Thursday, September 20, 2012

Flying Into and Around Hong Kong

I was so pleased to arrive in Hong Kong, because I was at last meeting up with a good friend from Bath Uni - Sudip. I've always joked that Sudip is by far the most multi-national person I know, being originally from Kerala in India but then living in Hong Kong for most of his life, attending a Canadian high school there before coming to England for University, and now has his heart set on working for a French company (probably in Germany)! But this time I'm the one visiting him in his own country and I was really looking forward to being in more of a home, rather than a hostel, since he and his parents (Sudha and Dilip) were very in their offer of hosting me for my time in the country.

I landed in Chep Lap Kok airport in the late evening (unfortunately no gates were available, so no red carpet for me) and had to take the bus to the terminal. Now, Chep Lap Kok is a very interesting airport, aside from being being built entirely on reclaimed land some 16 miles away from downtown Hong Kong, it was the centrepiece of a $20 Billion project in the late 1990s which hugely overhauled the transport infrastructure of the company and moved the airport away from Kai Tak, a single runway in the middle of the bay, surrounded by hugely congested city and unable to grow. If this sounds interesting to you, check out this documentary:

I thought for a couple of minutes that my baggage hadn't followed me on the plane, but after about a 10 minute wait it followed obediently out of the luggage conveyor. It didn't take long to find Sudip and his family, who had all come to pick me up from the airport, and I was driven back to the city on the LEFT SIDE OF THE ROAD! First surprise of the trip. On the way, I realised that the impressive high-rise buildings I had seen from the plane weren't even the start of Hong Kong and soon we were faced by a very impressive skyline, first of Kowloon City (part of Hong Kong country, but on the mainland).

Over the longest suspension bridge we drove, then through a tunnel to Hong Kong island, where many of the residents live and is also the home to big corporations such as HSBC (I have now visited both the H and the S of this bank!). 

Sudip and his family live on the 18th floor (about half way up) of an apartment block (picture above), facing the sea with lovely views over the bay and quite sizeable inside with a good living area. But I didn't see much of it that first night, since coming straight from Beijing I was quite weary!

The next morning I had the chance to explore the apartment some more, starting off with the room I was using, belonging intially to Anoop (Sudip's elder brother) who, studying in China, is not in immediate need of a bed in Hong Kong! 

For breakfast I had a couple of very tasty currys, eaten with freshly-made rice pancakes, which was all very tasty but very unusual to my tastebuds as a breakfast! The dish is called Dosa and is a staple of southern India, where the Nair family are from initially. But it filled me up very effectively and then Sudip, Dilip and I drove to the old Kai Tak airfield where there are some relics of the flying club there...

...including this poor over-stressed Cessna 172 which was retired after it pulled 9g!!

The reason we were there was for the helicopter club, which Dilip is a member of and is currently very close to going solo. We first explored the flying club, which had the wonderful of just about any flying club you go to in the world, then had a look around the hangar where lots of very shiny helicopters were waiting.

They each have a story, but most interesting is that of the brand new (red) Robinson R-44 belonging to a girl in her mid-20s who is a flying student there. Her father, on hearing about a shortage of available aircraft for her to train in, bought her a brand new private helicopter!!

We watched a couple of landings, which really advertised the ability of the helicopter to get into small strips and manoeuvre itself into a parking position (heli-taxiing very accurately). 

And then Dilip himself met up with his instructor, they spun the rotor blades up, did some checks and off they went!

Leaving Sudip and me together with the car. It was then Sudip's job to drive me and the car over to Shek Kong airfield, where Dilip was flying to with the chopper, and is the home of Sudip's own flying club. Sudip had very kindly booked a slot in a Cessna 172 for us both and, being a holder of a Private Pilot's Licence, is capable enough to just plan a route, get it approved by an instructor, then go flying for as long as he wants!

We arrived at Shek Kong precisely as Dilip landed and then waited for the aircraft to become available. When it did, Sudip very competently DI'd the aircraft, we hopped in, started the engine, taxied to the runway, went through the final checks and off we went! All with me taking a keen interest, since I have little experience in powered aircraft and normally it is I who is instructing Sudip in gliders!

Sudip at the controls, gaining altitude before we left the bowl in which Shek Kong resides.

We then flew out through a mountain pass, Sudip making many calls on the radio, before flying out around the East side of the country and towards Victoria Harbour - that is, the main water way separating Kowloon City and Hong Kong Island.


It was quite strange flying over so much water and city, with very few alternative landing areas, but I soon had to just put faith in the engine! 

Visibility was OK but not fantastic, yet more than good enough to see the hundreds of ships lined up to visit one of the world's most busy ports. Mercifully, there were very few other aircraft around at our level (ceiling 2000' AMSL, well below the commercial aircraft).

So Sudip let me have a go at the controls! It was hard to resist the urge to put both hands on the yoke (as per car steering wheel) and the aircraft was quite sensitive to pitch - a small inaccuracy lead to big changes in speed, rate of climb and ultimately altitude! Visability upwards was also obstructed by the high wing (and my high head) but lookout could be achieved by rocking the aircraft first away from the turn before rolling in. But anyway, the ATC was providing a traffic service, helping us see aircraft before we got too close. In fact I only saw one other plane the whole time I was airbourne, and that was another Cessna from our airfield!

One of our alternative landing areas!

Sudip then flew us back through the passes to get to the Shek Kong bowl and we descended (through some thermals - he ignored my encouragements of 'thermal! thermal!' and flew into circuit.


We did have to perform a go-around, however, since another aircraft was being quite slow to back-track along the runway. I'm sure that this is the first time I have been in an aircraft doing a go-around! So that was slightly exciting.

Sudip, you did a great job of flying that plane, thanks very much indeed for my tour of your country! You were cool and calm and fun to fly with, I have no doubt you'll make an excellent Cathay Pacific pilot soon...

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