IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Unflagging effort to fly the flag

This story was originally published in the Straits Times on July 28, 2013 

The sight of a massive Singapore flag being flown high in the sky by a Chinook helicopter as tens of thousands sing Majulah Singapura during the National Day Parade is always a moving sight.

But the annual fly-by, which lasts just minutes, is an elaborate exercise that requires the efforts of hundreds of men and many days' work.

Airman Edward Lim, the supervisor of the flag rigging team, gave The Sunday Times a glimpse of what goes into it during yesterday's rehearsal for the parade.

More than 300 men from the Republic of Singapore Air Force are involved in taking the flag from ground to air, said the 50-year-old, who holds the rank of Military Expert 3 (ME3).

This is because more than one flag is prepared, to ensure that there are back-ups in the event that the flag does not unfold properly.

Come National Day on Aug 9, a total of 13 flags would be rigged up and ready to fly at three different locations: Pulau Sudong, Changi Air Base and Sembawang Air Base.

But before that, the flags - each measuring 20m by 30m - would be taken out of storage at Sembawang Airbase, inspected and folded - a process that takes 20 men more than an hour to complete.

A few would then be packed and transported by helicopter to Pulau Sudong, an island in Southern Singapore, before being unpacked for the big show.

The Sunday Times accompanied the team involved in the operation as they prepared to fly the flag for yesterday's parade rehearsal.

Despite being made out of lightweight material similar to that used for parachutes, the flag still weighs 2,154kg because of the cables and weights attached to it. Still, the men moved briskly, in clockwork precision, as they worked on readying the flag for flight.

Fifteen other men spent about 45 minutes attaching cables and weights to each flag, before hooking it up to a Chinook, which would fly it to the Marina Bay Floating Platform, where the parade is held.

ME3 Lim, who has been in the flag rigging party for the last eight years, three as team leader, said that passion is what drives him to do the job well. "I feel a great sense of pride, seeing the flag fly and knowing that I had a part to play in it," he said.

The team, which has been training since April, includes regulars, NSFs and NSmen. Among the 318 men taking part in this year's flag rigging operation is NSman Kelvin Tan. This is his third time in the team, which he had volunteered to be part of. "Not everyone has a chance to take part in the National Day Parade," said the 38-year-old Staff Sergeant Tan, who is also a service engineer.

NSF Elson Ong, 20, said that he was surprised to find out how much work went into the flag flypast. "When I watched the parade, I never really thought about what it took to get the flag up there."

staceyc@sph.com.sg