KT Leong and Norm King in-years-gone-by
KT Leong - A Flight Engineer’s Perspective
By: Norm King
Manager Flight Engineering and Chief Flight Engineer (Retired 2002)
I am not sure how many knew KT’s given names but I venture to say not every flight engineer or pilot would have passed that route check question. It really didn’t matter since the two capital letters by which our friend was always known conjure up the same emotion and memory in us as addressing him as Kum Thin would have done.
Those memories for me go back to Payar Lebar and 707s in 1969 when we met for the first time, resulting in KT doing somewhat of a double-take.
One skinny Oriental ground engineer wondering who the other skinny Oriental flight engineer was, disembarking from the very Aussie Qantas 707 led to nearly 33 years of regular contact either on a flight deck or tarmac discussing the state of an aeroplane in which we both had an immediate interest, or later over a meal of chilli crab, several Tigers for him and 7-Ups for me and a long night somewhere on East Coast Parkway. You did well if you could skip out early before the word karaoke was mentioned.
In many other ports, the aeroplane quite often differed in the way it was viewed by the ground engineer and the man wearing purple and gold on his jacket sleeve, each sometimes having diametrically opposed views of how we would like the state of the machine to be in when we departed. I am sure many will remember which stations fell into this category.
Not so in Singapore with KT.
He would move mountains to give you as close to a perfect aeroplane as he possibly could. His concern wasn’t just for the flight crew and their machine but was extended to ever grateful cabin crews whose need to apologise to their passengers for cabin defects was eliminated so often by his ability to make things work again.
I recall an initiative of Engineering during a time of difficulties expressed by many in Flight Ops that line station support was not going as well as it could be. Their response was to set up a Q&A table in the crew room in QCC manned by a few senior LAMEs who would take questions and suggestions from pilots and flight engineers mostly to do with dispatch with multiple MELs. Those brave engineers took on board what was directed at that department and at the same time asked for written input.
A recurring comment in these completed questionnaires was that if Engineering could clone KT and place that replica in every port all the problems would instantly vanish. It wasn’t so much that the number of defects carried through that station might decrease, but more the way the crews’ confidence that all was going to be OK to go flying would increase.
If KT said it was fine, it was fine.
Schooled at St Michael’s Institute in Ipoh, Malaysia, KT started his aviation career taking the title of hangar boy at Payar Lebar with Qantas Empire Airways in December 1962. Sweeping the floor and wiping oil trays were the hangar boy’s main tasks. Such beginnings add character, patience and resilience, virtues KT came to demonstrate all through his 47 years and 1 month of service first at Singapore’s old airport then in 1981 until retirement at Changi but with stints in Mumbai and Kuala Lumpur, all as Maintenance Manager.
It is easier to count the type ratings and licences KT didn’t have. One of the few engineers with Concorde in his portfolio, he covered all the major types going through Singapore in his time as Maintenance Manager from the venerable B707 to all the B747 variants with every two- or three-holer in between. Curiously, KT held no Airbus Industrie type approvals or licences. He was indeed a Boeing specialist.
I will not be alone when I say KT will be remembered not just for his engineering brilliance but equally for his genial, hospitable and gregarious nature. Few crew will not have had the delights of a night out with KT, for he treated everyone of us as a welcome guest in Singapore and made sure we ate like kings, drank like fish and sung like Sinatra, even if it was our 76th transit.
With his retirement in 2009, Singapore would never be quite the same.
Not only is it poignant that he has passed away so close to the important start of a Chinese New Year, but also before his cherished airline returned to his beloved city, soon again to be back on the Kangaroo Route, is equally touching.
KT is survived by his wife Shirley and sons David and Eric, daughter-in-law Elsie and grandchildren Zakary and Gabriel to whom we extend, as Qantas family, our deep sympathy.
There is a word so flippantly applied these days as to devalue its intended sense. Today we restore its rightful meaning.
We salute you, KT, Engineer and Legend.
A tribute on behalf of all the flight engineers to whom KT was mentor, advisor, friend and brother.
Manager Flight Engineering and Chief Flight Engineer 1989-2002
About Norm King:
Norm joined QF in 1961 as an apprentice aircraft maintenance engineer, became a LAME on B 707s in 1965 and joined Flight Ops as a line flight engineer on 707s in 1969.
He filled various roles as senior check engineer, training QF, Air Niugini and RAAF crews and in 1976 transferred as line flight engineer on the B747 and retired as Manager Flight Engineering and Chief Flight Engineer in 2002.
Norm was the flight engineer on Captain John Brooks' Qantas 707, the first QF aircraft into Darwin after Cyclone Tracy Christmas 1974. He was among the first to see the devastation.