Home Pertahanan dan Keselamatan #Pertahanan: The National Electricity Board apprentice who became RMAF Chief

#Pertahanan: The National Electricity Board apprentice who became RMAF Chief

by Air Times Correspondent

KUALA LUMPUR, 8 August – Despite being a judge’s son, he slogged it out as a National Electricity Board apprentice, before pursuing his flying dream with the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF).

Lieutenant-General (Rtd) Tan Sri Abdul Ghani Abdul Aziz went on to endure many trials and tribulations, finally helming the RMAF as its 10th chief, decades later in March 1993.

The fire-brand that he was, Ghani twice wanted to quit the RMAF during earlier years, after feeling left out in the cold and by-passed by juniors for promotion.

The first instance was when a demoralised Ghani ‘medically grounded’ himself from flying in 1968, to do desk-bound staff duties.

The second was when the trained pilot – while attached with the National Security Council awaiting his discharge from service in 1977 – had to temporarily handle the fleeing Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees, landing by boat loads at Pulau Redang off Terengganu in 1975.

Somehow, lady luck smiled upon him when Group Captain Mohamed Taib (who later became lieutenant general as the RMAF chief) reinvigorated Ghani’s morale to resume active flying.

“He had faith in me. Thus, I could not let him down when I decided to stay on with the RMAF.

“Without him, I do not think I would have made it this far. It was certainly a journey of adventure!” said Ghani, who turned 79 on November 7.

He went on to fly helicopters, transport aeroplanes and fighter jets – amassing over 5,000 flying hours in his 32-year RMAF career – and holds an Airline Transport Pilot’s License (ATPL) and a double Master’s degree.

A young Pilot Officer Abdul Ghani Abdul Aziz receiving his ‘wings’ from RMAF chief Air Commodore Alaisdair Steedman

Ghani was also trained as an instructor fighter pilot in Australia (RAAF Central Flying School at East Sale, Victoria) and the United States (USAF 425th Squadron at Williams Air Force Base in Phoenix, Arizona).

He was instrumental in the procurement of the Russian MiG-29N Fulcrum and F/A-18D Hornet from the United States in the 1990s.

“It had been a long, arduous journey and I am blessed to have accomplished my flying dream. Never did I foresee becoming an RMAF chief, though,

“At the helm, there was a lot of trust and responsibility placed on me – to achieve something useful, credible, and purposeful – and rise to the occasion when called upon, to bear full responsibility for any outcome.

“One of my concerns was the over-privatisation of the military and the air force in particular, as we must always be prepared for war.

“Imagine, civilians managing the maintenance of our aircraft. Can they measure up when called upon during a crisis?” asked Ghani, who prematurely retired in 1996 at the age of 52.

He said that he was just three years from compulsory retirement but was getting exhausted and not prepared to allow the RMAF’s functions dictated by less capable, private civilian contractors.

“I felt that I needed to keep my dignity, integrity and principles intact by leaving gracefully – and not be dragged out of office kicking, biting or begging to stay on.

“Had I stayed, I would have to face three more miserable years and face a situation like banging my head against a brick wall,” said Ghani at his book launch ‘A journey of adventure: My life in the Royal Malaysia Air Force’ at the Armed Forces officer’s mess in Jalan Tekpi.

The event was officiated by Defence Forces chief Gen Tan Sri Affendi Buang, a protégé of Ghani.

Ghani shared a few comical episodes during his military career.

As a newly-commissioned student pilot at the Flying Training School (FTS), Alor Setar in 1964, Ghani was tasked as a deputy messing officer to Flight Lieutenant Samuel Ponniah Welch (retired as brigadier-general).

“One evening while on duty, the airmen went on a hunger strike at their cookhouse after steamed rice was served in a container resembling a dustbin.

“Although it was brand new and cleansed, it had a negative psychological effect on the airmen who protested,” said Ghani.

During their Alouette III conversion training in Paris, France in 1965, Ghani and his course-mates found themselves paying extra charges for meals at a local restaurant.

“The French owner spoke to us in English, which was considered as a service – meals plus language service charge!”

Another incident Ghani related was when he was tasked to pick-up an advance-stage pregnant woman in the Gombak interior in 1968.

Squadron Leader Abdul Ghani Abdul Aziz preparing for a sortie in a F-5E fighter jet at the USAF 425th Squadron at Williams Air Force Base in Phoenix, Arizona the United States.

“The woman refused to board my Alouette III unless accompanied by her husband and children. My biggest worry in flight was where to land, should she go into labour,” he said.

