The late Col. Zakaria Salleh (whom everyone called Zak) was a small-built pilot but his aerial exploits and the significant contributions he made to general aviation in Southeast Asia was legendary.
I first met Zak when he was teaching several of us to fly the Quicksilver ultralight during his spare time. We were flying at various open spaces which were pending development and as soon as construction work started at these sites, we had to move like nomads to new flying sites. At that time Zak held the rank of Flying Officer in the air force and was flying F5 jet fighters. I then lost touch with him as I progressed to Cessnas and flew at proper airfields.
Several years later, Zak started instructing at the Royal Selangor Flying Club where I was regularly flying from. He was ater elected the Club Captain and was responsible for all flying activities of the club. In this role he organised regular fly-ins, open days, flying competitions and air shows. I enjoyed participating in most of these events which took us to various airports and airstrips not only within Malaysia but also in the neighbouring countries.
Subsequently Zak retired from the air force with the rank of Colonel and having flown various fighter types like the CL-41G Tutor, Northrop F5 and A4 Skyhawk. He then flew target tugs and later several bizjets for a living. His flying and organising skills were recognised and he was subsequently elected as President of the Malaysian Sports Aviation Federation which is the umbrella organisation for all sports aviation related bodies in the country.
Zak loved aerobatics and formation flying and would put on impressive flying maneouvres at various air shows in the region. He was most famous for leading the Eagle 150 Aerobatic Team which regularly took part in the country's Independence Day parade flypasts and in air shows overseas. On occasions where the Eagle aircraft were not available, he would call up several pilots from various flying clubs and still put on a commendable performance. I was glad to join in and fly on some of these events.
|PILOTS AFTER A FORMATION FLIGHT|
(Zak is circled. The writer is second from right)
The Eagle 150 was a highly aerobatic aircraft and in the hands of someone like Zak, it was capable of some magnificient stunts that never failed to impress crowds. Zak, however, yearned for more. He went out and bought a dedicated aerobatic aircraft, the Christen Eagle, from the US. This was the aircraft he loved and with it he went on to mesmerise the crowds with his superb flying skills.
|A CHRISTEN EAGLE AEROBATIC AIRCRAFT|
On June 23, 2011, while performing aerobatics in front of an air show crowd in Padang, Indonesia, his Christen Eagle slid down from a vertical climb and crashed to the ground. His wife, Leila, was watching from the stands. Zak passed away in hospital shortly after.
|ZAK LEADING HIS EAGLE 150 OUT OF A HANGAR IN PEKANBARU AIRPORT|
To Leila and the family, I send my deepest condolence. Zak was a good friend and helpful at all times especially in my flying activities. He is well-known in the flying fraternity in Malaysia as well as in the neghbouring countries. We shall always remember him.