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Behind the Scenes: Tandem with The Red Lions

The Straits Times photojournalist Alphonsus Chern recounts the day he and defence correspondent Jermyn Chow went skydiving with The Red Lions and lived to tell his tale. Watch a video of Jermyn doing his tandem jump, and read Alphonsus' story below:

One afternoon, two weeks ago, I took three tests that would decide if I was fit enough to be a passenger on a tandem freefall with the Singapore Armed Forces Parachute Team.

First up, the x-ray. I gasped audibly in the air-conditioned vault as I plastered my bare chest on the cold surface of the machine to welcome a dose of particles equivalent to ten days of natural background radiation.

Next was the blood test. I grimaced while a male nurse nonchalantly waved a nasty-looking needle in the air, and gazed in morbid fascination as he finally sank the steel
shaft into my arm.

Then came the questions.

The doctor, a straight-faced army major, asked if I was married.

"Yes," I replied, truthfully.

"Does your wife know what you are going to do?" he ventured.

"Sure, she does," I said, beginning to see where this was going.

"And what does she have to say?" he pressed on.

"She wants to come along," I deadpanned.

Tandem skydiving is a sport made popular by first-timers wanting to experience the instant thrill of freefall without the intensive training needed to go solo.

At most commercial centres around the world, half-an-hour is all it takes for a beginner to watch the liability waiver video, learn the correct body positions, and pay the fee.

The armed forces, too, has perfected its own tandem techniques.

Military Freefall parachutists are trained to carry strategically important but untrained personnel into otherwise inaccessible areas of operation, and canisters of supplies can be
ferried in the same way.

The combined weight of these loads can exceed 200 kilogrammes - equivalent to parachuting an upright piano into the jungle - and requires a huge canopy, twice the size
of those used for solo skydiving.

So when The Red Lions, the military freefallers who gamely glide into the National Day Parade showground every year, offered me the opportunity to bail out of a perfectly good
aircraft with them, I jumped at the chance.

Five days after the medical, I was warmly zipped up in a past-season Red Lions jump suit, snug in a tandem harness, and clad in my decade-old army boots (in my limited wardrobe, the alternative was a pair of dress leather shoes, which I rejected as being quite unsuitable for the occasion).

Strapped into the vibrating cabin of an Air Force Super Puma helicopter with me were two other nervously excited journalists also jumping for the first time.

As the thudding rotors bit the air and lifted us to height, I had time to study the seemingly supine poses of our tandem masters sprawled on the cabin floor.

Their unflappable constitutions and laconic wit belied impressive jump credentials.

First Warrant Officer (1WO) Tan Lee Khoon, the team leader of the Red Lions for this season, had logged over 1,400 jumps.

1WO Oh Beng Lee had logged 2,000.

Second Warrant Officer (2WO) Krishnan, with more than 2,800 jumps, had stepped out of a moving plane more times in his life than I had taken the train in mine.

All were military freefall instructors - the stocky, chiselled-jaw sort who teach soldiers to jump out of planes from a height of seven kilometres while carrying their body weight in
combat gear and oxygen supplies, at sub-zero temperatures and in complete darkness, to land at the right place and in one piece so they can go to war.

Our jump, in comparison, would be from a balmy three kilometres up, in broad daylight and with no kit to carry.

Our only objective was to look more nonchalant than we felt.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed to make himself heard over the clatter of the blades churning the thin air outside.

We had reached altitude.

The supine bodies began to stir, for it was time to hook the jumpers up to the tandem
masters.

Movements were precise and purposeful. Conversations were matter-of-fact statements.

On a signal, the Aircrew Specialist pulled open the doors. Sunlight flooded into the cabin and the screaming of the engine increased several-fold.

To the left, I could see the smokestack of the Senoko Power Station on the banks of the East Johor Strait, and beyond that, Malaysia; to the right, Marina Bay and the entire East coast of Singapore. From our height, the country seemed tiny.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed again. It was time to go.

Not giving the first-time jumpers any opportunity to balk, the tandem masters did not linger at the door.

As my camera chattered, the two journalists were hurled into space, willingly or otherwise.

Then the doors were slid shut while I was hooked up to 1WO Tan.

I made doubly sure that the straps were tight, for the thought of coming apart in mid-air did not appeal to me very much (the tandem master, not the passenger, wears the parachute).

As a parting gesture, the jumpmaster, 1WO Chan Teck Seng, looked at me, pointed to his head, and circled his index finger.

The doors were opened for a second time, and we shuffled to the yawning gap.

As I contemplated the Woodlands estate sprawled beneath us, it dawned on me that this jump was, for the moment, the epitome of my airborne dream.

After spending seventeen years amassing a collection of military parachute badges from nearly every country in the world, there was nothing more I wanted than to try leaping
out of a plane.

Ironically, I am the sort who would go queasy merely driving over a dip in the road. The slightest turbulence in mid-air would cause me to grasp, with unreasonable force, the
armrests of my economy class seat.

Roller coasters were off-limits lest I frightened my fellow passengers with my unearthly howls.

As we counted off the final seconds, I tried to calm myself.

"This is perfectly normal", said my brain to my body, knowing fully well that there was nothing normal about jumping out of a moving helicopter.

"I have imagined myself doing this hundreds of times," I tried again. "I am perfectly clear about what happens after I step out of this plane."

In fact, I had no idea what would happen once I stepped out.

Then, I felt my tandem master giving the signal by swinging our bodies.

One.

Two.

We leapt out the door.

I kept my eyes open, forcing my brain to make sense of its body plunging through empty space.

Then, tunnel vision kicked in, and as we hurtled earthward, the tremendous acceleration that brought my stomach into my mouth was the only feeling I could recall with horrifying clarity.

Moments later, a freefall cameraman floated into my field of view, so with my arms outstretched, I gave him a thumbs-up and the biggest grin I could muster, although I will never know what I looked like, because we later found out that his camera had not been turned on.

Still, I imagine that my cheeks must have been contortedly flapping about in the 200 kilometre-per-hour rush of cold air.

Breathing felt like I was drinking from a fire hydrant.

While I was busy drowning in these interesting sensations, there came two taps on my shoulder.

"Position one," said my brain to its body.

I crossed my arms over my chest, brought my knees together, and braced for the shock of the parachute opening.

There was a loud rustling as it shot out above us, followed by a twanging heave as the red-and-white canopy blossomed.

A giant hand had plucked us out of our headlong rush through the sky.

In the sudden stillness, I almost expected to hear birds singing. Instead, a voice spoke to me from above.

"Our lines are twisted", 1WO Tan casually remarked, as if commenting on the price of oranges at the supermarket.

I had a vision of spinning madly into the ground under tangled lines.

1WO Tan gave a sideways kick to untwist the lines, and we began to spin.

Yishun and Sembawang went by slowly at first, then as we picked up speed, Admiralty, Woodlands and Marsiling dissolved into a madly whirling kaleidoscope of blue, green and brown.

It felt like I was riding on an out-of-control carousel. I waited for the blood to start pooling in my fingers and toes, and wondered how long it would be before I blacked out.

Then the blue, green and brown came back into focus, and I looked up to see my tandem master also looking up.

Relief hung in the air as both of us gazed at the now-fully developed parachute. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.

The next few minutes were sheer delight, as I tried steering the enormous tandem parachute, heaving on the toggles to turn us left and right.

In every direction, the view was spectacular.

Cars were passing silently in the distance. I wondered if the drivers could see us.

From our height, the reservoir glinted a deep, emerald green, with luscious foliage all around it.

Housing estates formed shapes and patterns that the town planners envisioned decades ago. I wondered what the residents were doing.

Surely, nothing as exciting as this, I thought.

All too soon, the airfield loomed up beneath us. I could see the earlier jumpers bundling up their canopies on the grass.

"Legs up!" ordered my tandem master. Years of not doing sit-ups had left me with no abs to speak of, but I made a special effort as the green came skimming under us.

"Flare, now!" he cried, and we hauled on both toggles. Bits of fresh earth peppered my face as I landed on my buttocks and ground to a halt.

1WO Tan was evidently pleased with the landing.

"Good jump!" he said, as we slapped hands.

"Can we do it again?" I asked.

The thrill of the jump stayed with me all afternoon.

When I finally got home and told my mother all about it, she was expectedly disapproving, as any mother would be about her children jumping out of a plane.

I had, however, developed the technique of regaling her with tales of my unorthodox exploits only after surviving them intact.

She, in turn, learned to respond with no more than a raised eyebrow.

Apparently, she had been out walking near the Admiralty Road West when we were jumping.

"You should have waved at me," she said.

Publish date: 1 August 2012

Copyright The Straits Times

Freefall photos and video courtesy of MINDEF

Assisted by his tandem master 2WO Chong Boon Heng, Mr Chow has a final run on the ground on how to keep his legs up when landing. Photo: Alphonsus Chern / The Straits Times

The Straits Times photojournalist Alphonsus Chern recounts the day he and defence correspondent Jermyn Chow went skydiving with The Red Lions and lived to tell his tale. Watch a video of Jermyn doing his tandem jump, and read Alphonsus' story below:

One afternoon, two weeks ago, I took three tests that would decide if I was fit enough to be a passenger on a tandem freefall with the Singapore Armed Forces Parachute Team.

First up, the x-ray. I gasped audibly in the air-conditioned vault as I plastered my bare chest on the cold surface of the machine to welcome a dose of particles equivalent to ten days of natural background radiation.

Next was the blood test. I grimaced while a male nurse nonchalantly waved a nasty-looking needle in the air, and gazed in morbid fascination as he finally sank the steel
shaft into my arm.

Then came the questions.

The doctor, a straight-faced army major, asked if I was married.

"Yes," I replied, truthfully.

"Does your wife know what you are going to do?" he ventured.

"Sure, she does," I said, beginning to see where this was going.

"And what does she have to say?" he pressed on.

"She wants to come along," I deadpanned.

Tandem skydiving is a sport made popular by first-timers wanting to experience the instant thrill of freefall without the intensive training needed to go solo.

At most commercial centres around the world, half-an-hour is all it takes for a beginner to watch the liability waiver video, learn the correct body positions, and pay the fee.

The armed forces, too, has perfected its own tandem techniques.

Military Freefall parachutists are trained to carry strategically important but untrained personnel into otherwise inaccessible areas of operation, and canisters of supplies can be
ferried in the same way.

The combined weight of these loads can exceed 200 kilogrammes - equivalent to parachuting an upright piano into the jungle - and requires a huge canopy, twice the size
of those used for solo skydiving.

So when The Red Lions, the military freefallers who gamely glide into the National Day Parade showground every year, offered me the opportunity to bail out of a perfectly good
aircraft with them, I jumped at the chance.

Five days after the medical, I was warmly zipped up in a past-season Red Lions jump suit, snug in a tandem harness, and clad in my decade-old army boots (in my limited wardrobe, the alternative was a pair of dress leather shoes, which I rejected as being quite unsuitable for the occasion).

Strapped into the vibrating cabin of an Air Force Super Puma helicopter with me were two other nervously excited journalists also jumping for the first time.

As the thudding rotors bit the air and lifted us to height, I had time to study the seemingly supine poses of our tandem masters sprawled on the cabin floor.

Their unflappable constitutions and laconic wit belied impressive jump credentials.

First Warrant Officer (1WO) Tan Lee Khoon, the team leader of the Red Lions for this season, had logged over 1,400 jumps.

1WO Oh Beng Lee had logged 2,000.

Second Warrant Officer (2WO) Krishnan, with more than 2,800 jumps, had stepped out of a moving plane more times in his life than I had taken the train in mine.

All were military freefall instructors - the stocky, chiselled-jaw sort who teach soldiers to jump out of planes from a height of seven kilometres while carrying their body weight in
combat gear and oxygen supplies, at sub-zero temperatures and in complete darkness, to land at the right place and in one piece so they can go to war.

Our jump, in comparison, would be from a balmy three kilometres up, in broad daylight and with no kit to carry.

Our only objective was to look more nonchalant than we felt.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed to make himself heard over the clatter of the blades churning the thin air outside.

We had reached altitude.

The supine bodies began to stir, for it was time to hook the jumpers up to the tandem
masters.

Movements were precise and purposeful. Conversations were matter-of-fact statements.

On a signal, the Aircrew Specialist pulled open the doors. Sunlight flooded into the cabin and the screaming of the engine increased several-fold.

To the left, I could see the smokestack of the Senoko Power Station on the banks of the East Johor Strait, and beyond that, Malaysia; to the right, Marina Bay and the entire East coast of Singapore. From our height, the country seemed tiny.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed again. It was time to go.

