INTERVIEW BY MARK ROURKE
YouTube video by ploypoohnuikai.
Interview with Colonel Preecha Got
After seeing a YouTube video of the amazing Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) Sikorsky S-58T display I managed to secure an interview with the pilot, Colonel Preecha Got, to explain the fantastic display and his own career and experiences in the RTAF.
1. Could you give me a rundown of your career in the RTAF?
In early 1982 I graduated from the Royal Thai Air Force academy as a Pilot Officer (2nd Lieutenant) and a few days later I joined the Primary Flight Course School in Kamphaeng Sean, Nakhon Pathom Province. I flew the New Zealand Aerospace (NZA) CT/4 Airtrainer for 100 hours before progressing to the Advanced Flight School for another 100 hours on the SIAI-Marchetti SF-260 before graduation.
Between 1984-85 I was a pilot on Wing 2, 201 squadron at Lop Buri flying the Sikorsky S-58T. In 1985 I flew for a year with 2013 Squadron in Nan Province. By 1988 I was a pilot on 2011 Squadron and was assigned Search and Rescue (SAR) missions during the Romklao Conflict. In 1989 I became a flight instructor and test pilot for the S-58T and did this up until 1995. As a part time job in 1997 I worked as a helicopter pilot at Hiller Aircraft International Company flying the FH-1100 and UH-12E.
Non flying duties included in 1996 spending 8 years with Directorate of Air Operations as an educational officer before being promoted to Director of Education and was an instructor for internal and external classes. The courses I taught included ‘Royal Thai Air Force History’, ‘Mission and Organisation’, ‘Tactical Air Operations’ and ‘Air Defence’ amongst others.
Between 2006 and 2010 I was assigned to the peace operation in Southern Thailand as the assistant temporary 9th Air Commander at Borthong Airfield, Nongjik, Pattani Province.
My current responsibilities are as an officer at the Air Force Command Centre until I retire in 2017.
2. Tell us about the background and preparation for your amazing display routine. What was the hardest manoeuvre?
I used what I had learnt in Flight School, particularly the aerobatic lessons which I used as a basis for flying the routine. When I studied and was appointed a test pilot in 1989 I had opportunities to fly almost everyday. I developed my flying skills with my love in aviation, my in-depth comprehension of the aerodynamics of the helicopter, my creativity and most importantly, my ‘self confidence’. When I had a chance to fly, I practised what I planned. I started with normal manoeuvres, and then gradually increased to the aerobatics which impresses the audience.
Since the S-58T is designed for the airborne transport mission its fuselage is pretty high and its size is enormous. Its maximum speed is only 117 knots, so in general it’s not suitable to fly aerobatics, in fact, the manual clearly defines the words ‘ not to be flown aerobatically’ in it! So the manoeuvres that are seen in the youtube video is that I only fly towards the highest point (loss speed), turn (change direction) and dive (losing altitude, gaining speed). There is no series of variation of aerobatic flying for the S-58T.
Before the show I plan my flight route and fly strictly as I have planned, this is the most important issue. If I want to get maximum efficiency out of the aircraft I will fill only an adequate amount of fuel for the planned time frame to get the lowest possible weight. This is also to gain more agility in flight and reduce stress on the helicopter. As the display was in 1993 I would say it had taken four years of practice since 1989!
Every pilot needs to know the performance limitations of the helicopter he flies, one must not exceed this limitation. This is the code I follow. As a test pilot I have a chance to fly better performing helicopters than most pilots and other pilots do not reach the standard expected of a test pilot.
For the question, ‘What was the hardest manoeuvre’? I would say is ‘autorotation’, landing without a running engine.
I shut down both engines at 1500 feet. I landed the S-58T perfectly, then started the engines to let the audience know the engines were actually completely stopped. In my opinion though, there is no hard manoeuvre since every one I fly is done with confidence.
But if you insist, I would like to say flying backwards and raising the tail upward was the hardest. Since it is the opposite of the way you naturally fly, its like trying to ride a bicycle backwards!
3. Tell us about the S-58T and its contemporises in the RTAF at the time and what experiences you had whilst flying the S-58T operationally.
The helicopters in service with the RTAF at the time of the S-58T were the UH-1H and Bell 412 (Both still in service). The S-58T and UH-1H were both assigned the same mission, Search and Rescue (SAR) in the combat area, now known as Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR). They were also both assigned for the air transport mission. The Bell 412 was assigned as the main air transportation vehicle for the Thai Royal Family and VIP’s.
The advantages of the S-58T are as follows;
1- The rotor head is a fully articulated rotor system, so I can fly gently with great manoeuvrability. With lower rotor noise, its makes it more suitable for the combat area.
2- Two engines allow more payloads.
