When night falls

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sep18_cs
31 Aug 2018 | OPS & TRAINING

When night falls

Flying the S'pore flag high: RSAF warbirds prowl the skies over Darwin, Australia at Exercise Pitch Black, the largest multinational aerial exercise in the region.

// STORY BENITA TEO  

// PHOTOS CHUA SOON LYE

Day and night, they laboured tirelessly. Working both in the light and in near-darkness, they kept these magnificent steel birds flying in the air. PIONEER shines a light on the airmen and women behind the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) warbirds that participated in the biggest edition of Exercise Pitch Black. What does it take to get the 13 jets ready for battle at dawn and dusk, alongside military aircraft from 15 other countries?

Military Expert (ME) 2 Suresh s/o Segaram (centre) and his fellow Air Force Engineers (AFEs) refilling the hydraulic fluid in the F-15SG. Here, the Shift 2nd In-Charge had to work with a lean crew and make sure they stay safe on the busy flight line.

"When you're launching a jet from the flight line, you have to be aware of the person beside you, and make sure that he's not taxiing (a plane) out (at the same time), otherwise you might be hit by the jet blast." 

F-15SG pilot Captain (CPT) (NS) Robin Chew suiting up in preparation for a flight. A flight simulator instructor with ST Engineering, he took two weeks' leave to take part in the exercise.

"It's important to come here to update my skills in a large-scale exercise and validate our tactics. I also get to share my experience with the junior pilots — they have to pick up quite a lot of skills during their few weeks here, and I can teach them what to expect."

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1 All in a day's work: Two F-15SGs (first and second from right) and two Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) F/A-18A Hornets get ready for landing.
2 Pilots and ground crew at the flight line getting ready for the day's flying missions.
3 An AFE marshalling an F-15SG off of the runway at night. With many planes taxiing out in quick succession, and under dim lighting, the marshallers must pay close attention and make sure they move off safely and on time.
AFEs loading the GBU-49 bomb onto an F-16 jet. The F-16s dropped the inert bombs as part of the exercise.
Flight Crew Chief 3rd Sergeant Adriel Toh carrying out inspections on an F-16 before the pilot's arrival. The Full-time National Serviceman extended his service by one-and-a-half months so that he could be a part of the exercise.
AFEs loading the GBU-49 bomb onto an F-16 jet. The F-16s dropped the inert bombs as part of the exercise.
Flight Crew Chief 3rd Sergeant Adriel Toh carrying out inspections on an F-16 before the pilot's arrival. The Full-time National Serviceman extended his service by one-and-a-half months so that he could be a part of the exercise.
Pitch Black Exercise Director Air Commodore Mike Kitcher (second from right) from the RAAF speaking to servicemen during his visit to the RSAF detachment.

"It's one of our strongest relationships…with a foreign country. Singapore brings state-of-the-art equipment and quality people. Flying with the Singapore aircrew is great, and flying against them can be challenging, so I really enjoy it."


Into the night: An F-16 taking to the skies at twilight on its way to a night mission.

Mission Commander and F-16 pilot CPT Jonathan Ow (centre, holding pen) briefing his fellow aircrew from Singapore and other air forces on the mission details for an upcoming large force exercise. He has to work closely with them to understand how best to deploy them in missions.

"Through interaction during the planning cycle, we find out more about their platforms' capabilities from the operators themselves."

"We pit our aircrew against aircrew from many different nations who all fly different aircraft (and) use tactics different from what we're used to. Training with such a diverse population of aircrew makes us more effective and adaptable."


Crew of the Gulfstream 550 Airborne Early Warning (G550-AEW)  aircraft sweeping the flight line for FOD, or foreign object debris, ahead of a morning mission. Due to the strong winds and open environment, the eagle-eyed crew must be especially thorough in spotting debris that could jeopardise the plane's take-off.

ME1 Tay Shi Ying carrying out checks on the G550-AEW after it returned from a long day of flying.

"Here, night falls very fast. Unlike in Singapore, it's almost totally dark so we need flashlights to guide us along. We are also given designated tasks to focus on. We trained a lot in Singapore, and must apply what we've learnt to make sure we don't make any mistakes."

"I can see the mutual trust between the air forces — the trust they have in us by coming to us for refuelling, and the trust that we have in them (to observe our safety measures) so that we can transfer the fuel safely and efficiently."

Thirst relief: An RAAF F/A-18F Super Hornet (far left) receiving fuel from an RSAF KC-135R air-to-air refuelling tanker. Beside them are two EA-18G Growlers, one of the RAAF's newest fighter aircraft.
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