Sultan of Johor operates out of palace heliplex and 35000-ft polo strip
By Grant McLaren
Professional Pilot Magazine September 1990
monarch uses Citation 2, Gulfstream 4 and Agusta 109Cs.
Sultan Iskandar King of Johor recently outfitted his Palace with a
heliport and a pair of Agusta 109Cs in order to better reach the
various corners of his State. Without the aid of helicopters these
same head-of-state trips would have involved cumbersome and
labor-intensive surface expeditions complete with front and back red Rolls-Royce
police escort cars and a squadron of motorcycle outriders stopping
all traffic along the route.
the Agusta 109C because it is the best helicopter in its class for
my transport needs," says His Majesty. "The other option that I
looked at closely was the Sikorsky S70 but the downwash from its
blades may have blown village houses apart when landing in smaller
121-kt cruise speed and comfortable leather interiors installed by
Poltrona Frau of Italy, the seven-place rotorwing whips are eminently
suited to His Majesty's missions. The twin Allison 207-powereed Agustas
will be utilized some 20-25 hours each month for travel within the State
of Johor, located directly to the north of Singapore.
Majesty makes a point of keeping up to date on all the various business
aircraft and avionics options on the world market. He also personally
flies every aircraft in his fleet. His current aircraft lineup includes
a new Gulfstream 4 and Citation 2 stationed at Johor Baru International
airport (JHB), the twin Agusta 109Cs hangared at the Serene Palace and a
Lake Renegade amphibian positioned in its own hangar at the Royal polo
field which does double duty as a more-than-adequate 3500 ft runway.
June, the Gulfstream IV has an interior designed by Michael Reese of
Reese Design in Austin TX. The 73,000 lb MTOW Gulfstream is outfitted
with triple Honeywell IRSs, Satcom, TCAD and PVD together with
Reese-designed Royal silverware and lightweight Royal china. This
long-legged executive ship will be used for one-stop flights to Europe
and the United States and will fly nonstop to all Asian destinations.
His Majesty's Citation II, delivered in mid-1989 as a Gulfstream backup
and training aid, is used for local operations, mostly on the 170-nm
sector to Kuala Lumpur. Longest leg so far for the Citation has been the
900 nm run to Bandear Seri Begawan, Brunei.
His Majesty has
been a pilot for over 20 years. After learning to fly a Cessna 150
acrobat he acquired a C206, C310, Bell 47 and Bell 206 JetRanger.
However, aside from being good flight trainers all of these early
aircraft were impractical for Royal transport requirements as His
Majesty's normal entourage numbers at least four. A few years ago the
Royal flight department acquired an Aerospatiale Twinstar to take
advantage of turbine speed for local travel needs. However, the larger
and more powerful Agusta 109C has proven to be the optimal helicopter
for all local transport to the over 100 helipads in the State of Johor.
All of His Majesty's various transit Palaces have their own dedicated
"With the 109Cs
range and 121 kt cruise speed I can fly directly to my transit
Palace helipad in Kuala Lumpur and reduce the point to point time
over any jet," says the Sultan. "When the requirement calls for
helicopter operations further afield, for example out of Penang in
northern Malaysia, His Majesty will fly the Gulfstream and have an
Agusta positioned by his safety pilot in the co-pilot's positions.
Agusta 109Cs are fully IFR and outfitted with Collins EFIS or Sperry
Primus 400 radars. Current utilization is about 25 hours each month.
The blue leather interiors come out of the same Poltrona Frau
facility in Italy that designed and installed the interiors in His
Majesty's six Ferraris. With a cabin both wider and longer than
earlier August 109S the 5400 lb MTOW "C" series Agusta 109A the 5400
lb MTOW 'C' series Agusta is an attractive enhancement over its
Majesty's safety pilots keep current in their respective aircraft types
with simulator and factory training, the Sultan's professional flying
abilities are mostly self-taught by reading aircraft operating manuals.
