Aviation FAQ by my friends

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Ever since I got my Private Pilot’s license, my friends have inundated me with many aviation questions. So I decided, why not compile everything into a blog post?

Can I fly in Singapore with my American FAA license? Do I need to do a conversion?

Simply put, having a pilot’s license from a certain country will allow one to fly planes registered in that country.

With my American license, I can only fly US-registered planes with the N-prefix anywhere in the world subject to the limitations of my license. So for me it’s just currently single-engine land with the engine power not exceeding 200hp and have to be a “relatively simple” plane.

Nevertheless, being legally allowed to does not mean I’ll jump direct into an N-plane at Seletar Airport and takeoff immediately. It’s best to fly with an instructor for a few hours to learn about the different procedures and regulations used in Singapore before going. I’ll have to familarise myself with different plane models compared to the Cessna 172R I trained in.

N2441E is the Cessna 172R I used the most in my training at San Diego. My first training flight, solo and checkride were on it.

I can legally fly this N-registered Piper under Seletar Flying Club but better to get more training first.

Fun fact, there are more US-registered general aviation N-planes in Singapore than there are Singapore-registered general aviation 9V-planes.

What’s up with those pilot shades? Trying to look cool?

Those shades are really a necessity as the glare can be quite strong especially at altitude. I have personally experienced staring towards the sun while landing as the runway heading is directly towards the west. Without the shades, no way I could have landed safely.

If you take me as a passenger, you better have parachutes in case the engine fails.

Engines very rarely fail in the well-maintained planes of today. Besides, private pilots are also trained execute emergency procedures and attempt a landing someplace if the engine does fail. A plane with a failed engine does not just fall out of the sky. It can still glide for some distance.

Besides, parachutes need special training to use them. In an emergency without parachute training, your best bet is to trust the trained pilot and go down safely with the plane instead of die jumping with the parachute.

I’ll only be your passenger if you take me up in a multi-engine plane. At least will still have one extra engine if one fails

An extra engine does add to safety but only if the pilot can use it properly in an emergency. I’m not trained to fly a multi-engine aircraft but I roughly know that when an engine fails, the pilot has to quickly use the rudder to counter the yawing effects due to asymmetric thrust. The speed can’t get too low also if not there is insufficient rudder authority to counter the yaw.

I can easily venture to say it is not that straightforward to learn to fly a multi-engine plane. People have died when pilots could not deal properly with an engine failure in a multi-engine plane.

Almost all pilots in the world start their training in tiny single-engine piston planes like the Cessna 172 I was trained in. If it is that unsafe, governments will have banned that long time ago.

So since you are a Private Pilot, can you fly a Private Jet?

The word “Private” means differently for both phrases. A Private Pilot means I cannot earn money from flying. In fact under most circumstances, I have to at minimum fork out money no less than what other passengers are paying for the flight.

A Private Jet usually means that the jet plane is owned by some individual or company that is not an airline. A Private Pilot can in theory fly a Private Jet or even a privately-owned Airbus A380 provided he/she gets the necessary qualifications which are too numerous to say here.

What do I need to do to maintain my license?

It differs from the country which the license is taken from. For my FAA license, I need a biennial review, minimum 1-hour ground and 1-hour flight review with an instructor once every 2 years.

For a Singapore license, at least 5 flight hours every year with 2 of them being with an instructor.

For Malaysia, a test with an examiner every 6 months.

The key difference is that the FAA license is for life whereas the others actually expire. Should forget I to take the biennial review, I can theoretically take it any time after that and if the instructor clears me, I’ll be fit to fly again. Nevertheless, I would also try to bring family and friends up as regularly as I can manage to maintain my proficiency.

For all 3 licensen to carry passengers in the day, I need 3 takeoffs and landings in the last 90 days.

Tell me what you think caused these accidents. Boeing crashes, missing planes etc?

I think it is better to let the investigators do their work and come to their conclusions. I have my opinions and am happy to explain what I have understood but don’t treat what I say as expert opinion.

I’ve watched some of your videos and pictures. How come the aircraft instruments look so primitive and analog? Where are the modern LCD displays like in my favourite Airbus/Boeing?