3- The passenger camber is wider, longer and higher, it can carry large and various packages.
Off course I have plenty of flight experiences both amusing and also stressful!
I was supporting a forest survival mission in Kanchanaburi Province. When the mission was complete I flew back to Kamphang Saen airfield. I was aware that my fuel state was low so I contacted air traffic control that I would fly at 2,000 feet and I would attempt an autorotation as normal landing risked unplanned engine shutdown and I would not be able to recover at low altitude and low speed.
Three miles before I reached the airfield both engines were shut down due to having no fuel and as I could not glide back to base I decided to glide to a nearby sugarcane farm.
As if this was not bad enough, cyclic stick, rudder and collective suddenly required a massive amount of force to control and I was worried the hydraulics had failed. However, in general, after engine shutdown, the power generator stops working but the helicopter still has power from the battery so I should be able to still control the helicopter normally.
With no time think I looked for a place to land. I maintained speed at 60 knots, controlled the lowering altitude to match my targeted landing area. I finally accomplished a gentle landing without jerking to the front.
After landing I tried to contact air traffic control but this was not my day, my radio was broken. I later found the battery was dirty and was not sending power to the helicopter, this explained why the hydraulics failed. How unlucky I was, unplanned engine shutdown and hydraulic failure at the same time!
Due to the engine unplanned shutdown and not flying in a habited area I categorised the event as an emergency situation, since the S-58T has a great reputation of landing safely by autorotation and it was deemed a ‘near miss’.
My proudest yet funniest moments occurred in 1990. I received an order to support the Balance Torch joint exercise (Now renamed ‘Teak Torch’). It was mission for pararescue jumpers (PJ) of both the RTAF and United States Air Force (USAF). U Tapao Royal Thai Navy (RTN) air station was chosen as the main helicopter base. The American and Thai PJ’s used Samae San Camp (King Rama III Camp).
Helicopters supporting this exercise mostly deployed these jumpers at 8,000 feet. In the first phase the PJ’s jumped at Samae San Camp, and then moved to a prepared forestry area following the mission protocol. The helicopter was hovered to let the PJ’s practice rappelling, fast rope techniques, and moving the PJ’s to the operational area and then to retrieve at mission end. I flew above the trees and terrain and added some spice to the proceedings using the aerobatics seen in the video, the PJ;s really enjoyed these flights!
On the last day of the exercise there was a large VIP audience comprising high ranking officers from both Thailand and the USA. The beach was the training area and the VIP’s observed us from the terrace of the Camps Officers Club. I flew the helicopter at low level to deliver the PJ’s by fast rope to rescue a survivor. I then flew out of the area before returning to retrieve the PJ’s and a survivor.
I flew the helicopter at its highest performance; I came in fast and made a professional quick stop to let the audience feel they are in the situation. (I used to watch this sort of exercise, the pilot slowly flying in like a rookie and the audience was unconvinced of the situation).
Once I had retrieved all the PJ’s from out of the area I landed at the camp and a jeep approached and took me to the club after saying the Thai Commanding Officer wanted to see me. At the club I was introduced to an American Officer in a khaki naval uniform. He was the one who had demanded to meet the helicopter pilot at the demonstration He was an assistant US naval diplomat to Thailand whom JUSMAG (Joint United States Military Advisory Group) invited to observe. He was a former H-34 pilot, the H-34 having the same fuselage as my S-58T and he wanted to compliment me on his amazement on how I can perform such manoeuvres.
By supporting the exercise with my fast flying and full dedication I became the favourite pilot. At the party at the end of exercise an American PJ representative gave a speech to thank me and to receive an award on the stage. It was a very big framed photograph taken by the first PJ jumping out of the helicopter showing the other PJ’s leaping out and was signed by all of the Pararescue jumpers. In the middle part of the frame is a plaque which is engraved ‘ That others may live’, the motto of the PJ’s. The next sentence is ‘Given as a souvenir to (Pilot name….I was stunned for a moment, grasping myself) and the last sentence made me smile. It said ‘The Best Stick’
They had recognised me as a good pilot. Two very large PJ’s came up to the stage and took the picture from my hand. One held my arms and the other my legs and threw me to their colleagues down the hall! They must have prepared all of this. I am a small guy and they are all big and can easily grasp me, and they threw me in the air a couple of times and laughed out loud. That moment was the best honour I could receive from American soldiers. Finally I asked for my framed picture and took it straight to my co-pilot, First Lieutenant Parinya Juntaril (Now a Colonel) and told him, “I give this to you mate!” He asked, “Why?” I replied “Look at the plaque, its not my name, its yours!”
My gratitude to the Royal Thai Air Force, Colonel Preecha Got and Nondha Sittiratanarangsee (Shika) for their assistance in this article.