Not giving the first-time jumpers any opportunity to balk, the tandem masters did not linger at the door.

As my camera chattered, the two journalists were hurled into space, willingly or otherwise.

Then the doors were slid shut while I was hooked up to 1WO Tan.

I made doubly sure that the straps were tight, for the thought of coming apart in mid-air did not appeal to me very much (the tandem master, not the passenger, wears the parachute).

As a parting gesture, the jumpmaster, 1WO Chan Teck Seng, looked at me, pointed to his head, and circled his index finger.

The doors were opened for a second time, and we shuffled to the yawning gap.

As I contemplated the Woodlands estate sprawled beneath us, it dawned on me that this jump was, for the moment, the epitome of my airborne dream.

After spending seventeen years amassing a collection of military parachute badges from nearly every country in the world, there was nothing more I wanted than to try leaping
out of a plane.

Ironically, I am the sort who would go queasy merely driving over a dip in the road. The slightest turbulence in mid-air would cause me to grasp, with unreasonable force, the
armrests of my economy class seat.

Roller coasters were off-limits lest I frightened my fellow passengers with my unearthly howls.

As we counted off the final seconds, I tried to calm myself.

"This is perfectly normal", said my brain to my body, knowing fully well that there was nothing normal about jumping out of a moving helicopter.

"I have imagined myself doing this hundreds of times," I tried again. "I am perfectly clear about what happens after I step out of this plane."

In fact, I had no idea what would happen once I stepped out.

Then, I felt my tandem master giving the signal by swinging our bodies.

One.

Two.

We leapt out the door.

I kept my eyes open, forcing my brain to make sense of its body plunging through empty space.

Then, tunnel vision kicked in, and as we hurtled earthward, the tremendous acceleration that brought my stomach into my mouth was the only feeling I could recall with horrifying clarity.

Moments later, a freefall cameraman floated into my field of view, so with my arms outstretched, I gave him a thumbs-up and the biggest grin I could muster, although I will never know what I looked like, because we later found out that his camera had not been turned on.

Still, I imagine that my cheeks must have been contortedly flapping about in the 200 kilometre-per-hour rush of cold air.

Breathing felt like I was drinking from a fire hydrant.

While I was busy drowning in these interesting sensations, there came two taps on my shoulder.

"Position one," said my brain to its body.

I crossed my arms over my chest, brought my knees together, and braced for the shock of the parachute opening.

There was a loud rustling as it shot out above us, followed by a twanging heave as the red-and-white canopy blossomed.

A giant hand had plucked us out of our headlong rush through the sky.

In the sudden stillness, I almost expected to hear birds singing. Instead, a voice spoke to me from above.

"Our lines are twisted", 1WO Tan casually remarked, as if commenting on the price of oranges at the supermarket.

I had a vision of spinning madly into the ground under tangled lines.

1WO Tan gave a sideways kick to untwist the lines, and we began to spin.

Yishun and Sembawang went by slowly at first, then as we picked up speed, Admiralty, Woodlands and Marsiling dissolved into a madly whirling kaleidoscope of blue, green and brown.

It felt like I was riding on an out-of-control carousel. I waited for the blood to start pooling in my fingers and toes, and wondered how long it would be before I blacked out.

Then the blue, green and brown came back into focus, and I looked up to see my tandem master also looking up.

Relief hung in the air as both of us gazed at the now-fully developed parachute. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.

The next few minutes were sheer delight, as I tried steering the enormous tandem parachute, heaving on the toggles to turn us left and right.

In every direction, the view was spectacular.

Cars were passing silently in the distance. I wondered if the drivers could see us.

From our height, the reservoir glinted a deep, emerald green, with luscious foliage all around it.

Housing estates formed shapes and patterns that the town planners envisioned decades ago. I wondered what the residents were doing.

Surely, nothing as exciting as this, I thought.

All too soon, the airfield loomed up beneath us. I could see the earlier jumpers bundling up their canopies on the grass.

"Legs up!" ordered my tandem master. Years of not doing sit-ups had left me with no abs to speak of, but I made a special effort as the green came skimming under us.

"Flare, now!" he cried, and we hauled on both toggles. Bits of fresh earth peppered my face as I landed on my buttocks and ground to a halt.

1WO Tan was evidently pleased with the landing.

"Good jump!" he said, as we slapped hands.

"Can we do it again?" I asked.

The thrill of the jump stayed with me all afternoon.

When I finally got home and told my mother all about it, she was expectedly disapproving, as any mother would be about her children jumping out of a plane.

I had, however, developed the technique of regaling her with tales of my unorthodox exploits only after surviving them intact.

She, in turn, learned to respond with no more than a raised eyebrow.

Apparently, she had been out walking near the Admiralty Road West when we were jumping.

"You should have waved at me," she said.

Publish date: 1 August 2012

Copyright The Straits Times

Freefall photos and video courtesy of MINDEF

The Straits Times photojournalist Alphonsus Chern recounts the day he and defence correspondent Jermyn Chow went skydiving with The Red Lions and lived to tell his tale. Watch a video of Jermyn doing his tandem jump, and read Alphonsus' story below:

One afternoon, two weeks ago, I took three tests that would decide if I was fit enough to be a passenger on a tandem freefall with the Singapore Armed Forces Parachute Team.

First up, the x-ray. I gasped audibly in the air-conditioned vault as I plastered my bare chest on the cold surface of the machine to welcome a dose of particles equivalent to ten days of natural background radiation.

Next was the blood test. I grimaced while a male nurse nonchalantly waved a nasty-looking needle in the air, and gazed in morbid fascination as he finally sank the steel
shaft into my arm.

Then came the questions.

The doctor, a straight-faced army major, asked if I was married.

"Yes," I replied, truthfully.

"Does your wife know what you are going to do?" he ventured.

"Sure, she does," I said, beginning to see where this was going.

"And what does she have to say?" he pressed on.

"She wants to come along," I deadpanned.

Tandem skydiving is a sport made popular by first-timers wanting to experience the instant thrill of freefall without the intensive training needed to go solo.

At most commercial centres around the world, half-an-hour is all it takes for a beginner to watch the liability waiver video, learn the correct body positions, and pay the fee.

The armed forces, too, has perfected its own tandem techniques.

Military Freefall parachutists are trained to carry strategically important but untrained personnel into otherwise inaccessible areas of operation, and canisters of supplies can be
ferried in the same way.

The combined weight of these loads can exceed 200 kilogrammes - equivalent to parachuting an upright piano into the jungle - and requires a huge canopy, twice the size
of those used for solo skydiving.

So when The Red Lions, the military freefallers who gamely glide into the National Day Parade showground every year, offered me the opportunity to bail out of a perfectly good
aircraft with them, I jumped at the chance.

Five days after the medical, I was warmly zipped up in a past-season Red Lions jump suit, snug in a tandem harness, and clad in my decade-old army boots (in my limited wardrobe, the alternative was a pair of dress leather shoes, which I rejected as being quite unsuitable for the occasion).

Strapped into the vibrating cabin of an Air Force Super Puma helicopter with me were two other nervously excited journalists also jumping for the first time.

As the thudding rotors bit the air and lifted us to height, I had time to study the seemingly supine poses of our tandem masters sprawled on the cabin floor.

Their unflappable constitutions and laconic wit belied impressive jump credentials.

First Warrant Officer (1WO) Tan Lee Khoon, the team leader of the Red Lions for this season, had logged over 1,400 jumps.

1WO Oh Beng Lee had logged 2,000.

Second Warrant Officer (2WO) Krishnan, with more than 2,800 jumps, had stepped out of a moving plane more times in his life than I had taken the train in mine.

All were military freefall instructors - the stocky, chiselled-jaw sort who teach soldiers to jump out of planes from a height of seven kilometres while carrying their body weight in
combat gear and oxygen supplies, at sub-zero temperatures and in complete darkness, to land at the right place and in one piece so they can go to war.

Our jump, in comparison, would be from a balmy three kilometres up, in broad daylight and with no kit to carry.

Our only objective was to look more nonchalant than we felt.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed to make himself heard over the clatter of the blades churning the thin air outside.

We had reached altitude.

The supine bodies began to stir, for it was time to hook the jumpers up to the tandem
masters.

Movements were precise and purposeful. Conversations were matter-of-fact statements.

On a signal, the Aircrew Specialist pulled open the doors. Sunlight flooded into the cabin and the screaming of the engine increased several-fold.

To the left, I could see the smokestack of the Senoko Power Station on the banks of the East Johor Strait, and beyond that, Malaysia; to the right, Marina Bay and the entire East coast of Singapore. From our height, the country seemed tiny.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed again. It was time to go.

Not giving the first-time jumpers any opportunity to balk, the tandem masters did not linger at the door.

As my camera chattered, the two journalists were hurled into space, willingly or otherwise.

Then the doors were slid shut while I was hooked up to 1WO Tan.

I made doubly sure that the straps were tight, for the thought of coming apart in mid-air did not appeal to me very much (the tandem master, not the passenger, wears the parachute).

As a parting gesture, the jumpmaster, 1WO Chan Teck Seng, looked at me, pointed to his head, and circled his index finger.

The doors were opened for a second time, and we shuffled to the yawning gap.

As I contemplated the Woodlands estate sprawled beneath us, it dawned on me that this jump was, for the moment, the epitome of my airborne dream.

After spending seventeen years amassing a collection of military parachute badges from nearly every country in the world, there was nothing more I wanted than to try leaping
out of a plane.

Ironically, I am the sort who would go queasy merely driving over a dip in the road. The slightest turbulence in mid-air would cause me to grasp, with unreasonable force, the
armrests of my economy class seat.

Roller coasters were off-limits lest I frightened my fellow passengers with my unearthly howls.

As we counted off the final seconds, I tried to calm myself.

"This is perfectly normal", said my brain to my body, knowing fully well that there was nothing normal about jumping out of a moving helicopter.

"I have imagined myself doing this hundreds of times," I tried again. "I am perfectly clear about what happens after I step out of this plane."

In fact, I had no idea what would happen once I stepped out.

Then, I felt my tandem master giving the signal by swinging our bodies.

One.

Two.

We leapt out the door.

I kept my eyes open, forcing my brain to make sense of its body plunging through empty space.

Then, tunnel vision kicked in, and as we hurtled earthward, the tremendous acceleration that brought my stomach into my mouth was the only feeling I could recall with horrifying clarity.

Moments later, a freefall cameraman floated into my field of view, so with my arms outstretched, I gave him a thumbs-up and the biggest grin I could muster, although I will never know what I looked like, because we later found out that his camera had not been turned on.

Still, I imagine that my cheeks must have been contortedly flapping about in the 200 kilometre-per-hour rush of cold air.

Breathing felt like I was drinking from a fire hydrant.

While I was busy drowning in these interesting sensations, there came two taps on my shoulder.

"Position one," said my brain to its body.

I crossed my arms over my chest, brought my knees together, and braced for the shock of the parachute opening.

There was a loud rustling as it shot out above us, followed by a twanging heave as the red-and-white canopy blossomed.

A giant hand had plucked us out of our headlong rush through the sky.

In the sudden stillness, I almost expected to hear birds singing. Instead, a voice spoke to me from above.

"Our lines are twisted", 1WO Tan casually remarked, as if commenting on the price of oranges at the supermarket.

I had a vision of spinning madly into the ground under tangled lines.

1WO Tan gave a sideways kick to untwist the lines, and we began to spin.

Yishun and Sembawang went by slowly at first, then as we picked up speed, Admiralty, Woodlands and Marsiling dissolved into a madly whirling kaleidoscope of blue, green and brown.

It felt like I was riding on an out-of-control carousel. I waited for the blood to start pooling in my fingers and toes, and wondered how long it would be before I blacked out.

Then the blue, green and brown came back into focus, and I looked up to see my tandem master also looking up.

Relief hung in the air as both of us gazed at the now-fully developed parachute. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.

The next few minutes were sheer delight, as I tried steering the enormous tandem parachute, heaving on the toggles to turn us left and right.

In every direction, the view was spectacular.

Cars were passing silently in the distance. I wondered if the drivers could see us.

From our height, the reservoir glinted a deep, emerald green, with luscious foliage all around it.

Housing estates formed shapes and patterns that the town planners envisioned decades ago. I wondered what the residents were doing.

Surely, nothing as exciting as this, I thought.

All too soon, the airfield loomed up beneath us. I could see the earlier jumpers bundling up their canopies on the grass.

