Text & Photography contributed by Emile Niu (Hong Kong Aviation Club)
In the spring of 2003, Mr. Alex Yan, our President, explored the possibilities of having HKAC aircraft flying into China with Guangdong International Sports Tours (GIST) and received positive feedback. The idea was conveyed to Dr. Un of the pilots sub-committee who started the ground work and subsequently obtained approval from the General Committee. By the end of autumn, the China Air Rally was announced for a November take-off whereby some 25 pilots signed up for the event. Due to technical difficulties with the Mainland approval process, the rally was postponed to Dec 1, and later to mid December. Sixteen aviation enthusiasts stayed with the trip and the number of aircraft was adjusted from the initial six, to two C-172s, one C-182 and one R-44.
|The wave-off ceremony was scheduled for noon on Monday the 15th of December, at the Hong Kong Business Aviation Centre (HKBAC), one of our sponsors, thanks to John Li for waiving all charges. The ceremony at the HKBAC commenced with an opening speech by Alex, followed by Mr. Albert Lam, JP, Director-General of the Civil Aviation Authority, who described this historic general aviation flight into China as ‘a bold course into the unknown territory’. Finally, Mr. David Reid, Director of Breitling China Ltd., our title sponsor, presented memorabilia to all four teams.|
The event was overwhelmed by over dozen of reporters which included coverage from Star TV and Cable TV. Carol, the only female pilot in the rally, became the natural subject of reporters. The club was pleased the event and the club were publicized by various local Chinese and English newspapers.
The rally took a 90o turn when the organizing committee had to change the order of the route, with Macau becoming the first stop in order to facilitate the rally. On Tuesday morning, B-HPL taxied from the HKBAC as the lead aircraft for Runway 07R. As the teams were enjoying first class views of 747s landing whilst making their way to the hold short from the Runway, B-HRH spotted B-HPL rolling in 07R and making a gutsy 180o turn on the centerline of the runway. Alex, talking with the ‘Ground’, was intricate as he muttered to himself that PPLs became a bunch of cowboys without instructors on board. Moments later, B-HRH and B-HHF with the same clearance to backtrack on the runway from ‘Tower South’ made the same turn and took off from 25L. Approaching Macau, B-HRH requested a “CO-TAI Hold” for landing traffic spacing. The resulting holding pattern took Carol and the team for a spectacular view over the north shore of Taipa. When Tower instructed RH to land, Alex asked for an ILS instrument approach to runway 34, just to add flavor to the trip for Joseph and Sidney. “What a beautiful HIALS and PAPI?” Joseph was very excited after the landing. For Ben in B-HHF making his first approach into VMMC, the VASI of the Macau Airport was simply terrific. However, with a jumbo jet taxiing nearby, he felt tiny in B-HHF which resembled the Chinese idiom, “mosquito versus cow”. Shortly after Dicky set down in helicopter B-HJS, the teams gleefully hoisted the rally banner in front of the Macau Business Aviation Centre for a group photograph of the rally’s first stop outside Hong Kong.
Upon entry into Macau, all pilots were entertained by heartfelt hospitality of the Macau BAC staff. While certain pilots insisted on flight planning for subsequent legs over a lunch box, Capt. Peter Chan and his gracious assistant Christina at Macau BAC managed to take the teams for a lunch feast at a local Chinese restaurant named Shing Shun. In particular, the steamed eel, crab congee and stir-fried chicken were delicious. After lunch, Peter took a group of Portuguese tart advocates to Lord Stow’s bakery in which Carol from B-HRH treated the gang generously. Accommodation was taken care of by K.C. Cheng, and all involved fully appreciated the efforts of a public listed company CEO whom would be devoted to act as a tour group leader for the rally. The day ended with a pot shark’s fin meal at a restaurant nearby the hotel led by Dr. Un.
Wednesday the 17th of December was the start of a 0500 morning call routine. This was due to the fact that the teams had to make the entry into the Mainland through CLK and had to meet a 08:30 hurdle at Shenzhen when heavy China Southern Airlines traffic departed. The first aircraft B-HRH rolled down the Macau runway got airborne at 06:40 and took the helicopter Bravo route to CLK. While on the ground at CLK, immigration selected B-HPL for a random check. The last aircraft B-HHF led by Captain Gupta touched down on 07R by 07:40 and taxied back to hold short and changed as the lead aircraft into Shenzhen. All aircraft were on track with waypoints into Shenzhen. Since light aircraft are something new to their local airport ATC, there was a minor inconvenience to B-HHF. Even though B-HHF appeared to be the only aircraft in the circuit, WK Tam decided to abort landing on short final to confirm clearance and had to make a second attempt. As B-HPL tracked a course of 065 towards Shenzhen VOR in the midst of haze, a China Southern 737 holding short of runway could be clearly seen as PIC, Emile, made the turn into downwind. B-HPL volunteered to make short approach for Runway 33 with a steep descent to expedite traffic. B-HJS maneuvered by Dr. Un was the last to touch down in Shenzhen at 08:40 when all team members cheered each other. The local Shenzhen staff was accommodating and the first group photo at the Mainland airport was taken with some of them. At Shenzhen BAC, four local helicopter pilots from Zhuhai Helicopter Company joined the teams as navigators. After a flight planning briefing session with the navigators, B-HPL was to lead the rally in a “vee of vees’ formation flight – a diamond of four, although this presented a challenge in hazy weather. The contest proper began from Shenzhen where all teams measured their fuel and timed their departure. B-HPL made an error on the dipstick reading which proved to be critical on its position in the game. Upon arrival at Yangjiang, B-HPL had burned only 3 gallons of fuel according to reported fuel level at Shenzhen. Had the measurement been correct, B-HPL’s estimated fuel consumption of 12 gallons would be off by 0.6 gallons.