In 1992, Ghani undertook a test flight on a MiG-29 at the Krasnodar air base, Russia during extremely cold, sub-zero temperatures.

Post-flight in the crew room, the Russian commanding general offered Ghani a shot of vodka to ‘warm’ up his exhilarated recovery after the sudden exposure to extreme temperatures.

“I had to politely refuse alcohol (as a muslim) and was in a momentary daze. I only realised later that the vodka was in fact consumed as a ‘recovery anecdote’ by the Russian pilots.

“I told the Russian commander that he should have stressed so and I may have taken it as a medicine!” said Ghani.

Recounting his interest in flying as a schoolboy in Taiping, Ghani said he was awed watching the British Army Air Corps aircraft carry out combat operations against communist terrorists.

After completing his Senior Cambridge (Form 5) at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar in Perak in 1961, Ghani attended the Technical College in Jalan Gurney, Kuala Lumpur the following year.

“I made acquaintance with fellow student M. Arumugadass, who rekindled my dream of being an RMAF pilot after he had already submitted his recruitment application.

“I was still a minor (Under 18 years age) and needed my father’s (Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Zain) consent, which he denied. I became very demoralised and unmotivated, failing my first-year civil engineering exams and left the college – earning my father’s wrath and utter displeasure,” said Ghani.

Ghani managed to get his uncle – a Royal Malay Regiment officer – to eventually persuade his father to consent.

“While awaiting the RMAF recruitment, I worked as an NEB apprentice maintaining transformers at its Bangsar workshop, near where I lived in Brickfields. I dared not ask living expenses from my father and the job came in handy,” said Ghani.

In late 1963, Ghani underwent a medical and aptitude examination, before being tested by Flight Lieutenant Lawrence Phong on the Piston Provost at the RMAF Sungai Besi base.

He and four others were finally recruited (for the abridged, special Short-Service Commission) at the Officer Cadet School at RMAF Sungai Besi in April 1964, under Flying Officer ‘Slim’ Huang Chew Siong (retired as brigadier-general) before being commissioned as pilot officers, four months later.

The Flying Training School had by then moved from the Sungai Besi air base to RMAF Alor Setar, and they proceeded for flying training there under seconded Royal Air Force officer Flight Lieutenant Bob Taylor.

In July 1965, he graduated with his ‘wings’, receiving the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) shield for best student in flying from RMAF chief Air Commodore Alasdair Steedman.

Pilot Officers Ghani, Derrick Martin and Terry Loh, along with Flying Officer Abdul Kadir Bakar, were soon sent to France for conversion training with the Alouette III.

Former RMAF chief Lieutenant-General (Rtd) Tan Sri Abdul Ghani Abdul Aziz (right) with Defence Forces chief Gen Tan Sri Affendi Buang at the former’s book launch ‘A journey of adventure: My life in the Royal Malaysia Air Force’ at the Armed Forces officer’s mess in Jalan Tekpi, Kuala Lumpur.

“We did not realise that our departure from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport at Sungai Besi was also going to be a historical one, as it would soon be replaced by the new airport in Subang.

“In those days, going overseas was such a big thing and my whole family came to see me off to Paris,” said Ghani.

Upon return home, Ghani began his operational flying on the Alouette III in Sabah and Sarawak in 1966 – during No. 5 Squadron’s detachments out of Labuan or Tawau air bases.

“Those days the Alouette III was a one-man operation helicopter with no crewman to assist for loading and securing the cabin.

“During flying operations into the interior (during the Confrontation with Indonesia, and against the communist terrorists), we had to do everything ourselves – including greasing, oiling and refuelling – if we were to stop overnight at the forward locations.

“We generally flew at very low levels – literally at treetop heights – in order to avoid being spotted and risk being shot by the enemy,” he said.

Meanwhile, Affandi described Ghani as one with a multi-spectrum of flying experience.

“He is indeed an accomplished all-round combat aviation pilot who underscores the constant demand for excellence. As a part of the air defence command, I still remember the days of ‘air combat manoeuvre instrumentation’ (ACMI) in Korat, Thailand where Ghani continuously pressed home the importance of applying knowledge to enable combat applications. pressuring the fighters to perform better.

“His is not a journey of the sun shining every day but a lesson of having faith in making decisions for self-betterment in the best possible situation,” said Affendi.

He commended Ghani as a leader at various levels who gathered sufficient experience to enable situational awareness on what he believed to be the most effective command.

“His legacy of critical thoughts on the purpose and direction have led to the RMAF transforming into a credible combat-aviation entity for future generations,” said Affendi. – airtimes.my

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