Like a lot of young boys, Lieutenant Colonel Mohd Norazan bin Othman had always wanted to be a pilot with the Royal Malaysian Air Force. In fact, aspire is probably a better word: he aspired so hard to be a RMAF pilot that there was nothing else he could see in his future. Here’s the remarkable story of how a nine-year-old boy with big dreams rose from the little island of Langkawi to soaring sky high in fighter jets.
Amidst the constant noise of jet planes flying above us , we had the honour of catching Langkawi’s very own RMAF pilot in the RMAF media tent for a chat on the second day of LIMA’19. Just fresh off the hot tarmac after his display flight in his SUKHOI SU-30 MKM, Lieutenant Colonel Mohd Norazan tells us about his origins, his near death experience flying, and answers the important question: is there AC in the cockpit?
“The first thing you need to have is a good spirit and strong determination. If you don’t have strong aspirations, I think you would not survive,”
says the 40 year old RMAF pilot, who also goes by his call sign Sting. He is referring to the tough training he had to undergo when he first joined the military over 20 years ago. “To transfer from civilian attitude to military personnel attitude; that is hard. You’ll do physical training and learn how to be punctual. Punctuality is very important in the military,” he tells us. “The transfer training requires a lot of effort and determination.”
Lt Col Mohd Norazan spent his early schooling years in Bukit Mertajam and only moved back to Langkawi when his police officer father returned to his hometown in Padang Matsirat. From there he continued his primary six education in Sekolah Kebangsaan Padang Matsirat right up to secondary three. This was in the mid 90’s when Langkawi schools still hadn’t yet offered the science stream to students. “I wanted to become a pilot ever since I was in primary three. And I knew I had to get into the science stream so I started planning for that from the time I entered secondary one,” he says. After secondary three, Lt Col Mohd Norazan transferred to a school in Ipoh to resume upper secondary school so he could enter the science stream, which is the entry level requirement to becoming a pilot.
It’s incredible to think that at the young age of nine, Lt Col Mohd Norazan already had his heart and mind set on becoming an RMAF pilot. In our conversation with him, it is clear that he falls into the category of people who are highly focused and possess a great level of determination.
“When I was still living in Butterworth, I used to see the fighter jets flying in and out of the air base and naturally wanted to become a pilot. I told my father and mother that I needed to get into the science stream, and I worked hard for good results,” he says. So how supportive were his parents of this dream of his? Lt Col Mohd Norazan laughs, “My father, yes, but my mother didn’t allow me in the beginning so I secretly went for the RMAF interview.”
Living The Dream
He spent three years after leaving school at Kolej Tentera Udara (a joint effort at the time between Universiti Teknologi Malaysia in Johor and RMAF) getting a diploma in aeronautical engineering before proceeding to fly. It took him 5 years to become a pilot first, then a flight instructor in Australia before being selected to spend 7 years in Canada training to be a test pilot.
“That was the best and most difficult time of my flying career. I was flying many different types of aircraft with a lot of problems, but it was the best experience I’ve had,” Lt Col Mohd Norazan tell us. During his time there, he flew 23 different aircrafts and clocked in 100 flight hours.
In the RMAF currently, there are only 2 test pilots: Lt Col Mohd Norazan and the other is RMAF’s own Deputy Chief. Becoming a test pilot requires additional training on top of regular piloting skills. Test pilots are trained to test newly developed aircrafts or aircrafts with problems. They must be able to identify problems quickly if anything goes wrong during test flights and then develop the performance graph and documentation for the new aircrafts. It’s a highly risky and demanding job.
“You never know what’s going to happen. But we are trained to mitigate problems during a test flight.”
Lt Col Mohd Norazan remembers his first flight: “My first training ever I flew an MB-3. It was amazing because it was my dream. When I took off, I prayed to God and was like, this is it.” He was fortunate to not have problems with airsickness. For the uninitiated, airsickness means throwing up mid flight. “During the familiarity flight with a student, I will be sure to go on the maximum and wallop the aircraft just to test if the student can handle it,” he told us. Being able to sustain the G-force in a high speed jet is crucial for a RMAF pilot. To give an example of how G-force would feel like, Lt Col Mohd Norazan says that if you’re pulling 9 gs on a flight, your 5kg head would feel like it weighs 45kgs.
G-force induced unconsciousness (known also as G-LOC) happens when the blood drains away from the brain, causing cerebral hypoxia, and is caused due to excessive g-force. Most fighter jet related fatal accidents around the world happen because the pilots experience G-LOC. It was exactly this dangerous situation that Sting found himself in 10 years ago during a flight.
