Enhanced measures to Red Lions NDP training
// Story by Benita Teo // Photos by Chai Sian Liang
Enhancements have been made to the training for the Red Lions, to further hone their skills in display jumping and better prepare them for the National Day Parade (NDP), which will be held later this year at the Padang.
These were introduced following the findings of the Review Panel that was set up by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Inspector-General Office to examine the training and safety management of the Red Lions.
The Panel was set up after an incident at NDP 2022, when Red Lions member 3rd Warrant Officer (3WO) Jeffrey Heng was injured while executing a parachute jump onto The Float@Marina Bay.
Ensuring skills currency
Based on their findings, the Panel noted that the Red Lions training system was safe, robust and progressive, and that the practices and safety measures were comparable to those of internationally recognised skydiving governing bodies. It did not find any procedural lapses.
However, enhancements could still be made to better prepare the parachutists for their display jumps at the NDP, said Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Neo Choon Chea, 42. He is the Commanding Officer of the Special Operations Tactical Support Centre and the Team Manager of this year's NDP Red Lions.
"The existing volume of jumps meet the recommended guidelines, but we are further enhancing it to bring these high volume jumps closer to the actual NDP as much as we can," he explained.
The first is the resumption of the overseas Skills Enhancement Programme (SEP), which was halted from 2020 to 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The programme was introduced in 2018.
The canopy piloting course – which is a part of the SEP – will be made mandatory. The course equips display jump parachutists with essential skills to handle challenging wind and Landing Zone conditions.
Held in the US in April, the SEP will also allow the team to work with the international parachuting community and experienced coaches with deep expertise in display jumping.
Secondly, an enhanced Display Jump Preparatory Training (DPT) will be introduced. This two-week training will be held in May to ensure the currency of the Red Lions' skills before they begin on-site training at the NDP venue.
The DPT provides high-intensity training with a focus on building team synergy among the parachutists. Held in Thailand, it replicates the high-speed and fast-changing conditions of display jumps as well as the generation of eddy currents that occur in built-up areas.
The training drop zone used at the DPT is also designed to replicate the layout of the Padang, so that the parachutists can familiarise themselves to the landing approaches and practise for contingencies among each other.
These changes were made based on the recommendations of the experts in the Review Panel, said Deputy Inspector-General Kevin Goh, 52: "Our expert panel highlighted that the canopy piloting course can enhance their training, so now we ensure that everyone who is going to jump goes through the course.
"There is also a currency required of Red Lions jumps. Previously, the training was done months before NDP. We have recommended that they do the training closer to NDP."
Lastly, the landing space for Red Lions at the NDP will be expanded. This year's landing zone at the Padang will be twice the size of that at The Float.
It will also be sited further from the spectator stands, so that the parachutists will be less susceptible to the turbulence caused by eddy currents and will have more space to manoeuvre. Eddy currents are generated by wind flowing around structures in built-up areas, such as the buildings around the Marina Bay vicinity.
Making the best judgement call
While executing their jumps at last year's NDP at The Float, the Red Lions experienced more turbulence than during their previous jumps. The turbulence was caused by eddy currents.
3WO Heng was approaching his final turn before landing when he experienced a sudden strong gust of wind from behind him. He made a sharp left turn to maintain control over his flight path, which caused his parachute to be momentarily depressurised. This led to him losing the altitude he needed to perform a flare landing. The left turn also steered him away from the spectators, who were seated in the stands to his right.
He then executed the Parachute Landing Fall, a safety technique taught to parachutists to help them dissipate the impact of a hard landing and reduce the possibility of injuries.
Although the Panel found that 3WO Heng could have turned towards the final leg earlier by adopting a more gradual turn profile, both LTC Neo and Colonel (COL) Pang Chee Kong, Chief Commando Officer and Commander Special Operations Task Force, noted that he had made the best decision in that situation.
Said COL Pang, 46: "As experienced parachutists ourselves, these are split-second decisions you have to make during your glide down, as objects (are coming into your sight). (3WO) Jeff made the left turn to steer away from the public.
"The decompression (of his parachute) happened in a split second and then he had to land… There was a judgement call required on his part, but based on our training system and the rigour with which we went through it, put in the same position, I would have done the same thing."
He added that 3WO Heng was recovering well and had been certified to resume freefall training since mid-April this year. 3WO Heng will be the jumpmaster and coach to the NDP23 Red Lions team.