"Legs up!" ordered my tandem master. Years of not doing sit-ups had left me with no abs to speak of, but I made a special effort as the green came skimming under us.

"Flare, now!" he cried, and we hauled on both toggles. Bits of fresh earth peppered my face as I landed on my buttocks and ground to a halt.

1WO Tan was evidently pleased with the landing.

"Good jump!" he said, as we slapped hands.

"Can we do it again?" I asked.

The thrill of the jump stayed with me all afternoon.

When I finally got home and told my mother all about it, she was expectedly disapproving, as any mother would be about her children jumping out of a plane.

I had, however, developed the technique of regaling her with tales of my unorthodox exploits only after surviving them intact.

She, in turn, learned to respond with no more than a raised eyebrow.

Apparently, she had been out walking near the Admiralty Road West when we were jumping.

"You should have waved at me," she said.

Publish date: 1 August 2012

Copyright The Straits Times

Freefall photos and video courtesy of MINDEF

The Straits Times photojournalist Alphonsus Chern recounts the day he and defence correspondent Jermyn Chow went skydiving with The Red Lions and lived to tell his tale. Watch a video of Jermyn doing his tandem jump, and read Alphonsus' story below:

One afternoon, two weeks ago, I took three tests that would decide if I was fit enough to be a passenger on a tandem freefall with the Singapore Armed Forces Parachute Team.

First up, the x-ray. I gasped audibly in the air-conditioned vault as I plastered my bare chest on the cold surface of the machine to welcome a dose of particles equivalent to ten days of natural background radiation.

Next was the blood test. I grimaced while a male nurse nonchalantly waved a nasty-looking needle in the air, and gazed in morbid fascination as he finally sank the steel
shaft into my arm.

Then came the questions.

The doctor, a straight-faced army major, asked if I was married.

"Yes," I replied, truthfully.

"Does your wife know what you are going to do?" he ventured.

"Sure, she does," I said, beginning to see where this was going.

"And what does she have to say?" he pressed on.

"She wants to come along," I deadpanned.

Tandem skydiving is a sport made popular by first-timers wanting to experience the instant thrill of freefall without the intensive training needed to go solo.

At most commercial centres around the world, half-an-hour is all it takes for a beginner to watch the liability waiver video, learn the correct body positions, and pay the fee.

The armed forces, too, has perfected its own tandem techniques.

Military Freefall parachutists are trained to carry strategically important but untrained personnel into otherwise inaccessible areas of operation, and canisters of supplies can be
ferried in the same way.

The combined weight of these loads can exceed 200 kilogrammes - equivalent to parachuting an upright piano into the jungle - and requires a huge canopy, twice the size
of those used for solo skydiving.

So when The Red Lions, the military freefallers who gamely glide into the National Day Parade showground every year, offered me the opportunity to bail out of a perfectly good
aircraft with them, I jumped at the chance.

Five days after the medical, I was warmly zipped up in a past-season Red Lions jump suit, snug in a tandem harness, and clad in my decade-old army boots (in my limited wardrobe, the alternative was a pair of dress leather shoes, which I rejected as being quite unsuitable for the occasion).

Strapped into the vibrating cabin of an Air Force Super Puma helicopter with me were two other nervously excited journalists also jumping for the first time.

As the thudding rotors bit the air and lifted us to height, I had time to study the seemingly supine poses of our tandem masters sprawled on the cabin floor.

Their unflappable constitutions and laconic wit belied impressive jump credentials.

First Warrant Officer (1WO) Tan Lee Khoon, the team leader of the Red Lions for this season, had logged over 1,400 jumps.

1WO Oh Beng Lee had logged 2,000.

Second Warrant Officer (2WO) Krishnan, with more than 2,800 jumps, had stepped out of a moving plane more times in his life than I had taken the train in mine.

All were military freefall instructors - the stocky, chiselled-jaw sort who teach soldiers to jump out of planes from a height of seven kilometres while carrying their body weight in
combat gear and oxygen supplies, at sub-zero temperatures and in complete darkness, to land at the right place and in one piece so they can go to war.

Our jump, in comparison, would be from a balmy three kilometres up, in broad daylight and with no kit to carry.

Our only objective was to look more nonchalant than we felt.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed to make himself heard over the clatter of the blades churning the thin air outside.

We had reached altitude.

The supine bodies began to stir, for it was time to hook the jumpers up to the tandem
masters.

Movements were precise and purposeful. Conversations were matter-of-fact statements.

On a signal, the Aircrew Specialist pulled open the doors. Sunlight flooded into the cabin and the screaming of the engine increased several-fold.

To the left, I could see the smokestack of the Senoko Power Station on the banks of the East Johor Strait, and beyond that, Malaysia; to the right, Marina Bay and the entire East coast of Singapore. From our height, the country seemed tiny.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed again. It was time to go.

Not giving the first-time jumpers any opportunity to balk, the tandem masters did not linger at the door.

As my camera chattered, the two journalists were hurled into space, willingly or otherwise.

Then the doors were slid shut while I was hooked up to 1WO Tan.

I made doubly sure that the straps were tight, for the thought of coming apart in mid-air did not appeal to me very much (the tandem master, not the passenger, wears the parachute).

As a parting gesture, the jumpmaster, 1WO Chan Teck Seng, looked at me, pointed to his head, and circled his index finger.

The doors were opened for a second time, and we shuffled to the yawning gap.

As I contemplated the Woodlands estate sprawled beneath us, it dawned on me that this jump was, for the moment, the epitome of my airborne dream.

After spending seventeen years amassing a collection of military parachute badges from nearly every country in the world, there was nothing more I wanted than to try leaping
out of a plane.

Ironically, I am the sort who would go queasy merely driving over a dip in the road. The slightest turbulence in mid-air would cause me to grasp, with unreasonable force, the
armrests of my economy class seat.

Roller coasters were off-limits lest I frightened my fellow passengers with my unearthly howls.

As we counted off the final seconds, I tried to calm myself.

"This is perfectly normal", said my brain to my body, knowing fully well that there was nothing normal about jumping out of a moving helicopter.

"I have imagined myself doing this hundreds of times," I tried again. "I am perfectly clear about what happens after I step out of this plane."

In fact, I had no idea what would happen once I stepped out.

Then, I felt my tandem master giving the signal by swinging our bodies.

One.

Two.

We leapt out the door.

I kept my eyes open, forcing my brain to make sense of its body plunging through empty space.

Then, tunnel vision kicked in, and as we hurtled earthward, the tremendous acceleration that brought my stomach into my mouth was the only feeling I could recall with horrifying clarity.

Moments later, a freefall cameraman floated into my field of view, so with my arms outstretched, I gave him a thumbs-up and the biggest grin I could muster, although I will never know what I looked like, because we later found out that his camera had not been turned on.

Still, I imagine that my cheeks must have been contortedly flapping about in the 200 kilometre-per-hour rush of cold air.

Breathing felt like I was drinking from a fire hydrant.

While I was busy drowning in these interesting sensations, there came two taps on my shoulder.

"Position one," said my brain to its body.

I crossed my arms over my chest, brought my knees together, and braced for the shock of the parachute opening.

There was a loud rustling as it shot out above us, followed by a twanging heave as the red-and-white canopy blossomed.

A giant hand had plucked us out of our headlong rush through the sky.

In the sudden stillness, I almost expected to hear birds singing. Instead, a voice spoke to me from above.

"Our lines are twisted", 1WO Tan casually remarked, as if commenting on the price of oranges at the supermarket.

I had a vision of spinning madly into the ground under tangled lines.

1WO Tan gave a sideways kick to untwist the lines, and we began to spin.

Yishun and Sembawang went by slowly at first, then as we picked up speed, Admiralty, Woodlands and Marsiling dissolved into a madly whirling kaleidoscope of blue, green and brown.

It felt like I was riding on an out-of-control carousel. I waited for the blood to start pooling in my fingers and toes, and wondered how long it would be before I blacked out.

Then the blue, green and brown came back into focus, and I looked up to see my tandem master also looking up.

Relief hung in the air as both of us gazed at the now-fully developed parachute. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.

The next few minutes were sheer delight, as I tried steering the enormous tandem parachute, heaving on the toggles to turn us left and right.

In every direction, the view was spectacular.

Cars were passing silently in the distance. I wondered if the drivers could see us.

From our height, the reservoir glinted a deep, emerald green, with luscious foliage all around it.

Housing estates formed shapes and patterns that the town planners envisioned decades ago. I wondered what the residents were doing.

Surely, nothing as exciting as this, I thought.

All too soon, the airfield loomed up beneath us. I could see the earlier jumpers bundling up their canopies on the grass.

"Legs up!" ordered my tandem master. Years of not doing sit-ups had left me with no abs to speak of, but I made a special effort as the green came skimming under us.

"Flare, now!" he cried, and we hauled on both toggles. Bits of fresh earth peppered my face as I landed on my buttocks and ground to a halt.

1WO Tan was evidently pleased with the landing.

"Good jump!" he said, as we slapped hands.

"Can we do it again?" I asked.

The thrill of the jump stayed with me all afternoon.

When I finally got home and told my mother all about it, she was expectedly disapproving, as any mother would be about her children jumping out of a plane.

I had, however, developed the technique of regaling her with tales of my unorthodox exploits only after surviving them intact.

She, in turn, learned to respond with no more than a raised eyebrow.

Apparently, she had been out walking near the Admiralty Road West when we were jumping.

"You should have waved at me," she said.

Publish date: 1 August 2012

Copyright The Straits Times

Freefall photos and video courtesy of MINDEF

The Straits Times photojournalist Alphonsus Chern recounts the day he and defence correspondent Jermyn Chow went skydiving with The Red Lions and lived to tell his tale. Watch a video of Jermyn doing his tandem jump, and read Alphonsus' story below:

One afternoon, two weeks ago, I took three tests that would decide if I was fit enough to be a passenger on a tandem freefall with the Singapore Armed Forces Parachute Team.

First up, the x-ray. I gasped audibly in the air-conditioned vault as I plastered my bare chest on the cold surface of the machine to welcome a dose of particles equivalent to ten days of natural background radiation.

Next was the blood test. I grimaced while a male nurse nonchalantly waved a nasty-looking needle in the air, and gazed in morbid fascination as he finally sank the steel
shaft into my arm.

Then came the questions.

The doctor, a straight-faced army major, asked if I was married.

"Yes," I replied, truthfully.

"Does your wife know what you are going to do?" he ventured.

"Sure, she does," I said, beginning to see where this was going.

"And what does she have to say?" he pressed on.

"She wants to come along," I deadpanned.

Tandem skydiving is a sport made popular by first-timers wanting to experience the instant thrill of freefall without the intensive training needed to go solo.

At most commercial centres around the world, half-an-hour is all it takes for a beginner to watch the liability waiver video, learn the correct body positions, and pay the fee.

The armed forces, too, has perfected its own tandem techniques.

Military Freefall parachutists are trained to carry strategically important but untrained personnel into otherwise inaccessible areas of operation, and canisters of supplies can be
ferried in the same way.

The combined weight of these loads can exceed 200 kilogrammes - equivalent to parachuting an upright piano into the jungle - and requires a huge canopy, twice the size
of those used for solo skydiving.

So when The Red Lions, the military freefallers who gamely glide into the National Day Parade showground every year, offered me the opportunity to bail out of a perfectly good
aircraft with them, I jumped at the chance.

Five days after the medical, I was warmly zipped up in a past-season Red Lions jump suit, snug in a tandem harness, and clad in my decade-old army boots (in my limited wardrobe, the alternative was a pair of dress leather shoes, which I rejected as being quite unsuitable for the occasion).

Strapped into the vibrating cabin of an Air Force Super Puma helicopter with me were two other nervously excited journalists also jumping for the first time.

As the thudding rotors bit the air and lifted us to height, I had time to study the seemingly supine poses of our tandem masters sprawled on the cabin floor.

Their unflappable constitutions and laconic wit belied impressive jump credentials.

First Warrant Officer (1WO) Tan Lee Khoon, the team leader of the Red Lions for this season, had logged over 1,400 jumps.

1WO Oh Beng Lee had logged 2,000.

Second Warrant Officer (2WO) Krishnan, with more than 2,800 jumps, had stepped out of a moving plane more times in his life than I had taken the train in mine.

All were military freefall instructors - the stocky, chiselled-jaw sort who teach soldiers to jump out of planes from a height of seven kilometres while carrying their body weight in
combat gear and oxygen supplies, at sub-zero temperatures and in complete darkness, to land at the right place and in one piece so they can go to war.

