC-3 Dakotas. The latter pair were former Air Ceylon aircraft that were taken over by the SLAF in the mid-1970s. Edgar had flown them all.
In his day Edgar Cooray had his share of excitement too. Once, flying a Jet Provost, he had an in-flight flame-out (engine failure) but survived to tell the tale. That same aircraft is now on static display at the Sathutu Uyana in the Viharamahadevi Park. I also remember how, again due to engine trouble, Edgar and his crew almost had to ditch the Convair 440 in the sea between Colombo and the Maldives. Those old radial piston engines use to leak more oil than they consumed. But again, a disaster was averted.
The first time I met Edgar was in 1971 when I joined the RCyAF’s Volunteer Reserve as a young cadet pilot. He flew us from Katunayake to China Bay for our training in a Heron aircraft. With a pleasant smile he welcomed us all, leaving us awestruck by his humility and extreme politeness. Adding to his stature in our eyes, Edgar was flying a four-engine airplane which, for us civilian pilots, was but a distant dream. Later during our training, he taught us all the pre-flight checks in the de Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunk trainer we were trying to come to grips with. This was all voluntary on his part, spending time with us lesser mortals while holidaying at the home of his batchmate and friend, Flt. Lt. Denzil Fernando.
After retiring from the SLAF, Edgar worked for Air Maldives for a short time. This was an airline to which he had been earlier seconded from the RCyAF, as he was one of the few air force pilots at that time who possessed a ‘proper’ Commercial Pilot’s Licence (without claiming any concessions). In the mid-Seventies Capt. George Ferdinand, the Chief Pilot and Operations Manager of Air Ceylon, resigned from the airline and flew with Air Maldives for a short time. I remember watching from the control tower as ‘Captain Ferdi’ performed a landing under Edgar’s watchful eye. They engaged in a maneuver known as ‘aerodynamic braking’ after touchdown in the Air Maldives Convair 440 (similar to the one Edgar had flown for the SLAF). The aircraft’s nose, kept high to slow the aircraft down, looked spectacular from my vantage point!
Later, Edgar was recalled for flying duties with the SLAF, and soon he was appointed Airport Commandant of Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), Katunayake. In November 1978, Edgar joined the Royal Oman Police Air Wing as an Operations Officer. Returning to Sri Lanka in 1989, he commenced duties with Air Lanka in 1990, becoming the Senior Rostering Manager at the Flight Operations Department. He worked there for another five years before finally calling it a day. As he put it, "My middle name should have been ‘Air’, ‘Air Force’, ‘Air Maldives’, ‘Airport’, ‘Air Wing’, or ‘Air Lanka’!" At last he was able to enjoy retirement to the fullest.
During his stint in Oman, he would call me occasionally when I was working in Flight Operations Management to reserve a seat on an Air Lanka flight from Oman to Colombo. I believe his son was working for Air Lanka at that time and Edgar was entitled to concessional tickets. Our paths crossed again when Edgar joined Air Lanka. He would quietly go about his business, with never a harsh word to anyone, always patient and polite. I have never seen him angry or lose his cool.
Sadly, many a young Air Lanka employee, who came in contact with him, did not know his background as he was never boastful of his aeronautical knowledge and experience. Edgar Cooray was a ‘people person’ par excellence, and a true aviator. His versatile career in military and civil aviation, from engineering to flying to administration, may best be summed up by the sonnet ‘High Flight’ by John Gillespie Magee, Junior: "Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there, I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung My eager craft through footless halls of air.... "Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue. I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace. Where never lark, or even eagle flew — And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod The high untrespassed sanctity of space, - Put out my hand, and touched the face of God." "To fly west my friend is a flight we must all take for a final check."
May the soul of Edgar Cooray Rest in Peace!
Capt. G A. Fernando
23 05 2013 - The Island
| INDEX |
Well done, GAF!
In late 1967, two aviation-minded schoolmates from S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia went to Ratmalana Airport. Armed with letters of recommendation from a senior teacher, they were attending an interview for selection as student pilots with the Flying Training School. During the interview, conducted by the Commandant of the Flying School, Mr. Lionel Loos, it soon became evident to one of those hopefuls that, for financial reasons, he wouldn’t be able to undergo flying training even if chosen (which he was). That person was me. But the other candidate, who was also deemed successful at the interview, eventually commenced training at the flying school, embarking on what eventually became a stellar aeronautical career that came to a successful conclusion some 46 years later.
That other person was Gihan A. Fernando, better known to all and sundry – in school and later in the world of aviation – as ‘GAF’, ‘Gaffy’, or ‘Captain GAF’. He had his first flying lessons in the classic de Havilland D.H.82 Tiger Moth biplane, the same aircraft that survives in airworthy condition at the Sri Lanka Air Force Museum,Ratmalana. After his first solo flight in the Tiger Moth, GAF added other flying school airplanes to his log book, notably two Austers and a Hindustan Pushpak. As a trainee pilot, GAF continued to slowly but surely accumulate vital flying hours. Equally importantly, he enjoyed the camaraderie of fellow-students while hanging around the airport, killing time as a ‘hangar rat’ awaiting his turn to go up for his next lesson.
