We had a conversation with LTA Alexander Tshai who recently attended the T-6 Undergraduate Pilot Training in Laughlin Air Force Base, Del Rio, Texas, USA, through which he earned the coveted Silver Wings and clinched several distinguished awards. Below, he shares his valuable experiences and inspirations.
Hi LTA Alexander, could you provide us with a quick introduction of yourself?
Hi I’m LTA Alexander Tshai Ming Jin, I was previously a student pilot from the 434th Flying Training Squadron, 47th Flying Training Wing at Laughlin Air Force Base, Del Rio, Texas.
I attended the T-6 Undergraduate Pilot Training where I was taught the basics of military flying and officership which culminated in me attaining the coveted Silver Wings. This rigorous programme taught me many valuable lessons such as contingency planning and flexibility which is key to airpower and mission success in the RSAF.
How do you feel with the recognition? Did your training in the RSAF help in achieving this award?
I am honoured and grateful for the opportunity the RSAF has provided. This would not be possible without the guidance from both my RSAF and United States Air Force (USAF) instructors, the unwavering support of my family and especially my peers from Mustang Flight. This award is also an affirmation towards my positive habit patterns that allows me to continuously improve myself every day.
On a more personal level, what made you want to join the RSAF and become a pilot?
My interest in flight started at a very young age where I would spend hours at Changi beach admiring aircraft flying overhead. The desire for flight continued and I was given the opportunity to do so through my Student Internship Programme during my final year of Polytechnic education, where I was attached to the Singapore Youth Flying Club (SYFC) as a student pilot and completed the programme in 6 months. My stint in SYFC solidify my passion for flying and I wanted to challenge myself to become a military pilot. Besides, flying fast jets and being a part of a first-class Air Force also appealed to me.
What spark your interest?
My interest ultimately grew into passion when I was exposed to basic flying through SYFC. With guidance from committed and passionate instructors, every flight was a learning opportunity and a very fulfilling accomplishment.
Were your family members supportive of you joining the RSAF?
They were very receptive of my aspirations and were well aware of the commitment involved. Their unwavering support is what drives me to do better, with their frequent check-ins to make sure that I am well. Occasionally, care packages filled with local goodies from Singapore also made their way across the globe which made gloomy days a little better.
What are some of your favourite moments in the Air Force thus far?
My favourite moment has to be the formation navigational flights during sunset. Flying through the scenic yet barren landscape of Texas really puts into perspective how land-scarce Singapore is, which allowed me to appreciate the strong bilateral relations Singapore has with the US that enabled this overseas learning opportunity. I do reminisce about my time in the Air Force Training Command as a cadet going through Basic Aviation Ground School. I had a wonderful time interacting and building rapport with my course mates. Activities such as physical training at 6 a.m. in the morning, studying together for examinations or just a simple gathering in the evening made every moment a memorable and enjoyable one.
What were your challenges thus far and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge for me is being away from my loved ones and home. This proved difficult due to the time zone difference. Planning visits back home were tricky due to the training schedules. Nonetheless, this was mitigated by video calls and sometimes a unique postcard through snail mail.
I have also learnt to adjust to a foreign environment by building rapport and friendship with my fellow trainees and other international students here in Laughlin. I always look forward to gatherings and potlucks where we bond over food and drinks, which are always a delight. As a person that is inclined to the outdoors, I occasionally go on hiking and camping trips in the state/national parks where I can enjoy the solitude and serenity of the wilderness. In addition, video games with my friends are also an avenue to destress and unwind which makes living in Laughlin better.
What do you hope to achieve in the RSAF once you have completed your training?
I would like to attend the F-35 basic course and fly the F-35B thereafter, augmenting the RSAF's capability with 5th generation fighters. Interacting with USAF pilots who had prior operational experiences has given me a huge insight on the missions and capabilities of varying airframes. The F-35 appealed to me greatly given its unmatched integration and sensor fusion, fulfilling both air superiority and strike mission while also maintaining integrity through cutting edge stealth technology. The emphasis on pilot interface and connectivity also provides added situational awareness, an essential commodity for all pilots. I hope that after going through the training and gathering more experience on F-35, it would allow me to better achieve mission success, meet operational challenges effectively and thereby contribute to the defence of Singapore.
Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for your fellow airmen and women, as well as your juniors who are also looking to achieve excellence just like you?
As an individual, develop routines to stay consistent. Set specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound (SMART) goals to guide your efforts towards excellence. As a team player, have an open mindset looking for growth while supporting one another by being collaborative. Surround yourself with people who share your passion for excellence. Never regret mistakes, instead make it a learning experience for yourself and everyone. Lastly, given the challenges and demands that our line of work require, always make time to relax and unwind through personal hobbies or quality time with loved ones.