Our jump, in comparison, would be from a balmy three kilometres up, in broad daylight and with no kit to carry.

Our only objective was to look more nonchalant than we felt.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed to make himself heard over the clatter of the blades churning the thin air outside.

We had reached altitude.

The supine bodies began to stir, for it was time to hook the jumpers up to the tandem
masters.

Movements were precise and purposeful. Conversations were matter-of-fact statements.

On a signal, the Aircrew Specialist pulled open the doors. Sunlight flooded into the cabin and the screaming of the engine increased several-fold.

To the left, I could see the smokestack of the Senoko Power Station on the banks of the East Johor Strait, and beyond that, Malaysia; to the right, Marina Bay and the entire East coast of Singapore. From our height, the country seemed tiny.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed again. It was time to go.

Not giving the first-time jumpers any opportunity to balk, the tandem masters did not linger at the door.

As my camera chattered, the two journalists were hurled into space, willingly or otherwise.

Then the doors were slid shut while I was hooked up to 1WO Tan.

I made doubly sure that the straps were tight, for the thought of coming apart in mid-air did not appeal to me very much (the tandem master, not the passenger, wears the parachute).

As a parting gesture, the jumpmaster, 1WO Chan Teck Seng, looked at me, pointed to his head, and circled his index finger.

The doors were opened for a second time, and we shuffled to the yawning gap.

As I contemplated the Woodlands estate sprawled beneath us, it dawned on me that this jump was, for the moment, the epitome of my airborne dream.

After spending seventeen years amassing a collection of military parachute badges from nearly every country in the world, there was nothing more I wanted than to try leaping
out of a plane.

Ironically, I am the sort who would go queasy merely driving over a dip in the road. The slightest turbulence in mid-air would cause me to grasp, with unreasonable force, the
armrests of my economy class seat.

Roller coasters were off-limits lest I frightened my fellow passengers with my unearthly howls.

As we counted off the final seconds, I tried to calm myself.

"This is perfectly normal", said my brain to my body, knowing fully well that there was nothing normal about jumping out of a moving helicopter.

"I have imagined myself doing this hundreds of times," I tried again. "I am perfectly clear about what happens after I step out of this plane."

In fact, I had no idea what would happen once I stepped out.

Then, I felt my tandem master giving the signal by swinging our bodies.

One.

Two.

We leapt out the door.

I kept my eyes open, forcing my brain to make sense of its body plunging through empty space.

Then, tunnel vision kicked in, and as we hurtled earthward, the tremendous acceleration that brought my stomach into my mouth was the only feeling I could recall with horrifying clarity.

Moments later, a freefall cameraman floated into my field of view, so with my arms outstretched, I gave him a thumbs-up and the biggest grin I could muster, although I will never know what I looked like, because we later found out that his camera had not been turned on.

Still, I imagine that my cheeks must have been contortedly flapping about in the 200 kilometre-per-hour rush of cold air.

Breathing felt like I was drinking from a fire hydrant.

While I was busy drowning in these interesting sensations, there came two taps on my shoulder.

"Position one," said my brain to its body.

I crossed my arms over my chest, brought my knees together, and braced for the shock of the parachute opening.

There was a loud rustling as it shot out above us, followed by a twanging heave as the red-and-white canopy blossomed.

A giant hand had plucked us out of our headlong rush through the sky.

In the sudden stillness, I almost expected to hear birds singing. Instead, a voice spoke to me from above.

"Our lines are twisted", 1WO Tan casually remarked, as if commenting on the price of oranges at the supermarket.

I had a vision of spinning madly into the ground under tangled lines.

1WO Tan gave a sideways kick to untwist the lines, and we began to spin.

Yishun and Sembawang went by slowly at first, then as we picked up speed, Admiralty, Woodlands and Marsiling dissolved into a madly whirling kaleidoscope of blue, green and brown.

It felt like I was riding on an out-of-control carousel. I waited for the blood to start pooling in my fingers and toes, and wondered how long it would be before I blacked out.

Then the blue, green and brown came back into focus, and I looked up to see my tandem master also looking up.

Relief hung in the air as both of us gazed at the now-fully developed parachute. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.

The next few minutes were sheer delight, as I tried steering the enormous tandem parachute, heaving on the toggles to turn us left and right.

In every direction, the view was spectacular.

Cars were passing silently in the distance. I wondered if the drivers could see us.

From our height, the reservoir glinted a deep, emerald green, with luscious foliage all around it.

Housing estates formed shapes and patterns that the town planners envisioned decades ago. I wondered what the residents were doing.

Surely, nothing as exciting as this, I thought.

All too soon, the airfield loomed up beneath us. I could see the earlier jumpers bundling up their canopies on the grass.

"Legs up!" ordered my tandem master. Years of not doing sit-ups had left me with no abs to speak of, but I made a special effort as the green came skimming under us.

"Flare, now!" he cried, and we hauled on both toggles. Bits of fresh earth peppered my face as I landed on my buttocks and ground to a halt.

1WO Tan was evidently pleased with the landing.

"Good jump!" he said, as we slapped hands.

"Can we do it again?" I asked.

The thrill of the jump stayed with me all afternoon.

When I finally got home and told my mother all about it, she was expectedly disapproving, as any mother would be about her children jumping out of a plane.

I had, however, developed the technique of regaling her with tales of my unorthodox exploits only after surviving them intact.

She, in turn, learned to respond with no more than a raised eyebrow.

Apparently, she had been out walking near the Admiralty Road West when we were jumping.

"You should have waved at me," she said.

Publish date: 1 August 2012

Copyright The Straits Times

Freefall photos and video courtesy of MINDEF

The Straits Times photojournalist Alphonsus Chern recounts the day he and defence correspondent Jermyn Chow went skydiving with The Red Lions and lived to tell his tale. Watch a video of Jermyn doing his tandem jump, and read Alphonsus' story below:

One afternoon, two weeks ago, I took three tests that would decide if I was fit enough to be a passenger on a tandem freefall with the Singapore Armed Forces Parachute Team.

First up, the x-ray. I gasped audibly in the air-conditioned vault as I plastered my bare chest on the cold surface of the machine to welcome a dose of particles equivalent to ten days of natural background radiation.

Next was the blood test. I grimaced while a male nurse nonchalantly waved a nasty-looking needle in the air, and gazed in morbid fascination as he finally sank the steel
shaft into my arm.

Then came the questions.

The doctor, a straight-faced army major, asked if I was married.

"Yes," I replied, truthfully.

"Does your wife know what you are going to do?" he ventured.

"Sure, she does," I said, beginning to see where this was going.

"And what does she have to say?" he pressed on.

"She wants to come along," I deadpanned.

Tandem skydiving is a sport made popular by first-timers wanting to experience the instant thrill of freefall without the intensive training needed to go solo.

At most commercial centres around the world, half-an-hour is all it takes for a beginner to watch the liability waiver video, learn the correct body positions, and pay the fee.

The armed forces, too, has perfected its own tandem techniques.

Military Freefall parachutists are trained to carry strategically important but untrained personnel into otherwise inaccessible areas of operation, and canisters of supplies can be
ferried in the same way.

The combined weight of these loads can exceed 200 kilogrammes - equivalent to parachuting an upright piano into the jungle - and requires a huge canopy, twice the size
of those used for solo skydiving.

So when The Red Lions, the military freefallers who gamely glide into the National Day Parade showground every year, offered me the opportunity to bail out of a perfectly good
aircraft with them, I jumped at the chance.

Five days after the medical, I was warmly zipped up in a past-season Red Lions jump suit, snug in a tandem harness, and clad in my decade-old army boots (in my limited wardrobe, the alternative was a pair of dress leather shoes, which I rejected as being quite unsuitable for the occasion).

Strapped into the vibrating cabin of an Air Force Super Puma helicopter with me were two other nervously excited journalists also jumping for the first time.

As the thudding rotors bit the air and lifted us to height, I had time to study the seemingly supine poses of our tandem masters sprawled on the cabin floor.

Their unflappable constitutions and laconic wit belied impressive jump credentials.

First Warrant Officer (1WO) Tan Lee Khoon, the team leader of the Red Lions for this season, had logged over 1,400 jumps.

1WO Oh Beng Lee had logged 2,000.

Second Warrant Officer (2WO) Krishnan, with more than 2,800 jumps, had stepped out of a moving plane more times in his life than I had taken the train in mine.

All were military freefall instructors - the stocky, chiselled-jaw sort who teach soldiers to jump out of planes from a height of seven kilometres while carrying their body weight in
combat gear and oxygen supplies, at sub-zero temperatures and in complete darkness, to land at the right place and in one piece so they can go to war.

Our jump, in comparison, would be from a balmy three kilometres up, in broad daylight and with no kit to carry.

Our only objective was to look more nonchalant than we felt.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed to make himself heard over the clatter of the blades churning the thin air outside.

We had reached altitude.

The supine bodies began to stir, for it was time to hook the jumpers up to the tandem
masters.

Movements were precise and purposeful. Conversations were matter-of-fact statements.

On a signal, the Aircrew Specialist pulled open the doors. Sunlight flooded into the cabin and the screaming of the engine increased several-fold.

To the left, I could see the smokestack of the Senoko Power Station on the banks of the East Johor Strait, and beyond that, Malaysia; to the right, Marina Bay and the entire East coast of Singapore. From our height, the country seemed tiny.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed again. It was time to go.

Not giving the first-time jumpers any opportunity to balk, the tandem masters did not linger at the door.

As my camera chattered, the two journalists were hurled into space, willingly or otherwise.

Then the doors were slid shut while I was hooked up to 1WO Tan.

I made doubly sure that the straps were tight, for the thought of coming apart in mid-air did not appeal to me very much (the tandem master, not the passenger, wears the parachute).

As a parting gesture, the jumpmaster, 1WO Chan Teck Seng, looked at me, pointed to his head, and circled his index finger.

The doors were opened for a second time, and we shuffled to the yawning gap.

As I contemplated the Woodlands estate sprawled beneath us, it dawned on me that this jump was, for the moment, the epitome of my airborne dream.

After spending seventeen years amassing a collection of military parachute badges from nearly every country in the world, there was nothing more I wanted than to try leaping
out of a plane.

Ironically, I am the sort who would go queasy merely driving over a dip in the road. The slightest turbulence in mid-air would cause me to grasp, with unreasonable force, the
armrests of my economy class seat.

Roller coasters were off-limits lest I frightened my fellow passengers with my unearthly howls.

As we counted off the final seconds, I tried to calm myself.

"This is perfectly normal", said my brain to my body, knowing fully well that there was nothing normal about jumping out of a moving helicopter.

"I have imagined myself doing this hundreds of times," I tried again. "I am perfectly clear about what happens after I step out of this plane."

In fact, I had no idea what would happen once I stepped out.

Then, I felt my tandem master giving the signal by swinging our bodies.

One.

Two.

We leapt out the door.

I kept my eyes open, forcing my brain to make sense of its body plunging through empty space.

Then, tunnel vision kicked in, and as we hurtled earthward, the tremendous acceleration that brought my stomach into my mouth was the only feeling I could recall with horrifying clarity.

Moments later, a freefall cameraman floated into my field of view, so with my arms outstretched, I gave him a thumbs-up and the biggest grin I could muster, although I will never know what I looked like, because we later found out that his camera had not been turned on.

Still, I imagine that my cheeks must have been contortedly flapping about in the 200 kilometre-per-hour rush of cold air.

Breathing felt like I was drinking from a fire hydrant.

While I was busy drowning in these interesting sensations, there came two taps on my shoulder.

"Position one," said my brain to its body.

I crossed my arms over my chest, brought my knees together, and braced for the shock of the parachute opening.

There was a loud rustling as it shot out above us, followed by a twanging heave as the red-and-white canopy blossomed.

A giant hand had plucked us out of our headlong rush through the sky.

In the sudden stillness, I almost expected to hear birds singing. Instead, a voice spoke to me from above.

"Our lines are twisted", 1WO Tan casually remarked, as if commenting on the price of oranges at the supermarket.

I had a vision of spinning madly into the ground under tangled lines.

1WO Tan gave a sideways kick to untwist the lines, and we began to spin.

Yishun and Sembawang went by slowly at first, then as we picked up speed, Admiralty, Woodlands and Marsiling dissolved into a madly whirling kaleidoscope of blue, green and brown.