“I was doing a basic fighter maneuver flight in mid 2009 when my g-suit somehow got detached,” he tells us. Fighter jet pilots wear anti-g suits that work in expanding to counter the change in blood pressure to the head. An anti-g suit has a hose attached to the jet that inflates and deflates different parts of the suit as required. At the point of disconnection, Lt Col Mohd Norazan was already hitting his maximum g-force limit. “I just went flat. Suddenly I realized that the aircraft was vertically down, and the altimeter was reducing – 12,000 ft, 8,000 ft; I asked myself, Am I still flying the aircraft? – I felt like I was in a dream at that point. Then I realized, Yes, I am flying the aircraft! I still had sufficient height to recover so I lifted up my throttle, recovered the aircraft and went back to the base.”
With modern aeronautical technology, pilots now undergo training in centrifuge machines first to prepare themselves for experiencing G-force. They are taught to recognize when they are about to hit G-LOC and are able to identify their time of useful consciousness (TUC), which is the amount of time an individual is able to perform flying duties efficiently in an environment of inadequate oxygen supply.
Lt Col Mohd Norazan knew that his TUC was 5 seconds, hence why he managed to react fast in that G-LOC period. “That was the worst experience I had ever encountered. But it didn’t stop me from flying because that was an isolated case. It taught me to check everything again before going for a flight.”
Being A Part Of LIMA
28 years ago in 1991, Sting was just a 12 year old island boy. He went for the inaugural LIMA, collected all leaflets and posters, went home and hung them all in his room. Did he imagine that one day he would be flying display flights at LIMA?
“It was a dream that one day I would be taking part in LIMA, but at the time I didn’t know my own capabilities yet. That’s why having aspirations is the most important thing, and with it comes high determination.”
Lt Col Mohd Norazan has been involved with LIMA since 2007. He thinks that LIMA is an asset not just for Langkawi but for Malaysia as well. He’s not wrong: since its conception in 1991, LIMA has indeed introduced the aerospace industry to our country and has helped Malaysia in broadening our horizons to develop our own technology. And in 2015 alone, RM9.3 billion worth of contracts were signed at LIMA’15, more than double the amount from the previous event (RM4.3 billion).
Home And Family
So where is our homegrown pilot’s favourite place to fly over the island? “The cable car,” he laughs.
“Initially, I couldn’t enjoy the view because I was still struggling with flying. But you ask me now, with my experience, I can enjoy God’s creation. It’s very beautiful.”
He tells us, “Sometimes when I fly over Langkawi, I will request with the air traffic controller if I can fly around the certain areas to view the scenery. And because they know that I’m a local flying back to my hometown, I can assist them with controlling so it’s easy for them to clear me for my requested route.”
Lt Col Mohd Norazan’s speaks fondly of his family. He tells us that both his young sons want to be pilots like their dad. “I didn’t encourage them to have this ambition, they wanted it themselves,” he says. He allows his children to dream their own path because that was what he did when he was a kid himself. “There’s no hard and fast rule. But I did say to them: a test pilot is the highest level in this career, so if you want to overtake me you’ll have to be an astronaut,” he grins.
Till today, his mother still worries about him when he is in the cockpit. “When she asks me if I will be flying and I say no, she will thank God. Then she’ll say to me, don’t waste your fuel! Fuel is expensive!” he laughs.
Advice To Aspiring Pilots
Things are different now for aspiring young pilots hoping to join the RMAF. Having good SPM results as well as 20/20 vision are just the basic requirements. They would then have to spend about 4 years getting a degree at Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia (National Defense University of Malaysia) after which, the aptitude test is what decides if they’re fit to fly. Graduates can choose from other avation and aerospace related trades if flying is not for them. Lt Col Mohd Norazan shares some advice:
“Don’t waste time doing unnecessary things, have ambition and focus on doing well in your PMR and SPM, because that will mould you into an adult. When you achieve your ambition, then you can do wonders.”
Before we parted ways we ask him, is there any air conditioning in the cockpit?
“Yes, there is air conditioning BUT there is no switch to turn it on and off. The AC will kick in only when the aircraft is at 85% power. Certain aircrafts have an AC switch but not the SUKHOI. Which is why when you saw me on the tarmac earlier I was really sweating, it was so hot!”
Think you have what it takes to be with the RMAF? Send in your applications here.
A big thank you to Sting for this inspirational interview and special thanks to Captain Ikhsan for making it happen for us.