|It was a 70 minutes flight into Yangjiang where B-HRH under control of KC was first to land. B-HRH spotted the runway around 1000 ft from base where it side slipped to land right on a 2000 ft runway. With a sorry GPS on board B-HPL due to lack of an external antenna, PIC Dennis exhibited his pilot skills by ADF tracking into Yangjiang. B-HHF PIC Noel, initially had a hard time over the delta region until a road was spotted. Also finding its way by ADF, B-HHF trailed as the fourth aircraft to drone over the airport. At Yangjiang, HKAC members again were greeted by cheerful local airport staff. In fact, Captain Gupta has been given an offer to fly local fighters there in the future. In view of the local flight and static display activities planned for Zhanjiang, the never-ending energetic HKAC members seemed to thrive on adversity and agreed to another 05:00 roll call. In fact, the teams had become more unified every day. However, Thursday morning turned out to be a disappointment as the navigators informed team members that Zhanjiang airport has been closed due to strong cross wind. The teams stood by until noon. After lunch, pilots decided to take a local aerial tour around Yangjiang Lake and South Beach while in particular, B-HJS was having a fine hour doing a slow low level flight 200 ft over a flock of ducks along a river. By nightfall, pilots received weather report for strong headwinds back to Shenzhen. In order to meet the landing window provided by the PLA at Shek Kong between 11:00 – 12:00, the teams accepted a third 05:00 roll call. At the farewell dinner with the local airport authorities and GIST, Alex presented HKAC plaques as a token of appreciation for their support. After the meal, some members swarmed into a shopping mall adjacent to the restaurant and picked up local renowned utilities knifes as souvenirs.|
On Friday, December the 19th, the rally was back in business with the return flight. The new arrangement had Joseph as PIC for B-HRH, Dr. Lig Ho in B-HPL, and Allen Kwong of B-HPL relocating to B-HHF as PIC. The fleet got airborne by 07:15. Throughout the cruise Northeast, there was constant strong headwind. To the west of Zhuhai, B-HRH decided to descend from 3,000 ft to 1,500 ft to avoid turbulence. Caught by strong abrupt bumping wind shear, Joseph broke the carburetor heat control as he pulled it for descent. In B-HPL, Dr. Lig Ho found taking up the challenge as the sole pilot with the helicopter navigator on cross country over China could be a lonely business. Struggling to hold altitude against persistent wind, the savvy doctor learned a new meaning for the autopilot function. On B-HHF, with ADF as the only guide, Allen was able to control his feelings and followed his instrument. He headed out to the ocean on track to Zhuhai NDB and successfully hit Shenzhen with the shortest route. On B-HJS, now with Andrew commanding the helicopter, steady as she goes.
|The teams arrived at Shenzhen by 09:30. Thanks to the local agent who took all the documents into Shenzhen airport over night and the co-operation of the local authorities, the CIQ process (custom/immigration/quarantine) was completed within 15 min. The teams reached CLK by 10:15 to act in accordance with the CIQ slot for 10:00 – 11:00. On the way back to home, fixed wing PPLs were given another opportunity to demonstrate their landing skill with unusual crosswind at Shek Kong. The last aircraft B-HHF arrived at 11:45 on runway 11, ending the rally with a display of professionalism, team work and tight co-ordination from all participating members.|
The closing ceremony was held on Sunday night, Dec 21, at the clubhouse where Mr. David Reid of Breitling presented the trophy to B-HRH as the winner of the Rally. Incidentally, B-HRH comprised mainly of student pilots except KC with Dr. Sidney Ho passing his PPL check ride earlier in the afternoon.
On behalf of the rally committee and participating pilots, we would like to thank our sponsors which include Breitling China Ltd., Hong Kong Business Aviation Centre, Macau Business Aviation Centre, the Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corp. Ltd., Shell HK Ltd., Metrojet and Heli Hong Kong for making this event possible and so successful. Last but not least, ground support was outstanding where engineers Steve Wong and Michael Pang had to rotate to travel ahead overnight to the next destination, Chris Lau handling documentation along the way and Luk Kin Man on other ad hoc items. Our heartfelt gratitude to all of them, thank you so much for everything!
The teams were:
RH: Alex Yan, KC Cheng, Dr. Sidney Ho, Joseph Chan and Carol Choi.
PL: Dennis Chan, Emile Niu, Dr. Lig Ho and Allen Kwong.
HF: Captain Gupta, Ben Chan, WK Tam and Noel Cheng.
JS: Dr. WC Un, Andrew Yan and Dicky Yip.
Contributed by Mr Emile Niu (Hong Kong Aviation Club)