“It’s like going for a hot date, just that the hot date is your nation” — SLTC Linus Tan, Dy Comd Fighter Group, Air Combat Command.
I guess there are no better words to describe the prepartion and planning the men and women from 149 Squadron of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) put into for their 5 ship Presidential Salute for National Day Parade 2014. Despite only lasting 20 seconds of the 2 hour celebration, much time and effort has been but into this crowd favourite to ensure precision and quality.
The 149 Squadron, home of the Fighting Shikras and the Boeing F-15SG, hosted some media guests yesterday. MAJ Nick Wong, CO 149 SQN, who is also the flight lead, Shikra 1, briefed on the challenges and the preparations put in place for the actual show on August 9th. He also introduced all the pilots of the other 5 Shikras (The minimum ‘qualification’ is a CAT B pilot, but in this segment, all pilots at CAT A), and a very detailed brief on their flying profile and coordination. Felt just like home with the familiar lingoes and ATC terms. And as you can see above, 149 Squadron has been appearing the the NDP since 2010.
While the pilots ‘stepped’ for briefing, the group is hosted by CPT Chia “Shrek” CY. We were showed their Life Support System Room, where the helmets (with their respective call signs), G-suits etc were kept and a demo on how their pilots suit up for a mission. Each outfit can weigh up to 20kg.
Next we were given a up close and personal (2 Metres away) chance to view the start-up and launch of Shikra 6 at the weather shed. CPT Shrek briefed us while the pilot, CPT Siva “Mamba” did his routine checks around the aircraft with his Dedicated Crew. It was beautiful to hear the distinctive howl of the F-15SG’s GE engines come to life, and I do have to say the Crew Chiefs (Air Force Engineers) were very professional and were not distracted by all the visitors around him. He did his checks and launched the aircraft handsomely.
A short video of the start-up, note the howl of the GE engine in the last 10 seconds of the video
Unfortunately, photography were not allowed at the End of Runway as we saw the six Shikras line-up and take-off from Runway 02. In the skies, the Shirkas are under the watchful eyes of air traffic controllers from 203 Squadron, who are also responsible for securing the the airspace from CAAS, who will tentatively cease their Changi and Seletar airports arrival and departures for NDP.
Update: Picture Credits RSAF
The flight of six F-15s primarily hold over the island of Sudong, Pawai and Senang, better known as area D4, where they will make a 1 minute counter clockwise circuit ,factoring seconds added or lost from activities on the parade site, eg slow walking MPs and Ministers , long speech by MCs etc. These information is relied by the controllers from the RSAF control room, known as the “Mother Goose”, perched on top of the floating platform beside the show’s cue master. Shikra 1 again stressed that the timings is one of his greatest concerns as he insist a precise Time Over Target (TOT) with the right heading and track to make the flypast a beautiful one.
Depending on the weather, the F-15s also have secondary and tertiary holding areas up their sleeves. It takes about 30 seconds to make their way into the Marina Bay and Shikra 6 will peel off 2 nautical miles from beacon point Sinjon.
Despite all the hi-tech radar mapping systems in the F-15SG, flying into Marina Bay relies on the Mark I Eye Ball and is not simple feat. The lead pilot will have to factor in his turn into show centre to ensuring an accurate heading (azimuth) and track (placement). A misplacement of either elements will make the flypast looks skewered from the stands. Following Shikra 1 lead and judgement, rest of the elements will form up alongside him. The lead takes the Floating Platform as visual references pointing his nose towards these landmark, at the same time, he will have to factor in surface winds, which is extremely unpredictable in build up area in Marina Bay. His wingmen will have a difficult job of lining their planes alongside him, with only a mere 3 feet separation. Shikra 2 and 3 will have a harder task of taking alignment, looking into the setting sun with a F-15SG silhouette to take reference to.
The flight will have 10 seconds to make final adjustments before there are into full view of the audience at the floating platform. On of the greatest challenges is by 2 nautical miles from the show centre the 5 ship will throttle on to full afterburner. As the afterburner can be inconsistent at times, the wingmen will have the feat of aligning themselves again at full speed. However, its is the ten General Electric F110 GE129C turbofan, each providing 29,000 pounds of thrust that gives the salute the audio impact. After which they will proceed to land off from Runway 20(North to South), away from the audience eyes on the Marina Floating Platform.
149 Squadron has worked very hard for the National Day, and by Aug 9th, they would have made at least 25 passes over Marina Bay, that is inclusive of the Internal Rehearsals and Combine Rehearsals, and not to mention the ground crew who are the first in last out crew. They have all dedicated and sacrificed their Saturdays for this event. As a former RSAF serviceman, I fully appreciate and understand their effort. I would again like to thank the RSAF for the intimate interaction with the squadron, CO 149 SQN MAJ Nick Wong for hosting and CPT Shrek for showing us around patiently answering our questions. Finally, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the pilots of 149 SQN for the NDP 14 Presidential Salute.
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