In his 40-year career with the RSAF, MAJ (RET) Soh Chye Wah has flown multiple helicopter platforms, both as an operational Pilot and a Qualified Helicopter Instructor (QHI). Passion for flying guided him to take the unconventional route in rejoining the RSAF as a QHI under the Defence Executive Officer Scheme, in which he served for 15 years. Read on to find out what he loved most about his journey with the RSAF and training future generations of quality helicopter Pilots.
1. How long have you been working in the RSAF? What made you want to continue in the RSAF even after retirement?
I joined the Air Force in September 1974, and obtained my wings in 1980. I was then posted to 120 SQN for my training as a helicopter Pilot. As an operational pilot, I flew the UH-1H, Fennec and Super Puma helicopters. I graduated as a Qualified Helicopter Instructor (QHI) in 1988 and began training helicopter Pilot trainees in 124 SQN, 125 SQN and Standards SQN.
My love for flying never ceased and when the time came for me to retire in 2004, I opted to rejoin the RSAF under the Defence Executive Officer scheme and continued serving as a QHI in 124 SQN, flying the EC120B Colibri helicopter.
2. What were your duties as a Qualified Helicopter Instructor?
In 124 SQN, I was in charge of training Pilot trainees from the Rotary Wings Course (RWC). The primary role of 124 SQN is to conduct RWC, to train and produce quality helicopter Pilots. Once the trainees have graduated from the RWC, the Pilots will move on to the various helicopter SQNs for their operational conversion.
3. What was your most memorable moment in your RSAF career?
I had many memorable moments during my long career with the RSAF – ranging from the very beginning when I got my wings from then Minister for Defence, Mr Howe Yoon Chong, to the numerous National Day Parades I participated in as part of the State Flag Flypast.
Another memory that stood out was a Search and Rescue mission I participated in to rescue a sick seaman out at sea. The choppy waters made it extremely difficult to transfer the patient from the tiny ship to the Super Puma helicopter, but we focused on winching down to the precise location, safely and successfully bringing the patient up to the helicopter and to Singapore General Hospital.
4. What words of advice do you have for future generations of helicopter Pilots?
The greatest motivating factor during my career was definitely the sense of achievement in seeing my trainees doing well and climbing up through the ranks. If there was only one piece of advice I would like to pass on to the future generations, it would be to work with passion wholeheartedly. The future generations must have a sense of belonging and pride in being part of the RSAF. Thereafter, they can then work hand in hand in safeguarding Singapore's skies to the best of their ability.
5. What is a 'fini flight'? Is there any tradition for pilots flying their fini flight?
A fini flight is a final flight flown by Pilots who are about to retire. There are a few special aspects of the fini flight designed to honour the contributions of the retiring aircrew to the unit, such as the traditional water salute from a fire engine, and a celebratory toast with the rest of the unit. I flew my fini flight on the EC120B Colibri helicopter on 12 Dec 18, clocking a total of 8245 flying hours in total throughout my career!