Those dial-instruments are also called steam gauges although they don’t actually run on steam! They are cheaper and easier to maintain than the modern glass-cockpits. It may even be more reliable as they are less complex. Even on some modern Cessnas with glass cockpits, they still retain some analog gauges as backup.

As a student pilot, I would actually prefer to learn from the simpler and less complex instruments then move on the feature-rich glass cockpits after I have more flight experience. There is also something deeply nostalgic about those dials, flying with the same instruments as the early aviation pioneers. The exotic steam-punk feel to them certainly helps too!

The trend today is moving towards glass cockpits for General Aviation aircraft. Modern jetliners now almost always use glass cockpits.

Can you fly a helicopter?

A helicopter is a fundamentally different flying machine so I cannot fly one. I would even venture to say learning a helicopter is actually harder than a plane.

I might want to learn to fly helis one day and I’ll have to start pretty much from scratch although there are some reusable skills like ATC communication, regulations and airspaces.

Why don’t I use Instrument Landing System (ILS)? You mean I land the aircraft by sight only? Bad weather how?

Using ILS is not taught for the Private Pilot Course. It is only taught in the Instrument Rating course which is generally the next step up above Private Pilot. Yeah, I really land the aircraft by sight and it is actually good enough. The thing about bad weather is to make sure I don’t encounter the situation in the first place. Private Pilots like myself are trained to check the weather (forecasts) before the flight.

If there is bad weather or poor visibility, we’ll just stay on the ground. As they say, “Better to be on the ground wishing you are in the air than being in the air and wishing you are on the ground.”

Why are pilots are still needed when modern planes can takeoff, cruise and land by themselves?

In actual fact, 100% of takeoffs and 99% of landings are done manually. The 1% of automatic landings are actually to test whether the autoland system is still working. Autolands are also only supported at certain airports with special equipment. Cruising on modern jetliners are mostly automatic correct.

Computers cannot be programmed for every foreseeable emergency. Computers can fail as well too so humans are still kept in the loop. Talking over to the radio to ATC is still done by human voice.

However, just like driverless cars, I’m not surprised that the pilot jobs will be fully taken over by computers just like any other job. To all those that say computers have crashed planes too. Well computers like humans are not perfect, but they just need to be safer than the human. One day, piloting skills may just be a hobby activity like horse riding.

How do pilots fly to other countries? Do you have to learn many languages?

English is the de facto international language of civil aviation. It was recommended in the ICAO Chicago convention in 1951 but recently ratified in 2003. So all pilots and Air Traffic Controllers are now required to use English.

Even in maritime, English is also used as a standard language. Nevertheless, there are some terminology differences between Aviation English used by the FAA vs ICAO but that is another story.

I became a Private Pilot and this is my story: Part (1/2) in Singapore

Reading Time: 7 minutes

I finally got my Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Private Pilot Certificate or Private Pilot License (PPL)! It seems so surreal, but I can actually fly a plane with my family and friends. This journey was almost a year in the making which I made immense sacrifices in time, money and much more. 

With my San Diego Flying Training International (SDFTI) instructors Charles and Luke on the Cessna 172R (N2441E) which I did my first lesson, solo and checkride on.

With my training buddy Davinder

Capt Kumeran from Flightschool.SG who gave me foundation training in the Redbird MCX simulator.

My journey is so long that I have to break it into 2 different blog posts:


I became a Private Pilot and this is my story: Part (2/2) in San Diego

Reading Time: 15 minutesThis post continues from Part 1 of my Private Pilot training journey. This part details the flying portion I did in San Diego, USA. It’s divided into the following sections:

So let’s begin my journey!

Arrival in San Diego (14 Nov 2018)

Davinder and I managed to complete the local program so we took the plunge and made our way to San Diego.

Montgomery Gibbs Executive Airport (KMYF) as seen in our incoming flight to San Diego International Airport.

We finally set eyes on the airport that we will train at for the next 2.5 months!