It felt like I was riding on an out-of-control carousel. I waited for the blood to start pooling in my fingers and toes, and wondered how long it would be before I blacked out.

Then the blue, green and brown came back into focus, and I looked up to see my tandem master also looking up.

Relief hung in the air as both of us gazed at the now-fully developed parachute. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.

The next few minutes were sheer delight, as I tried steering the enormous tandem parachute, heaving on the toggles to turn us left and right.

In every direction, the view was spectacular.

Cars were passing silently in the distance. I wondered if the drivers could see us.

From our height, the reservoir glinted a deep, emerald green, with luscious foliage all around it.

Housing estates formed shapes and patterns that the town planners envisioned decades ago. I wondered what the residents were doing.

Surely, nothing as exciting as this, I thought.

All too soon, the airfield loomed up beneath us. I could see the earlier jumpers bundling up their canopies on the grass.

"Legs up!" ordered my tandem master. Years of not doing sit-ups had left me with no abs to speak of, but I made a special effort as the green came skimming under us.

"Flare, now!" he cried, and we hauled on both toggles. Bits of fresh earth peppered my face as I landed on my buttocks and ground to a halt.

1WO Tan was evidently pleased with the landing.

"Good jump!" he said, as we slapped hands.

"Can we do it again?" I asked.

The thrill of the jump stayed with me all afternoon.

When I finally got home and told my mother all about it, she was expectedly disapproving, as any mother would be about her children jumping out of a plane.

I had, however, developed the technique of regaling her with tales of my unorthodox exploits only after surviving them intact.

She, in turn, learned to respond with no more than a raised eyebrow.

Apparently, she had been out walking near the Admiralty Road West when we were jumping.

"You should have waved at me," she said.

Publish date: 1 August 2012

Copyright The Straits Times

Freefall photos and video courtesy of MINDEF

The Straits Times photojournalist Alphonsus Chern recounts the day he and defence correspondent Jermyn Chow went skydiving with The Red Lions and lived to tell his tale. Watch a video of Jermyn doing his tandem jump, and read Alphonsus' story below:

One afternoon, two weeks ago, I took three tests that would decide if I was fit enough to be a passenger on a tandem freefall with the Singapore Armed Forces Parachute Team.

First up, the x-ray. I gasped audibly in the air-conditioned vault as I plastered my bare chest on the cold surface of the machine to welcome a dose of particles equivalent to ten days of natural background radiation.

Next was the blood test. I grimaced while a male nurse nonchalantly waved a nasty-looking needle in the air, and gazed in morbid fascination as he finally sank the steel
shaft into my arm.

Then came the questions.

The doctor, a straight-faced army major, asked if I was married.

"Yes," I replied, truthfully.

"Does your wife know what you are going to do?" he ventured.

"Sure, she does," I said, beginning to see where this was going.

"And what does she have to say?" he pressed on.

"She wants to come along," I deadpanned.

Tandem skydiving is a sport made popular by first-timers wanting to experience the instant thrill of freefall without the intensive training needed to go solo.

At most commercial centres around the world, half-an-hour is all it takes for a beginner to watch the liability waiver video, learn the correct body positions, and pay the fee.

The armed forces, too, has perfected its own tandem techniques.

Military Freefall parachutists are trained to carry strategically important but untrained personnel into otherwise inaccessible areas of operation, and canisters of supplies can be
ferried in the same way.

The combined weight of these loads can exceed 200 kilogrammes - equivalent to parachuting an upright piano into the jungle - and requires a huge canopy, twice the size
of those used for solo skydiving.

So when The Red Lions, the military freefallers who gamely glide into the National Day Parade showground every year, offered me the opportunity to bail out of a perfectly good
aircraft with them, I jumped at the chance.

Five days after the medical, I was warmly zipped up in a past-season Red Lions jump suit, snug in a tandem harness, and clad in my decade-old army boots (in my limited wardrobe, the alternative was a pair of dress leather shoes, which I rejected as being quite unsuitable for the occasion).

Strapped into the vibrating cabin of an Air Force Super Puma helicopter with me were two other nervously excited journalists also jumping for the first time.

As the thudding rotors bit the air and lifted us to height, I had time to study the seemingly supine poses of our tandem masters sprawled on the cabin floor.

Their unflappable constitutions and laconic wit belied impressive jump credentials.

First Warrant Officer (1WO) Tan Lee Khoon, the team leader of the Red Lions for this season, had logged over 1,400 jumps.

1WO Oh Beng Lee had logged 2,000.

Second Warrant Officer (2WO) Krishnan, with more than 2,800 jumps, had stepped out of a moving plane more times in his life than I had taken the train in mine.

All were military freefall instructors - the stocky, chiselled-jaw sort who teach soldiers to jump out of planes from a height of seven kilometres while carrying their body weight in
combat gear and oxygen supplies, at sub-zero temperatures and in complete darkness, to land at the right place and in one piece so they can go to war.

Our jump, in comparison, would be from a balmy three kilometres up, in broad daylight and with no kit to carry.

Our only objective was to look more nonchalant than we felt.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed to make himself heard over the clatter of the blades churning the thin air outside.

We had reached altitude.

The supine bodies began to stir, for it was time to hook the jumpers up to the tandem
masters.

Movements were precise and purposeful. Conversations were matter-of-fact statements.

On a signal, the Aircrew Specialist pulled open the doors. Sunlight flooded into the cabin and the screaming of the engine increased several-fold.

To the left, I could see the smokestack of the Senoko Power Station on the banks of the East Johor Strait, and beyond that, Malaysia; to the right, Marina Bay and the entire East coast of Singapore. From our height, the country seemed tiny.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed again. It was time to go.

Not giving the first-time jumpers any opportunity to balk, the tandem masters did not linger at the door.

As my camera chattered, the two journalists were hurled into space, willingly or otherwise.

Then the doors were slid shut while I was hooked up to 1WO Tan.

I made doubly sure that the straps were tight, for the thought of coming apart in mid-air did not appeal to me very much (the tandem master, not the passenger, wears the parachute).

As a parting gesture, the jumpmaster, 1WO Chan Teck Seng, looked at me, pointed to his head, and circled his index finger.

The doors were opened for a second time, and we shuffled to the yawning gap.

As I contemplated the Woodlands estate sprawled beneath us, it dawned on me that this jump was, for the moment, the epitome of my airborne dream.

After spending seventeen years amassing a collection of military parachute badges from nearly every country in the world, there was nothing more I wanted than to try leaping
out of a plane.

Ironically, I am the sort who would go queasy merely driving over a dip in the road. The slightest turbulence in mid-air would cause me to grasp, with unreasonable force, the
armrests of my economy class seat.

Roller coasters were off-limits lest I frightened my fellow passengers with my unearthly howls.

As we counted off the final seconds, I tried to calm myself.

"This is perfectly normal", said my brain to my body, knowing fully well that there was nothing normal about jumping out of a moving helicopter.

"I have imagined myself doing this hundreds of times," I tried again. "I am perfectly clear about what happens after I step out of this plane."

In fact, I had no idea what would happen once I stepped out.

Then, I felt my tandem master giving the signal by swinging our bodies.

One.

Two.

We leapt out the door.

I kept my eyes open, forcing my brain to make sense of its body plunging through empty space.

Then, tunnel vision kicked in, and as we hurtled earthward, the tremendous acceleration that brought my stomach into my mouth was the only feeling I could recall with horrifying clarity.

Moments later, a freefall cameraman floated into my field of view, so with my arms outstretched, I gave him a thumbs-up and the biggest grin I could muster, although I will never know what I looked like, because we later found out that his camera had not been turned on.

Still, I imagine that my cheeks must have been contortedly flapping about in the 200 kilometre-per-hour rush of cold air.

Breathing felt like I was drinking from a fire hydrant.

While I was busy drowning in these interesting sensations, there came two taps on my shoulder.

"Position one," said my brain to its body.

I crossed my arms over my chest, brought my knees together, and braced for the shock of the parachute opening.

There was a loud rustling as it shot out above us, followed by a twanging heave as the red-and-white canopy blossomed.

A giant hand had plucked us out of our headlong rush through the sky.

In the sudden stillness, I almost expected to hear birds singing. Instead, a voice spoke to me from above.

"Our lines are twisted", 1WO Tan casually remarked, as if commenting on the price of oranges at the supermarket.

I had a vision of spinning madly into the ground under tangled lines.

1WO Tan gave a sideways kick to untwist the lines, and we began to spin.

Yishun and Sembawang went by slowly at first, then as we picked up speed, Admiralty, Woodlands and Marsiling dissolved into a madly whirling kaleidoscope of blue, green and brown.

It felt like I was riding on an out-of-control carousel. I waited for the blood to start pooling in my fingers and toes, and wondered how long it would be before I blacked out.

Then the blue, green and brown came back into focus, and I looked up to see my tandem master also looking up.

Relief hung in the air as both of us gazed at the now-fully developed parachute. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.

The next few minutes were sheer delight, as I tried steering the enormous tandem parachute, heaving on the toggles to turn us left and right.

In every direction, the view was spectacular.

Cars were passing silently in the distance. I wondered if the drivers could see us.

From our height, the reservoir glinted a deep, emerald green, with luscious foliage all around it.

Housing estates formed shapes and patterns that the town planners envisioned decades ago. I wondered what the residents were doing.

Surely, nothing as exciting as this, I thought.

All too soon, the airfield loomed up beneath us. I could see the earlier jumpers bundling up their canopies on the grass.

"Legs up!" ordered my tandem master. Years of not doing sit-ups had left me with no abs to speak of, but I made a special effort as the green came skimming under us.

"Flare, now!" he cried, and we hauled on both toggles. Bits of fresh earth peppered my face as I landed on my buttocks and ground to a halt.

1WO Tan was evidently pleased with the landing.

"Good jump!" he said, as we slapped hands.

"Can we do it again?" I asked.

The thrill of the jump stayed with me all afternoon.

When I finally got home and told my mother all about it, she was expectedly disapproving, as any mother would be about her children jumping out of a plane.

I had, however, developed the technique of regaling her with tales of my unorthodox exploits only after surviving them intact.

She, in turn, learned to respond with no more than a raised eyebrow.

Apparently, she had been out walking near the Admiralty Road West when we were jumping.

"You should have waved at me," she said.

Publish date: 1 August 2012

Copyright The Straits Times

Freefall photos and video courtesy of MINDEF

The Straits Times photojournalist Alphonsus Chern recounts the day he and defence correspondent Jermyn Chow went skydiving with The Red Lions and lived to tell his tale. Watch a video of Jermyn doing his tandem jump, and read Alphonsus' story below:

One afternoon, two weeks ago, I took three tests that would decide if I was fit enough to be a passenger on a tandem freefall with the Singapore Armed Forces Parachute Team.

First up, the x-ray. I gasped audibly in the air-conditioned vault as I plastered my bare chest on the cold surface of the machine to welcome a dose of particles equivalent to ten days of natural background radiation.

Next was the blood test. I grimaced while a male nurse nonchalantly waved a nasty-looking needle in the air, and gazed in morbid fascination as he finally sank the steel
shaft into my arm.

Then came the questions.

The doctor, a straight-faced army major, asked if I was married.

"Yes," I replied, truthfully.

"Does your wife know what you are going to do?" he ventured.

"Sure, she does," I said, beginning to see where this was going.

"And what does she have to say?" he pressed on.

"She wants to come along," I deadpanned.

Tandem skydiving is a sport made popular by first-timers wanting to experience the instant thrill of freefall without the intensive training needed to go solo.

At most commercial centres around the world, half-an-hour is all it takes for a beginner to watch the liability waiver video, learn the correct body positions, and pay the fee.

The armed forces, too, has perfected its own tandem techniques.

Military Freefall parachutists are trained to carry strategically important but untrained personnel into otherwise inaccessible areas of operation, and canisters of supplies can be
ferried in the same way.

The combined weight of these loads can exceed 200 kilogrammes - equivalent to parachuting an upright piano into the jungle - and requires a huge canopy, twice the size
of those used for solo skydiving.

So when The Red Lions, the military freefallers who gamely glide into the National Day Parade showground every year, offered me the opportunity to bail out of a perfectly good
aircraft with them, I jumped at the chance.

Five days after the medical, I was warmly zipped up in a past-season Red Lions jump suit, snug in a tandem harness, and clad in my decade-old army boots (in my limited wardrobe, the alternative was a pair of dress leather shoes, which I rejected as being quite unsuitable for the occasion).

Strapped into the vibrating cabin of an Air Force Super Puma helicopter with me were two other nervously excited journalists also jumping for the first time.