In 1971, fate played a fortuitous hand in taking GAF’s career to the next level. When an armed insurrection by disaffected youth broke out in Ceylon, the Royal Ceylon Air Force (as it was then known) began recruiting flying and non-flying personnel for its Volunteer Reserve unit. With a modest total of flying hours to his credit, GAF was fortunate to join as a pilot. This gave him the opportunity to gain more experience at the controls of other types of aircraft, not only the DHC-1 Chipmunk single-engine trainer but also the RCyAF’s multi-engine transports such as the de Havilland D.H.104 Dove and D.H.114 Heron. On some of those flights, especially in the Chipmunk, GAF was accompanied by his elder brother Chira Fernando, then an officer-pilot in the full-time air force. (Chira also went on to a distinguished career in aviation as a Captain for several international airlines; even today, although retired from active flying, he plays an important role in pilot training. But that’s another story…)
In 1973, after his service in the RCyAF volunteer reserve had ended, GAF joined Air Ceylon, but in a ground-bound job as Flight Operations Officer. He had to wait until 1977 to begin flying as a First Officer (co-pilot) on the two Hawker Siddeley (Avro) 748s used by Air Ceylon on domestic and regional flights. Some of the latter services were operated to destinations as far afield as the Maldive Islands. But that phase of GAF’s career came to an abrupt end in late 1978 when an ailing Air Ceylon was forced to cease operations.
As they say in the classics, when one door closes another opens, and that soon proved to be true for GAF. In 1979 he was in the right place at the right time when Air Lanka was inaugurated as the new national carrier. GAF was recruited in the first pilot intake, and qualified as a First Officer on the pair of Boeing 707-300Bs provided by Singapore Airlines to form the nucleus of the fledging airline’s fleet. In time, GAF transitioned to Air Lanka’s Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, again as a co-pilot, ultimately obtaining his command, or captaincy status, on the carrier’s Boeing 737-200 twin-jet. Further promotion led to captaincy on the TriStar, and later still on the Airbus twin-engine A320 and A340 four-engine jetliners of Air Lanka.
Pilot as a young man
In 1996, GAF left Sri Lanka to take up a contract with Singapore Airlines (SQ). Based in Singapore, although ‘commuting’ to Colombo whenever possible to spend time with his wife and family, GAF served as Captain on SQ’s Airbus A340s as well as the Boeing 747-400. But in 2010, when family and other domestic commitments began making more demands on his time, GAF chose not to renew his contract with SQ. Instead, he returned to Sri Lanka to serve out the last few years of his professional life aloft with SriLankan Airlines (as the national carrier was now known), flying Airbus A330 twin-jets and A340s.
Throughout GAF’s long and illustrious time as an airline pilot, he and I have kept in close and regular contact. That friendship led to GAF ‘gifting’ me with two of the most memorable aeronautical experiences I have enjoyed as an aviation enthusiast. The first was in December 1991, when I was travelling to Sri Lanka on holiday with my family. GAF arranged to be rostered on the Air Lanka direct flight from Melbourne to Colombo, so that he could be our ‘personal pilot’! The icing on the cake came when my two sons and I joined GAF and his crew on the TriStar flightdeck as he performed a late-night, low-level ‘beat-up’ of the Galle Road – just for our benefit! – before landing at Katunayake.
Then in May 1995, GAF invited me to accompany him in the spacious cockpit of an Air Lanka A340 on a flight from Colombo to Hong Kong, via Bangkok, so that I could observe the legendary curved, ‘checkerboard’ approach to now-defunct Hong Kong-Kai Tak Airport’s Runway 13 from the ‘best seat in the house’. To say that I was as excited as a pig in manure would be an understatement!
It may surprise some readers when I say that many airline pilots today are people who fly airplanes merely for the sake of the job and its monetary and other benefits, caring little for the history, heritage, lore, and ‘magic’ of flight. Happily, GAF is the complete antithesis of that unfortunate stereotype. Since early childhood he has lived and breathed aviation, reading and writing extensively on the subject, totally consumed by his passionate love affair with flight. An affable person, popular with practically everyone who knows him, GAF has however not let that popularity stand in his way when, for example, championing the cause of a wronged fellow-flyer in his role as activist for the pilots’ union. Some of his newspaper articles and letters querying unsatisfactory aeronautical practices and legislation have also ruffled the odd feather in high places. But GAF wouldn’t do it any other way, such is the conscientiousness, and courage of his convictions, this former boy scout has always displayed.
On Monday July 7 this year, one day before he turned 65 – the age at which airline pilots must compulsorily retire – Capt. Gihan A. Fernando operated his final flight as an airline pilot in command of a SriLankan Airlines Airbus A330 from Frankfurt to Colombo. As he set the parking brake and shut down the two Rolls-Royce Trent engines for the last time, I am sure GAF would have spent a nostalgic moment or three reflecting on what he has achieved as one of the most senior and respected airline Captains in Sri Lanka today. To those reflections I add my own pride in my former classmate, with gratitude for the friendship GAF’s family and mine have shared for many decades. All that remains is to say, "Well done, GAF", and wish him all that is best in whatever endeavours he chooses to pursue in his new life away from an airliner cockpit.
Roger Thiedeman - Melbourne, Australia
13 07 2014 - The Island
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I was always
afraid of dying. Always. It was my fear that made me learn everything I
could about my airplane and
my emergency equipment, and kept me flying respectful of my machine and always alert in the cockpit.
- General Chuck Yeager -
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