Girl power in the skiesThe RSAF's first all-female F-15SG aircrew hope to inspire young girls to be fearless and chase their dreams.
//STORY BY Benita Teo
//PHOTOS BY Chua Soon Lye
They're the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF's) first all-female F-15SG aircrew!
Meet dynamite duo pilot Captain (CPT) Julie Lim, 28, and Weapon Systems Officer (WSO) Lieutenant (LTA) Hannah Teo, 26. CPT Lim flies the fighter jet while LTA Teo keeps a lookout for surface and air threats and runs the onboard weapon system.
The pair has been based at the Peace Carvin V detachment for the past five months and are making their debut at this year's Exercise Forging Sabre (XFS21), held in Mountain Home Air Force Base (MHAFB), Idaho, United States.
CPT Lim signed on in 2012 before embarking on her university studies while LTA Teo signed on five years ago, and their journey as teammates began around four to five years ago. This was when they started training together for their Basic Wings Course at Pearce Base in Australia.
Their paths crossed again at Cazaux Air Base in France, where they went through advanced jet training together. After graduating in 2019, they were posted to 142 Squadron, where they began flying together.
Although they are trained to fly with other pilots and WSOs respectively, they particularly enjoyed their time working together. And, yes, they are good friends outside of the cockpit!
Learning through flying
As part of their training as juniors and even as full-fledged aircrew, LTA Teo and CPT Lim flew with other pilots and WSOs respectively. However, every flight with each other was a treasured learning experience, said CPT Lim.
"During training we were often paired with an instructor, who is an experienced partner. However, when we fly together, we are two equally junior aircrew. We got to learn a lot together – flying, learning from our mistakes, figuring out what to do. It was exciting that way."
LTA Teo agreed: "It helped us build confidence in our abilities – when we fly together, we feel the weight of our responsibilities (in the absence of a senior partner)."
"And because we've been training together for so long, with the camaraderie we have, we know each other's quirks and habits. So we're very comfortable with each other," she added.
Thanks to the vast training airspace around MHAFB, the F-15SG crew has been able to put the skills they learnt to the test in a realistic setting.
The opportunity has been an important one for LTA Teo, who had the opportunity to hone her skills in dropping live munitions: "I was able to employ munitions for the first time, which is a valuable experience for a junior aircrew like myself. With the different Army and Air Force elements here, we've been able to put our past training to good use, hone our skills and gain the confidence and experience we need to excel further."
As for CPT Lim, she appreciated being able to see the different Services in action together in a highly integrated exercise. "We're able to talk to the army troops to coordinate our strikes, which is very different from our usual training because there's so much integration. We also get to see the behind-the-scenes considerations that we normally wouldn't be able to witness," she explained.
Signing on for different reasons
Coming from a military family, where her father was a helicopter pilot in the RSAF, CPT Lim loved all things aviation. The plane enthusiast obtained her Private Pilot Licence from the Singapore Youth Flying Club as a student and flew a solo flight before going on to study aeronautical engineering at university. Even though she knew she wanted to be a pilot, she admitted that she was also fortunate to be selected as an F-15SG pilot. "It's always the dream (to become a fighter pilot), but when I first started I didn't have a specific aircraft in mind. It's about what the RSAF needs at that point in time, and that was the mindset I had going into training."
Unlike her flying buddy, LTA Teo didn't come from a military background. However, the former sportswoman, who played competitive netball in secondary school and junior college, knew she wanted a career that would challenge her physically and mentally. The RSAF felt like the right choice.
"When I signed on with the RSAF, I really wanted to fly – every National Day Parade, I would watch the jets fly, and that sparked my interest."
Her journey to becoming a WSO was not an easy one, as she turned out to be the only trainee in her course. "It was tough, being alone and not having coursemates to work with. But that's also why I joined the RSAF – to learn to take on challenges."
Even though they have the honour of being the RSAF's first pair of all-female F-15SG aircrew, it's an ongoing challenge to keep growing and improving, said CPT Lim.
"It's not easy to learn to fly an aircraft, especially in the duration we are given and with the complex missions we are required to accomplish. There have been many challenges along the way. I speak for both of us when I say that there is no perfect flight where we come back and we're like, ‘That was an awesome flight.' There's always something to learn. The important thing is to keep striving to be better each time and keep improving."
Girls, follow your passions!
To all the young people who look up to these two big sisters, CPT Lim and LTA Teo have a message for you – follow your passion!
"Especially for young girls who are deciding on a career, there will always be a lot of question marks. Following your passion is what will keep you going – if you do what you enjoy, it's what will keep you happy at work every day," said CPT Lim.
LTA Teo added: "I've always pursued what I wanted to do (like when I chose to play netball). If your passion is there, whatever struggles you face, you will naturally overcome them head on, and it will make you a better person. Do what you love."