As the thudding rotors bit the air and lifted us to height, I had time to study the seemingly supine poses of our tandem masters sprawled on the cabin floor.

Their unflappable constitutions and laconic wit belied impressive jump credentials.

First Warrant Officer (1WO) Tan Lee Khoon, the team leader of the Red Lions for this season, had logged over 1,400 jumps.

1WO Oh Beng Lee had logged 2,000.

Second Warrant Officer (2WO) Krishnan, with more than 2,800 jumps, had stepped out of a moving plane more times in his life than I had taken the train in mine.

All were military freefall instructors - the stocky, chiselled-jaw sort who teach soldiers to jump out of planes from a height of seven kilometres while carrying their body weight in
combat gear and oxygen supplies, at sub-zero temperatures and in complete darkness, to land at the right place and in one piece so they can go to war.

Our jump, in comparison, would be from a balmy three kilometres up, in broad daylight and with no kit to carry.

Our only objective was to look more nonchalant than we felt.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed to make himself heard over the clatter of the blades churning the thin air outside.

We had reached altitude.

The supine bodies began to stir, for it was time to hook the jumpers up to the tandem
masters.

Movements were precise and purposeful. Conversations were matter-of-fact statements.

On a signal, the Aircrew Specialist pulled open the doors. Sunlight flooded into the cabin and the screaming of the engine increased several-fold.

To the left, I could see the smokestack of the Senoko Power Station on the banks of the East Johor Strait, and beyond that, Malaysia; to the right, Marina Bay and the entire East coast of Singapore. From our height, the country seemed tiny.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed again. It was time to go.

Not giving the first-time jumpers any opportunity to balk, the tandem masters did not linger at the door.

As my camera chattered, the two journalists were hurled into space, willingly or otherwise.

Then the doors were slid shut while I was hooked up to 1WO Tan.

I made doubly sure that the straps were tight, for the thought of coming apart in mid-air did not appeal to me very much (the tandem master, not the passenger, wears the parachute).

As a parting gesture, the jumpmaster, 1WO Chan Teck Seng, looked at me, pointed to his head, and circled his index finger.

The doors were opened for a second time, and we shuffled to the yawning gap.

As I contemplated the Woodlands estate sprawled beneath us, it dawned on me that this jump was, for the moment, the epitome of my airborne dream.

After spending seventeen years amassing a collection of military parachute badges from nearly every country in the world, there was nothing more I wanted than to try leaping
out of a plane.

Ironically, I am the sort who would go queasy merely driving over a dip in the road. The slightest turbulence in mid-air would cause me to grasp, with unreasonable force, the
armrests of my economy class seat.

Roller coasters were off-limits lest I frightened my fellow passengers with my unearthly howls.

As we counted off the final seconds, I tried to calm myself.

"This is perfectly normal", said my brain to my body, knowing fully well that there was nothing normal about jumping out of a moving helicopter.

"I have imagined myself doing this hundreds of times," I tried again. "I am perfectly clear about what happens after I step out of this plane."

In fact, I had no idea what would happen once I stepped out.

Then, I felt my tandem master giving the signal by swinging our bodies.

One.

Two.

We leapt out the door.

I kept my eyes open, forcing my brain to make sense of its body plunging through empty space.

Then, tunnel vision kicked in, and as we hurtled earthward, the tremendous acceleration that brought my stomach into my mouth was the only feeling I could recall with horrifying clarity.

Moments later, a freefall cameraman floated into my field of view, so with my arms outstretched, I gave him a thumbs-up and the biggest grin I could muster, although I will never know what I looked like, because we later found out that his camera had not been turned on.

Still, I imagine that my cheeks must have been contortedly flapping about in the 200 kilometre-per-hour rush of cold air.

Breathing felt like I was drinking from a fire hydrant.

While I was busy drowning in these interesting sensations, there came two taps on my shoulder.

"Position one," said my brain to its body.

I crossed my arms over my chest, brought my knees together, and braced for the shock of the parachute opening.

There was a loud rustling as it shot out above us, followed by a twanging heave as the red-and-white canopy blossomed.

A giant hand had plucked us out of our headlong rush through the sky.

In the sudden stillness, I almost expected to hear birds singing. Instead, a voice spoke to me from above.

"Our lines are twisted", 1WO Tan casually remarked, as if commenting on the price of oranges at the supermarket.

I had a vision of spinning madly into the ground under tangled lines.

1WO Tan gave a sideways kick to untwist the lines, and we began to spin.

Yishun and Sembawang went by slowly at first, then as we picked up speed, Admiralty, Woodlands and Marsiling dissolved into a madly whirling kaleidoscope of blue, green and brown.

It felt like I was riding on an out-of-control carousel. I waited for the blood to start pooling in my fingers and toes, and wondered how long it would be before I blacked out.

Then the blue, green and brown came back into focus, and I looked up to see my tandem master also looking up.

Relief hung in the air as both of us gazed at the now-fully developed parachute. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.

The next few minutes were sheer delight, as I tried steering the enormous tandem parachute, heaving on the toggles to turn us left and right.

In every direction, the view was spectacular.

Cars were passing silently in the distance. I wondered if the drivers could see us.

From our height, the reservoir glinted a deep, emerald green, with luscious foliage all around it.

Housing estates formed shapes and patterns that the town planners envisioned decades ago. I wondered what the residents were doing.

Surely, nothing as exciting as this, I thought.

All too soon, the airfield loomed up beneath us. I could see the earlier jumpers bundling up their canopies on the grass.

"Legs up!" ordered my tandem master. Years of not doing sit-ups had left me with no abs to speak of, but I made a special effort as the green came skimming under us.

"Flare, now!" he cried, and we hauled on both toggles. Bits of fresh earth peppered my face as I landed on my buttocks and ground to a halt.

1WO Tan was evidently pleased with the landing.

"Good jump!" he said, as we slapped hands.

"Can we do it again?" I asked.

The thrill of the jump stayed with me all afternoon.

When I finally got home and told my mother all about it, she was expectedly disapproving, as any mother would be about her children jumping out of a plane.

I had, however, developed the technique of regaling her with tales of my unorthodox exploits only after surviving them intact.

She, in turn, learned to respond with no more than a raised eyebrow.

Apparently, she had been out walking near the Admiralty Road West when we were jumping.

"You should have waved at me," she said.

Publish date: 1 August 2012

Copyright The Straits Times

Freefall photos and video courtesy of MINDEF

The Straits Times photojournalist Alphonsus Chern recounts the day he and defence correspondent Jermyn Chow went skydiving with The Red Lions and lived to tell his tale. Watch a video of Jermyn doing his tandem jump, and read Alphonsus' story below:

One afternoon, two weeks ago, I took three tests that would decide if I was fit enough to be a passenger on a tandem freefall with the Singapore Armed Forces Parachute Team.

First up, the x-ray. I gasped audibly in the air-conditioned vault as I plastered my bare chest on the cold surface of the machine to welcome a dose of particles equivalent to ten days of natural background radiation.

Next was the blood test. I grimaced while a male nurse nonchalantly waved a nasty-looking needle in the air, and gazed in morbid fascination as he finally sank the steel
shaft into my arm.

Then came the questions.

The doctor, a straight-faced army major, asked if I was married.

"Yes," I replied, truthfully.

"Does your wife know what you are going to do?" he ventured.

"Sure, she does," I said, beginning to see where this was going.

"And what does she have to say?" he pressed on.

"She wants to come along," I deadpanned.

Tandem skydiving is a sport made popular by first-timers wanting to experience the instant thrill of freefall without the intensive training needed to go solo.

At most commercial centres around the world, half-an-hour is all it takes for a beginner to watch the liability waiver video, learn the correct body positions, and pay the fee.

The armed forces, too, has perfected its own tandem techniques.

Military Freefall parachutists are trained to carry strategically important but untrained personnel into otherwise inaccessible areas of operation, and canisters of supplies can be
ferried in the same way.

The combined weight of these loads can exceed 200 kilogrammes - equivalent to parachuting an upright piano into the jungle - and requires a huge canopy, twice the size
of those used for solo skydiving.

So when The Red Lions, the military freefallers who gamely glide into the National Day Parade showground every year, offered me the opportunity to bail out of a perfectly good
aircraft with them, I jumped at the chance.

Five days after the medical, I was warmly zipped up in a past-season Red Lions jump suit, snug in a tandem harness, and clad in my decade-old army boots (in my limited wardrobe, the alternative was a pair of dress leather shoes, which I rejected as being quite unsuitable for the occasion).

Strapped into the vibrating cabin of an Air Force Super Puma helicopter with me were two other nervously excited journalists also jumping for the first time.

As the thudding rotors bit the air and lifted us to height, I had time to study the seemingly supine poses of our tandem masters sprawled on the cabin floor.

Their unflappable constitutions and laconic wit belied impressive jump credentials.

First Warrant Officer (1WO) Tan Lee Khoon, the team leader of the Red Lions for this season, had logged over 1,400 jumps.

1WO Oh Beng Lee had logged 2,000.

Second Warrant Officer (2WO) Krishnan, with more than 2,800 jumps, had stepped out of a moving plane more times in his life than I had taken the train in mine.

All were military freefall instructors - the stocky, chiselled-jaw sort who teach soldiers to jump out of planes from a height of seven kilometres while carrying their body weight in
combat gear and oxygen supplies, at sub-zero temperatures and in complete darkness, to land at the right place and in one piece so they can go to war.

Our jump, in comparison, would be from a balmy three kilometres up, in broad daylight and with no kit to carry.

Our only objective was to look more nonchalant than we felt.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed to make himself heard over the clatter of the blades churning the thin air outside.

We had reached altitude.

The supine bodies began to stir, for it was time to hook the jumpers up to the tandem
masters.

Movements were precise and purposeful. Conversations were matter-of-fact statements.

On a signal, the Aircrew Specialist pulled open the doors. Sunlight flooded into the cabin and the screaming of the engine increased several-fold.

To the left, I could see the smokestack of the Senoko Power Station on the banks of the East Johor Strait, and beyond that, Malaysia; to the right, Marina Bay and the entire East coast of Singapore. From our height, the country seemed tiny.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed again. It was time to go.

Not giving the first-time jumpers any opportunity to balk, the tandem masters did not linger at the door.

As my camera chattered, the two journalists were hurled into space, willingly or otherwise.

Then the doors were slid shut while I was hooked up to 1WO Tan.

I made doubly sure that the straps were tight, for the thought of coming apart in mid-air did not appeal to me very much (the tandem master, not the passenger, wears the parachute).

As a parting gesture, the jumpmaster, 1WO Chan Teck Seng, looked at me, pointed to his head, and circled his index finger.

The doors were opened for a second time, and we shuffled to the yawning gap.

As I contemplated the Woodlands estate sprawled beneath us, it dawned on me that this jump was, for the moment, the epitome of my airborne dream.

After spending seventeen years amassing a collection of military parachute badges from nearly every country in the world, there was nothing more I wanted than to try leaping
out of a plane.

Ironically, I am the sort who would go queasy merely driving over a dip in the road. The slightest turbulence in mid-air would cause me to grasp, with unreasonable force, the
armrests of my economy class seat.

Roller coasters were off-limits lest I frightened my fellow passengers with my unearthly howls.

As we counted off the final seconds, I tried to calm myself.

"This is perfectly normal", said my brain to my body, knowing fully well that there was nothing normal about jumping out of a moving helicopter.

"I have imagined myself doing this hundreds of times," I tried again. "I am perfectly clear about what happens after I step out of this plane."

In fact, I had no idea what would happen once I stepped out.

Then, I felt my tandem master giving the signal by swinging our bodies.

One.

Two.

We leapt out the door.

I kept my eyes open, forcing my brain to make sense of its body plunging through empty space.

Then, tunnel vision kicked in, and as we hurtled earthward, the tremendous acceleration that brought my stomach into my mouth was the only feeling I could recall with horrifying clarity.

Moments later, a freefall cameraman floated into my field of view, so with my arms outstretched, I gave him a thumbs-up and the biggest grin I could muster, although I will never know what I looked like, because we later found out that his camera had not been turned on.

Still, I imagine that my cheeks must have been contortedly flapping about in the 200 kilometre-per-hour rush of cold air.

Breathing felt like I was drinking from a fire hydrant.

While I was busy drowning in these interesting sensations, there came two taps on my shoulder.

"Position one," said my brain to its body.

I crossed my arms over my chest, brought my knees together, and braced for the shock of the parachute opening.