Reflections after 2 weeks of PPL Training in the US

Reading Time: 4 minutes2 weeks ago, I put my life on hold in Singapore to come over to the birthplace of aviation to achieve a life-long dream to fly a plane.

As expected, learning to fly a plane is nowhere near as simple as just taking up car driving lessons for example. Behind the videos I have posted on social media so far of my practical lessons, hides the countless hours of mundane but very important theory lessons I have to attend.


Why I use the IBM Model M keyboard that is older than me?

Reading Time: 13 minutes

The last primary keyboard I’ll use in my life might be the IBM Model M. It’ll probably last me the decades to the day that keyboards should become obsolete. – Kheng Meng, 2018

I just had to start my blog post with that self quote ^^^ but I’m pretty confident it’ll hold true for me. I have owned several keyboards so far and I have to say the Model M with its legendary buckling-spring switch is the one that fits my needs perfectly for the foreseeable future. This blog post was indeed also written on the Model M.

All the mechanical keyboards I have owned so far

From top-left anti-clockwise:

Manufacturer Model Manufacturing Date Keyswitch
Unicomp Spacesaver 104 Black 20 July 2011 Membrane Buckling Spring
Unicomp Spacesaver 104 White 8 June 2016 Membrane Buckling Spring
IBM Model F XT (variant for IBM 5155 Portable) Some time in 1984 Capacitive Buckling Spring
IBM Model M 19 May 1987 Membrane Buckling Spring
Lexmark Model M 3 Feb 1994 Membrane Buckling Spring
Filco Majestouch MINILA Air Some time in 2014 Cherry MX Brown

Note that Unicomp has renamed the “Spacesaver” product line to “Ultra Classic”.


A Science Project: “Make the 486 Great Again!” – Modern Linux in an ancient PC

Reading Time: 14 minutes

What is the oldest x86 processor that is still supported by a modern Linux kernel in present time?

I asked the above quiz question during the Geekcamp tech conference in Nov 2017 during my emcee role. The theoretical answer as you can glean from the title of this post is the 486 which was first released in 1989. I determined that fact from this article where support for the 386 was dropped in Dec 2012.

To get you interested, here is the result of my effort.

The white smudge on the screen is not the camera’s fault, there is really a backlight problem with my old 19″ monitor.

You can skip to 11:39 when the boot completes.

00:00 to 00:46 – BIOS

00:46 to 11:39 – Bootup. It takes almost 11mins to bootup!

11:39 to 13:14 – System specs, IP info and ALSA mixer

13:14 to 15:00 – Playing music via Sound Blaster 16

15:00 to 17:25 – SSH while playing (stuttering) music in the background. With AlsaMixer adjusting volume.

17:25 to 17:48 – Opening a webpage hosted by nginx.

18:10 to 20:13 – Git clone a repo.

20:13 to 21:13 – Using Python 3.6.3

21:13 to 21:43 – Cleanup and issue shutdown command

21:43 to End – Shutdown. It takes 5.5 mins to shutdown!

Interested in how I got a modern Linux kernel 4.14.8 (released in December 2017) to run on this ancient PC? Read on!


My First Conference Emcee Experience

Reading Time: 9 minutesYay, conference emcee achievement unlocked! Just completed my solo emcee role at GeekcampSG 2017!

With this I have completed the double trifecta of doing the roles of emcee, speaker and Engineers.SG recorder at both tech conferences and meetups.

Preparation for this role was quite a long time coming for me. I volunteered to be the Hackware meetup emcee for about 6 times to prepare for this. Even then, no amount of practice in small evening meetups can equal to emceeing for a conference 10 times the number of people that lasts the whole day.

Mandatory proof of doing the role.

Other than the sheer numbers and the usual task of introducing speakers, a conference emcee has extra challenges that I felt first-hand. But let me first mention the good stuff of being a conference emcee.


X commandments before finding a tech-cofounder/engineer

Reading Time: 2 minutesI’ve been approached several times by many people looking for tech-cofounders or engineers to help build a product based on an idea they had. After getting so many of them over the years, I decided to write this list of pointers based on the advice I have given to those who approached me.

So here are my X commandments you should do, think about or have an answer to before looking for that tech person: