It is in a very brief but spectacular moment that five of Singapore’s most advanced fighter jets the F-15SG, with their afterburners on, will, from some 300 to 400 metres above Marina Bay, will wow the crowds at this year’s National Day Parade (NDP) in their salute to the nation. The display, a regular feature of more recent NDPs, “A Salute to the Nation”, has to surely be a crowd favourite that involves only the best-of-the-best in air crew in a demonstration of extreme piloting skill that sees the jets separated, wing-tip to wing-tip, by a distance of just 3 feet (0.9 metres).
I was provided with the rare opportunity to go behind the scenes that allowed me to get a glimpse of what does go on in the lead up to that fleeting wow moment with a visit to the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s (RSAF) 149 SQN, at Paya Lebar Air Base on Saturday. The visit, arranged for a group of bloggers, provided the chance to understand some of the challenges that the execution of the salute presents to the air crew, get a first-hand view of some of the preparations, and get up close with the pilots and aircraft, along with the thrill of seeing the jets take-off for Saturday’s NDP practice session right by the runway (as we understand it – there are a total of seven practices that the team participates in – four of which are carried out during the NDP rehearsals).
In the informative briefing that was provided by Commanding Officer MAJ Nick Wong – who also leads the display team, we were introduced to the six pairs of air crew – each comprising a Pilot and a Weapons Systems Officer (Fighter) – a sixth aircraft in the five aircraft display is always on standby and maintains a holding position as a replacement in event one of the five aircraft has for some reason to pull out.
Among the challenges that MAJ Wong spoke of was the importance of getting the timing right in the execution as well as in maintaining a correct line and formation, especially when the move involves the use of the afterburners. Rapid decision making is often required in response to always changing timings in order to ensure that the execution is perfect.
The group also got to see some of the preparations before each flight including the kitting up of the air crew and the pre-flight inspection and start-up routine for the aircraft. The kit that the crew puts on includes a anti-G suit to counter the effects of the G-Forces experienced by the crew (the crew can be subjected to acceleration forces that reach as much as 9G during flight manoeuvres). Interestingly, there is also a bag into which the crew, when needed, answer the call of nature into. The bag is filled with a powder substance that turns into a gel on contact with liquid waste.
At the weather shed, we got up-close to one of the aircraft being prepared. The pre-flight checks and preparation involves both the Air Crew as well as the Flight Line Crew in ensuring the aircraft is prepared adequately and is safe to launch. The 149 SQN Flight Line Crew has both Full-Time National Servicemen (NSFs) as well as Regular Air Force Engineers who are also involved in both pre and post-flight inspections, as well as maintenance on the aircraft.
More on the 149 SQN’s F-15SGs, which attained Full Operational Capability in September 2013, can be found at both the MINDEF website (see – Fact Sheet: The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF)’s F-15SG Multi-role Aircraft) and the RSAF’s Facebook Page (see – F-15SG in action during the latest Exercise Forging Sabre. More on NDP 2014 can also be found at the NDP website.