In fact, His Majesty prepared himself to fly the new GIV by spending a
few weeks with Gulfstream flight manuals backed up with limited coaching
from his safety crews. When the first of the Agustas was delivered to
Singapore in March the Sultan got in and flew it on the eight minute leg
back to the Palace's VASI equipped heliport, making a perfect landing.
"The Agusta is a
more powerful and cleaner ship to fly than the Squirrel (Twinstar).
Flight controls are more responsive and power adjustments are more
sensitive," says His Majesty.
Majesty's Palace Bukit Serene is an imposing granite residence
constructed over a six year period on a hilltop overlooking the sea. The
Palace rotorwing heliport complex is equally impressive, equipped for
night operations and with a hangar large enough to accommodate up to
three Agustas, a maintenance shop and a flightcrew room. Before the
Palace heliport was completed earlier this year the Sultan used to fly
the Twinstar out of the Royal Polo Field hangar next to the crown
Prince's Palace Pelangi. While the polo-port was only a ten minute drive
from the Serene palace it still involved the complex traffic-stopping
Royal caravan procession.
Sultans in this
part of the world date back to the 15th century when the Sultan of
Malacca had an empire covering the entire Malaysian peninsula and much
of northern Indonesia. Today there are nine Sultans, one for each State
in peninsular Malaysia. His Majesty's State of Johor is the southernmost
in Malaysia. As hereditary monarchies the various Sultans typically have
expensive landholdings and the means to buy sophisticated transports.
His Majesty's property interests include palm oil plantations, tracks of
urban land, the downtown polo field and transit palaces throughout the
State. His Majesty is also a five-star general, the commander-in-chief
of the army's commando unit and the head of the State's religion. Until
he retired last year, His Majesty was also King of Malaysia.
chief safety pilot on the fixed wing fleet is Major Maslan who
previously flew a Falcon 900 and Fokker F28-1000 for the RMAF
head-of-state No 2 Squadron. Maslan went to Kansas last year to train on
the Citation II and fly it back to Johor, a 30-hour trip via Iceland,
Europe and India. More recently Maslan was in Savannah to upgrade to the
GIV. he found the Gulfstream's advanced FMS an easy transition from that
of the Falcon 900. All flight department safety pilots are high-time and
very experienced professionals but it is His Majesty who is in command
of all flights.
the Sultan selects a new aircraft it is a careful process. He attends
conventions such as the biannual Asian Aerospace show, reads aviation
literature and goes to various factories all over the world to look at
and fly new aircraft. His Majesty personally specifies avionics options
and insists on having the latest technology systems available such as
the Gulfstream's Satcom and first-ever metallic mica paint treatment on
an Agusta. Metallic paints have the limitation that they cannot be used
practically over the radomes. Glass-based Sikken paints, specified by
His Majesty for all fleet aircraft, get around this limitation.
"His Majesty is
a very technically minded person. He appreciates classic design and the
latest in technology and has a hunger and a quest for knowledge," says
Major Zainuddin, of Kuala Lumpur based Aviation Services, who assisted
the Sultan of Johor in the Agusta acquisitions.
with the roof
relative, the Sultan of Brunei, has been an influence of sorts in the
final selection of His Majesty's aircraft. Currently, the Brunei Royal
fleet includes an Airbus 320, a Boeing 757, a Gulfstream III and IV, a
Sikorsky S70 and a S76 MK2. The Gulfstreams, all with Reese Design
interiors, have worked out very well for Brunei's Sultan but the
Sikorsky Blackhawk still gets itself into trouble occasionally with its
pronounced blade downwash. Recently, the S70 blew the roof off a village
house in Brunei. This did not upset the owner, however, because he had a
new house built for him as compensation.
Agusta 109s have
become very popular in the Asia-Pacific region over recent years. Thirty
copies of the 109, mostly corporate and EMS ships, are now operating in
Japan with another 64 on order. Four Agusta 109s are now based in the
Philippines, two in New Zealand and four in Australia. The Malaysian
government recently ordered two Agusta 109s for official transport needs
-- partially on the recommendation of His Majesty -- the resident
aviation expert among the Malaysian Sultans.