There was a loud rustling as it shot out above us, followed by a twanging heave as the red-and-white canopy blossomed.

A giant hand had plucked us out of our headlong rush through the sky.

In the sudden stillness, I almost expected to hear birds singing. Instead, a voice spoke to me from above.

"Our lines are twisted", 1WO Tan casually remarked, as if commenting on the price of oranges at the supermarket.

I had a vision of spinning madly into the ground under tangled lines.

1WO Tan gave a sideways kick to untwist the lines, and we began to spin.

Yishun and Sembawang went by slowly at first, then as we picked up speed, Admiralty, Woodlands and Marsiling dissolved into a madly whirling kaleidoscope of blue, green and brown.

It felt like I was riding on an out-of-control carousel. I waited for the blood to start pooling in my fingers and toes, and wondered how long it would be before I blacked out.

Then the blue, green and brown came back into focus, and I looked up to see my tandem master also looking up.

Relief hung in the air as both of us gazed at the now-fully developed parachute. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.

The next few minutes were sheer delight, as I tried steering the enormous tandem parachute, heaving on the toggles to turn us left and right.

In every direction, the view was spectacular.

Cars were passing silently in the distance. I wondered if the drivers could see us.

From our height, the reservoir glinted a deep, emerald green, with luscious foliage all around it.

Housing estates formed shapes and patterns that the town planners envisioned decades ago. I wondered what the residents were doing.

Surely, nothing as exciting as this, I thought.

All too soon, the airfield loomed up beneath us. I could see the earlier jumpers bundling up their canopies on the grass.

"Legs up!" ordered my tandem master. Years of not doing sit-ups had left me with no abs to speak of, but I made a special effort as the green came skimming under us.

"Flare, now!" he cried, and we hauled on both toggles. Bits of fresh earth peppered my face as I landed on my buttocks and ground to a halt.

1WO Tan was evidently pleased with the landing.

"Good jump!" he said, as we slapped hands.

"Can we do it again?" I asked.

The thrill of the jump stayed with me all afternoon.

When I finally got home and told my mother all about it, she was expectedly disapproving, as any mother would be about her children jumping out of a plane.

I had, however, developed the technique of regaling her with tales of my unorthodox exploits only after surviving them intact.

She, in turn, learned to respond with no more than a raised eyebrow.

Apparently, she had been out walking near the Admiralty Road West when we were jumping.

"You should have waved at me," she said.

Publish date: 1 August 2012

Copyright The Straits Times

Freefall photos and video courtesy of MINDEF

The Straits Times photojournalist Alphonsus Chern recounts the day he and defence correspondent Jermyn Chow went skydiving with The Red Lions and lived to tell his tale. Watch a video of Jermyn doing his tandem jump, and read Alphonsus' story below:

One afternoon, two weeks ago, I took three tests that would decide if I was fit enough to be a passenger on a tandem freefall with the Singapore Armed Forces Parachute Team.

First up, the x-ray. I gasped audibly in the air-conditioned vault as I plastered my bare chest on the cold surface of the machine to welcome a dose of particles equivalent to ten days of natural background radiation.

Next was the blood test. I grimaced while a male nurse nonchalantly waved a nasty-looking needle in the air, and gazed in morbid fascination as he finally sank the steel
shaft into my arm.

Then came the questions.

The doctor, a straight-faced army major, asked if I was married.

"Yes," I replied, truthfully.

"Does your wife know what you are going to do?" he ventured.

"Sure, she does," I said, beginning to see where this was going.

"And what does she have to say?" he pressed on.

"She wants to come along," I deadpanned.

Tandem skydiving is a sport made popular by first-timers wanting to experience the instant thrill of freefall without the intensive training needed to go solo.

At most commercial centres around the world, half-an-hour is all it takes for a beginner to watch the liability waiver video, learn the correct body positions, and pay the fee.

The armed forces, too, has perfected its own tandem techniques.

Military Freefall parachutists are trained to carry strategically important but untrained personnel into otherwise inaccessible areas of operation, and canisters of supplies can be
ferried in the same way.

The combined weight of these loads can exceed 200 kilogrammes - equivalent to parachuting an upright piano into the jungle - and requires a huge canopy, twice the size
of those used for solo skydiving.

So when The Red Lions, the military freefallers who gamely glide into the National Day Parade showground every year, offered me the opportunity to bail out of a perfectly good
aircraft with them, I jumped at the chance.

Five days after the medical, I was warmly zipped up in a past-season Red Lions jump suit, snug in a tandem harness, and clad in my decade-old army boots (in my limited wardrobe, the alternative was a pair of dress leather shoes, which I rejected as being quite unsuitable for the occasion).

Strapped into the vibrating cabin of an Air Force Super Puma helicopter with me were two other nervously excited journalists also jumping for the first time.

As the thudding rotors bit the air and lifted us to height, I had time to study the seemingly supine poses of our tandem masters sprawled on the cabin floor.

Their unflappable constitutions and laconic wit belied impressive jump credentials.

First Warrant Officer (1WO) Tan Lee Khoon, the team leader of the Red Lions for this season, had logged over 1,400 jumps.

1WO Oh Beng Lee had logged 2,000.

Second Warrant Officer (2WO) Krishnan, with more than 2,800 jumps, had stepped out of a moving plane more times in his life than I had taken the train in mine.

All were military freefall instructors - the stocky, chiselled-jaw sort who teach soldiers to jump out of planes from a height of seven kilometres while carrying their body weight in
combat gear and oxygen supplies, at sub-zero temperatures and in complete darkness, to land at the right place and in one piece so they can go to war.

Our jump, in comparison, would be from a balmy three kilometres up, in broad daylight and with no kit to carry.

Our only objective was to look more nonchalant than we felt.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed to make himself heard over the clatter of the blades churning the thin air outside.

We had reached altitude.

The supine bodies began to stir, for it was time to hook the jumpers up to the tandem
masters.

Movements were precise and purposeful. Conversations were matter-of-fact statements.

On a signal, the Aircrew Specialist pulled open the doors. Sunlight flooded into the cabin and the screaming of the engine increased several-fold.

To the left, I could see the smokestack of the Senoko Power Station on the banks of the East Johor Strait, and beyond that, Malaysia; to the right, Marina Bay and the entire East coast of Singapore. From our height, the country seemed tiny.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed again. It was time to go.

Not giving the first-time jumpers any opportunity to balk, the tandem masters did not linger at the door.

As my camera chattered, the two journalists were hurled into space, willingly or otherwise.

Then the doors were slid shut while I was hooked up to 1WO Tan.

I made doubly sure that the straps were tight, for the thought of coming apart in mid-air did not appeal to me very much (the tandem master, not the passenger, wears the parachute).

As a parting gesture, the jumpmaster, 1WO Chan Teck Seng, looked at me, pointed to his head, and circled his index finger.

The doors were opened for a second time, and we shuffled to the yawning gap.

As I contemplated the Woodlands estate sprawled beneath us, it dawned on me that this jump was, for the moment, the epitome of my airborne dream.

After spending seventeen years amassing a collection of military parachute badges from nearly every country in the world, there was nothing more I wanted than to try leaping
out of a plane.

Ironically, I am the sort who would go queasy merely driving over a dip in the road. The slightest turbulence in mid-air would cause me to grasp, with unreasonable force, the
armrests of my economy class seat.

Roller coasters were off-limits lest I frightened my fellow passengers with my unearthly howls.

As we counted off the final seconds, I tried to calm myself.

"This is perfectly normal", said my brain to my body, knowing fully well that there was nothing normal about jumping out of a moving helicopter.

"I have imagined myself doing this hundreds of times," I tried again. "I am perfectly clear about what happens after I step out of this plane."

In fact, I had no idea what would happen once I stepped out.

Then, I felt my tandem master giving the signal by swinging our bodies.

One.

Two.

We leapt out the door.

I kept my eyes open, forcing my brain to make sense of its body plunging through empty space.

Then, tunnel vision kicked in, and as we hurtled earthward, the tremendous acceleration that brought my stomach into my mouth was the only feeling I could recall with horrifying clarity.

Moments later, a freefall cameraman floated into my field of view, so with my arms outstretched, I gave him a thumbs-up and the biggest grin I could muster, although I will never know what I looked like, because we later found out that his camera had not been turned on.

Still, I imagine that my cheeks must have been contortedly flapping about in the 200 kilometre-per-hour rush of cold air.

Breathing felt like I was drinking from a fire hydrant.

While I was busy drowning in these interesting sensations, there came two taps on my shoulder.

"Position one," said my brain to its body.

I crossed my arms over my chest, brought my knees together, and braced for the shock of the parachute opening.

There was a loud rustling as it shot out above us, followed by a twanging heave as the red-and-white canopy blossomed.

A giant hand had plucked us out of our headlong rush through the sky.

In the sudden stillness, I almost expected to hear birds singing. Instead, a voice spoke to me from above.

"Our lines are twisted", 1WO Tan casually remarked, as if commenting on the price of oranges at the supermarket.

I had a vision of spinning madly into the ground under tangled lines.

1WO Tan gave a sideways kick to untwist the lines, and we began to spin.

Yishun and Sembawang went by slowly at first, then as we picked up speed, Admiralty, Woodlands and Marsiling dissolved into a madly whirling kaleidoscope of blue, green and brown.

It felt like I was riding on an out-of-control carousel. I waited for the blood to start pooling in my fingers and toes, and wondered how long it would be before I blacked out.

Then the blue, green and brown came back into focus, and I looked up to see my tandem master also looking up.

Relief hung in the air as both of us gazed at the now-fully developed parachute. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.

The next few minutes were sheer delight, as I tried steering the enormous tandem parachute, heaving on the toggles to turn us left and right.

In every direction, the view was spectacular.

Cars were passing silently in the distance. I wondered if the drivers could see us.

From our height, the reservoir glinted a deep, emerald green, with luscious foliage all around it.

Housing estates formed shapes and patterns that the town planners envisioned decades ago. I wondered what the residents were doing.

Surely, nothing as exciting as this, I thought.

All too soon, the airfield loomed up beneath us. I could see the earlier jumpers bundling up their canopies on the grass.

"Legs up!" ordered my tandem master. Years of not doing sit-ups had left me with no abs to speak of, but I made a special effort as the green came skimming under us.

"Flare, now!" he cried, and we hauled on both toggles. Bits of fresh earth peppered my face as I landed on my buttocks and ground to a halt.

1WO Tan was evidently pleased with the landing.

"Good jump!" he said, as we slapped hands.

"Can we do it again?" I asked.

The thrill of the jump stayed with me all afternoon.

When I finally got home and told my mother all about it, she was expectedly disapproving, as any mother would be about her children jumping out of a plane.

I had, however, developed the technique of regaling her with tales of my unorthodox exploits only after surviving them intact.

She, in turn, learned to respond with no more than a raised eyebrow.

Apparently, she had been out walking near the Admiralty Road West when we were jumping.

"You should have waved at me," she said.

Publish date: 1 August 2012

Copyright The Straits Times

Freefall photos and video courtesy of MINDEF

The Straits Times photojournalist Alphonsus Chern recounts the day he and defence correspondent Jermyn Chow went skydiving with The Red Lions and lived to tell his tale. Watch a video of Jermyn doing his tandem jump, and read Alphonsus' story below:

One afternoon, two weeks ago, I took three tests that would decide if I was fit enough to be a passenger on a tandem freefall with the Singapore Armed Forces Parachute Team.

First up, the x-ray. I gasped audibly in the air-conditioned vault as I plastered my bare chest on the cold surface of the machine to welcome a dose of particles equivalent to ten days of natural background radiation.

Next was the blood test. I grimaced while a male nurse nonchalantly waved a nasty-looking needle in the air, and gazed in morbid fascination as he finally sank the steel
shaft into my arm.

Then came the questions.

The doctor, a straight-faced army major, asked if I was married.

"Yes," I replied, truthfully.

"Does your wife know what you are going to do?" he ventured.

"Sure, she does," I said, beginning to see where this was going.

"And what does she have to say?" he pressed on.

"She wants to come along," I deadpanned.

Tandem skydiving is a sport made popular by first-timers wanting to experience the instant thrill of freefall without the intensive training needed to go solo.

At most commercial centres around the world, half-an-hour is all it takes for a beginner to watch the liability waiver video, learn the correct body positions, and pay the fee.

The armed forces, too, has perfected its own tandem techniques.

Military Freefall parachutists are trained to carry strategically important but untrained personnel into otherwise inaccessible areas of operation, and canisters of supplies can be
ferried in the same way.

