Woman fighter pilot to make history

Major Lee Mei Yi will be the first woman to fly in the fighter jet formation at the National Day Parade for the nation’s 50th anniversary.
Major Lee Mei Yi will be the first woman to fly in the fighter jet formation at the National Day Parade for the nation’s 50th anniversary. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

She is part of group forming the number 50 in flypast at NDP

AUG 9, 2015 is set to be forever etched in the memory of fighter pilot Lee Mei Yi as an historic day, both for Singapore as well as herself.

She will be the first woman to fly in the fighter jet formation at the National Day Parade for the nation's 50th anniversary.

Twenty F-16 fighter jets will form the number 50 as they fly over the Padang, and Major Lee, 30, will be in one of them.

The hardest part will be to come as close as 18m from the plane in front of hers when they form the number, she said.

"It's close formation flying, so it's something we will practise to make sure we can fly accurately, in the right position.

"Since May, we have stepped up the training to make sure that we have sufficient practice."

Even though the flypast lasts just a few seconds for the spectators in the stands, some of whom will count it as their favourite moment of the parade, there are many months of hard work and preparation behind it.

The manoeuvre was first tested on flight simulators, then with a few aircraft, and finally with the full group, flight lead Lieutenant-Colonel Chan Ching Hao told reporters on Tuesday.

"There are 20 aircraft in close proximity, so we have to do a fair bit of training in order to make sure that everyone has the comfort and team chemistry to execute this manoeuvre," he said.

After take-off, the team will form up loosely over the South China Sea, moving into a tighter formation as they approach Singapore.

Another aircraft will fly above the group as they make their way towards the Padang, making sure the formation is in order, but will depart in a different direction before the planes come into view.

Said LTC Chan: "His role is very important as well, even though he's an unsung hero."

The team trains once or twice a week on top of its usual operations, and has put in a few hundred hours of flight time. The pilots have successfully carried out the flypast 10 times so far.

LTC Chan's role is to take charge of all inflight decisions, including regulating the team's speed and making sure that all of them arrive at precisely the right time

"As a flight lead, it's important to... make the speed changes as predictable as possible to minimise the ripple effect," he said.

With the planes flying at 600kmh, a difference in speed of 1kmh or 2kmh in the lead will become obvious in the rest of the formation.

linettel@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2015, with the headline 'Woman fighter pilot to make history'. Print Edition | Subscribe