Finding her wings as a C-130 pilot

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18 Mar 2024 | PEOPLE

Finding her wings as a C-130 pilot

//Story by Teo Jing Ting /Photos by Chai Sian Liang & courtesy of CPT Lee

English 华文

Despite taking a longer route, former graduate analyst CPT Fiona Lee realised her dream to be become an RSAF pilot.

Despite challenges along the way, CPT Lee never gave up on becoming a C-130 Hercules pilot.

She always knew that she wanted to join the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).

Since young, the aviation enthusiast would pester her parents to bring her to air shows and RSAF open houses. On weekends, her favourite activity was watching the planes take off and land from East Coast Park.  

It came as no surprise that Captain (CPT) Fiona Lee jumped at the chance to join the Singapore Youth Flying Club (SYFC) during her first year of Junior College (JC).

"The first time I tried flying, the feeling of taking off was beyond description – it was really exhilarating," recalled the Victoria JC alumna.

But her joy was short-lived. The busy student was phased out during the second stage of the course, right before her first solo flight.

It was because she didn't manage to clock enough flying hours due to other co-curricular activity (CCA) commitments – she was also in floorball and orchestra at that time.

"I still remember the day when I got the text from SYFC that I was phased out – I was really sad. But that also made me more resolved to want to make it in the end," said CPT Lee.

CPT Lee undergoing a three-week orientation training at Goldman Sachs' New York office in 2017.

Longer flight route

Her route to the RSAF went through a slight detour.

Before graduating from the National University of Singapore, CPT Lee was offered a job in multinational investment firm, Goldman Sachs, as a graduate analyst in the trading department back in June 2017.

But even as she worked there, the business administration graduate never forgot her first love. A year into the job, she decided to apply to the RSAF and got accepted.

"When the RSAF offered me a contract, it was a no-brainer for me make the switch because I'd always aspired to be a pilot," said CPT Lee, who enlisted for Basic Military Training (BMT) in April 2018.

CPT Lee (second row, fifth from left) and her platoon mates during their first book out from BMT in April 2018.

The passion to defend

From the food and company to the training, BMT was challenging for CPT Lee, but the camaraderie and bonding among her section mates more than made up for it.

Her favourite memory during BMT? The final 24km route march right before the graduation parade.

"We were singing non-stop throughout the 6-hour route march and it was quite poignant towards the final stretch 'cos we sang Home by Kit Chan. That really hit home 'cos the reason we joined the military was to protect Singapore."

After graduating from BMT in June 2018, CPT Lee went for a two-month Air Grading Course (AGC) in Tamworth, Australia. This course screens potential pilot trainees' for their aptitude for flying.

After making the cut in AGC, she entered Officer Cadet School in December 2018 where she honed her leadership skills.

An unforgettable experience: CPT Lee smiling widely after her first solo military flight.

Flying solo

For CPT Lee, the most memorable part of her pilot training was on 3 May 2020, when she flew her first solo flight during her Basic Wings Course (BWC) at the Royal Australian Air Force Base Pearce, Australia.

Calling it an unforgettable experience, CPT Lee said: "I was filled with anticipation and excitement before take-off; experienced sheer exhilaration during the flight itself; and felt the greatest sense of achievement upon touch down."

The nine-month course trains pilot trainees to fly on the Pilatus PC-21 aircraft trainer. They are exposed to a wide variety of flying-related skills as well as aerobatic manoeuvres and sequences such as the vertical 8, loops and barrel rolls.

Proud moment: CPT Lee (right) receiving her pilot wings from former Commander Flying Training Institute Colonel (Ret) Tsai Hong Pin at Air Force Training Command in 2021.

The flight to success was not an easy one and, for CPT Lee, getting her wings at the wings presentation on 23 Dec 2021 was an especially satisfying moment.

"I felt like all my efforts had paid off. I was phased out in SYFC previously due to studies and CCA commitments, but that disappointment strengthened my resolve to take on this path and succeed.

"It was definitely very gratifying and one of my proudest moments to date," said the 30-year-old, who was also awarded Best Overall Trainee, Best in Flying and Best in Ground School for BWC previously.

As a C-130 pilot, CPT Lee has done airlift flights to support Singapore troops on overseas deployment in countries such as Thailand and Australia.

Dream come true

A C-130 Hercules pilot in 122 Squadron, CPT Lee has undoubtedly achieved her dreams.

She chose the transport platform as the wide variety of operations undertaken by the aircraft – such as Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief as well as Search and Locate (SAL) missions – appealed to her.

And every time CPT Lee flies over Singapore, it is a poignant reminder of why she joined the Air Force.

"Each time (I fly), I get to see how small and vulnerable Singapore is, and it brings to mind what I'm doing this for – to protect and safeguard our sovereignty.

"This sense of purpose and mission is what I was looking for when I wanted to join the Air Force. I found it and I've been loving every second of it!"

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