The combined weight of these loads can exceed 200 kilogrammes - equivalent to parachuting an upright piano into the jungle - and requires a huge canopy, twice the size
of those used for solo skydiving.

So when The Red Lions, the military freefallers who gamely glide into the National Day Parade showground every year, offered me the opportunity to bail out of a perfectly good
aircraft with them, I jumped at the chance.

Five days after the medical, I was warmly zipped up in a past-season Red Lions jump suit, snug in a tandem harness, and clad in my decade-old army boots (in my limited wardrobe, the alternative was a pair of dress leather shoes, which I rejected as being quite unsuitable for the occasion).

Strapped into the vibrating cabin of an Air Force Super Puma helicopter with me were two other nervously excited journalists also jumping for the first time.

As the thudding rotors bit the air and lifted us to height, I had time to study the seemingly supine poses of our tandem masters sprawled on the cabin floor.

Their unflappable constitutions and laconic wit belied impressive jump credentials.

First Warrant Officer (1WO) Tan Lee Khoon, the team leader of the Red Lions for this season, had logged over 1,400 jumps.

1WO Oh Beng Lee had logged 2,000.

Second Warrant Officer (2WO) Krishnan, with more than 2,800 jumps, had stepped out of a moving plane more times in his life than I had taken the train in mine.

All were military freefall instructors - the stocky, chiselled-jaw sort who teach soldiers to jump out of planes from a height of seven kilometres while carrying their body weight in
combat gear and oxygen supplies, at sub-zero temperatures and in complete darkness, to land at the right place and in one piece so they can go to war.

Our jump, in comparison, would be from a balmy three kilometres up, in broad daylight and with no kit to carry.

Our only objective was to look more nonchalant than we felt.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed to make himself heard over the clatter of the blades churning the thin air outside.

We had reached altitude.

The supine bodies began to stir, for it was time to hook the jumpers up to the tandem
masters.

Movements were precise and purposeful. Conversations were matter-of-fact statements.

On a signal, the Aircrew Specialist pulled open the doors. Sunlight flooded into the cabin and the screaming of the engine increased several-fold.

To the left, I could see the smokestack of the Senoko Power Station on the banks of the East Johor Strait, and beyond that, Malaysia; to the right, Marina Bay and the entire East coast of Singapore. From our height, the country seemed tiny.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed again. It was time to go.

Not giving the first-time jumpers any opportunity to balk, the tandem masters did not linger at the door.

As my camera chattered, the two journalists were hurled into space, willingly or otherwise.

Then the doors were slid shut while I was hooked up to 1WO Tan.

I made doubly sure that the straps were tight, for the thought of coming apart in mid-air did not appeal to me very much (the tandem master, not the passenger, wears the parachute).

As a parting gesture, the jumpmaster, 1WO Chan Teck Seng, looked at me, pointed to his head, and circled his index finger.

The doors were opened for a second time, and we shuffled to the yawning gap.

As I contemplated the Woodlands estate sprawled beneath us, it dawned on me that this jump was, for the moment, the epitome of my airborne dream.

After spending seventeen years amassing a collection of military parachute badges from nearly every country in the world, there was nothing more I wanted than to try leaping
out of a plane.

Ironically, I am the sort who would go queasy merely driving over a dip in the road. The slightest turbulence in mid-air would cause me to grasp, with unreasonable force, the
armrests of my economy class seat.

Roller coasters were off-limits lest I frightened my fellow passengers with my unearthly howls.

As we counted off the final seconds, I tried to calm myself.

"This is perfectly normal", said my brain to my body, knowing fully well that there was nothing normal about jumping out of a moving helicopter.

"I have imagined myself doing this hundreds of times," I tried again. "I am perfectly clear about what happens after I step out of this plane."

In fact, I had no idea what would happen once I stepped out.

Then, I felt my tandem master giving the signal by swinging our bodies.

One.

Two.

We leapt out the door.

I kept my eyes open, forcing my brain to make sense of its body plunging through empty space.

Then, tunnel vision kicked in, and as we hurtled earthward, the tremendous acceleration that brought my stomach into my mouth was the only feeling I could recall with horrifying clarity.

Moments later, a freefall cameraman floated into my field of view, so with my arms outstretched, I gave him a thumbs-up and the biggest grin I could muster, although I will never know what I looked like, because we later found out that his camera had not been turned on.

Still, I imagine that my cheeks must have been contortedly flapping about in the 200 kilometre-per-hour rush of cold air.

Breathing felt like I was drinking from a fire hydrant.

While I was busy drowning in these interesting sensations, there came two taps on my shoulder.

"Position one," said my brain to its body.

I crossed my arms over my chest, brought my knees together, and braced for the shock of the parachute opening.

There was a loud rustling as it shot out above us, followed by a twanging heave as the red-and-white canopy blossomed.

A giant hand had plucked us out of our headlong rush through the sky.

In the sudden stillness, I almost expected to hear birds singing. Instead, a voice spoke to me from above.

"Our lines are twisted", 1WO Tan casually remarked, as if commenting on the price of oranges at the supermarket.

I had a vision of spinning madly into the ground under tangled lines.

1WO Tan gave a sideways kick to untwist the lines, and we began to spin.

Yishun and Sembawang went by slowly at first, then as we picked up speed, Admiralty, Woodlands and Marsiling dissolved into a madly whirling kaleidoscope of blue, green and brown.

It felt like I was riding on an out-of-control carousel. I waited for the blood to start pooling in my fingers and toes, and wondered how long it would be before I blacked out.

Then the blue, green and brown came back into focus, and I looked up to see my tandem master also looking up.

Relief hung in the air as both of us gazed at the now-fully developed parachute. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.

The next few minutes were sheer delight, as I tried steering the enormous tandem parachute, heaving on the toggles to turn us left and right.

In every direction, the view was spectacular.

Cars were passing silently in the distance. I wondered if the drivers could see us.

From our height, the reservoir glinted a deep, emerald green, with luscious foliage all around it.

Housing estates formed shapes and patterns that the town planners envisioned decades ago. I wondered what the residents were doing.

Surely, nothing as exciting as this, I thought.

All too soon, the airfield loomed up beneath us. I could see the earlier jumpers bundling up their canopies on the grass.

"Legs up!" ordered my tandem master. Years of not doing sit-ups had left me with no abs to speak of, but I made a special effort as the green came skimming under us.

"Flare, now!" he cried, and we hauled on both toggles. Bits of fresh earth peppered my face as I landed on my buttocks and ground to a halt.

1WO Tan was evidently pleased with the landing.

"Good jump!" he said, as we slapped hands.

"Can we do it again?" I asked.

The thrill of the jump stayed with me all afternoon.

When I finally got home and told my mother all about it, she was expectedly disapproving, as any mother would be about her children jumping out of a plane.

I had, however, developed the technique of regaling her with tales of my unorthodox exploits only after surviving them intact.

She, in turn, learned to respond with no more than a raised eyebrow.

Apparently, she had been out walking near the Admiralty Road West when we were jumping.

"You should have waved at me," she said.

Publish date: 1 August 2012

Copyright The Straits Times

Freefall photos and video courtesy of MINDEF

The Straits Times photojournalist Alphonsus Chern recounts the day he and defence correspondent Jermyn Chow went skydiving with The Red Lions and lived to tell his tale. Watch a video of Jermyn doing his tandem jump, and read Alphonsus' story below:

One afternoon, two weeks ago, I took three tests that would decide if I was fit enough to be a passenger on a tandem freefall with the Singapore Armed Forces Parachute Team.

First up, the x-ray. I gasped audibly in the air-conditioned vault as I plastered my bare chest on the cold surface of the machine to welcome a dose of particles equivalent to ten days of natural background radiation.

Next was the blood test. I grimaced while a male nurse nonchalantly waved a nasty-looking needle in the air, and gazed in morbid fascination as he finally sank the steel
shaft into my arm.

Then came the questions.

The doctor, a straight-faced army major, asked if I was married.

"Yes," I replied, truthfully.

"Does your wife know what you are going to do?" he ventured.

"Sure, she does," I said, beginning to see where this was going.

"And what does she have to say?" he pressed on.

"She wants to come along," I deadpanned.

Tandem skydiving is a sport made popular by first-timers wanting to experience the instant thrill of freefall without the intensive training needed to go solo.

At most commercial centres around the world, half-an-hour is all it takes for a beginner to watch the liability waiver video, learn the correct body positions, and pay the fee.

The armed forces, too, has perfected its own tandem techniques.

Military Freefall parachutists are trained to carry strategically important but untrained personnel into otherwise inaccessible areas of operation, and canisters of supplies can be
ferried in the same way.

The combined weight of these loads can exceed 200 kilogrammes - equivalent to parachuting an upright piano into the jungle - and requires a huge canopy, twice the size
of those used for solo skydiving.

So when The Red Lions, the military freefallers who gamely glide into the National Day Parade showground every year, offered me the opportunity to bail out of a perfectly good
aircraft with them, I jumped at the chance.

Five days after the medical, I was warmly zipped up in a past-season Red Lions jump suit, snug in a tandem harness, and clad in my decade-old army boots (in my limited wardrobe, the alternative was a pair of dress leather shoes, which I rejected as being quite unsuitable for the occasion).

Strapped into the vibrating cabin of an Air Force Super Puma helicopter with me were two other nervously excited journalists also jumping for the first time.

As the thudding rotors bit the air and lifted us to height, I had time to study the seemingly supine poses of our tandem masters sprawled on the cabin floor.

Their unflappable constitutions and laconic wit belied impressive jump credentials.

First Warrant Officer (1WO) Tan Lee Khoon, the team leader of the Red Lions for this season, had logged over 1,400 jumps.

1WO Oh Beng Lee had logged 2,000.

Second Warrant Officer (2WO) Krishnan, with more than 2,800 jumps, had stepped out of a moving plane more times in his life than I had taken the train in mine.

All were military freefall instructors - the stocky, chiselled-jaw sort who teach soldiers to jump out of planes from a height of seven kilometres while carrying their body weight in
combat gear and oxygen supplies, at sub-zero temperatures and in complete darkness, to land at the right place and in one piece so they can go to war.

Our jump, in comparison, would be from a balmy three kilometres up, in broad daylight and with no kit to carry.

Our only objective was to look more nonchalant than we felt.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed to make himself heard over the clatter of the blades churning the thin air outside.

We had reached altitude.

The supine bodies began to stir, for it was time to hook the jumpers up to the tandem
masters.

Movements were precise and purposeful. Conversations were matter-of-fact statements.

On a signal, the Aircrew Specialist pulled open the doors. Sunlight flooded into the cabin and the screaming of the engine increased several-fold.

To the left, I could see the smokestack of the Senoko Power Station on the banks of the East Johor Strait, and beyond that, Malaysia; to the right, Marina Bay and the entire East coast of Singapore. From our height, the country seemed tiny.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed again. It was time to go.

Not giving the first-time jumpers any opportunity to balk, the tandem masters did not linger at the door.

As my camera chattered, the two journalists were hurled into space, willingly or otherwise.

Then the doors were slid shut while I was hooked up to 1WO Tan.

I made doubly sure that the straps were tight, for the thought of coming apart in mid-air did not appeal to me very much (the tandem master, not the passenger, wears the parachute).

As a parting gesture, the jumpmaster, 1WO Chan Teck Seng, looked at me, pointed to his head, and circled his index finger.

The doors were opened for a second time, and we shuffled to the yawning gap.

As I contemplated the Woodlands estate sprawled beneath us, it dawned on me that this jump was, for the moment, the epitome of my airborne dream.

After spending seventeen years amassing a collection of military parachute badges from nearly every country in the world, there was nothing more I wanted than to try leaping
out of a plane.

Ironically, I am the sort who would go queasy merely driving over a dip in the road. The slightest turbulence in mid-air would cause me to grasp, with unreasonable force, the
armrests of my economy class seat.

Roller coasters were off-limits lest I frightened my fellow passengers with my unearthly howls.

As we counted off the final seconds, I tried to calm myself.

"This is perfectly normal", said my brain to my body, knowing fully well that there was nothing normal about jumping out of a moving helicopter.

"I have imagined myself doing this hundreds of times," I tried again. "I am perfectly clear about what happens after I step out of this plane."

In fact, I had no idea what would happen once I stepped out.

Then, I felt my tandem master giving the signal by swinging our bodies.

One.

Two.

We leapt out the door.

I kept my eyes open, forcing my brain to make sense of its body plunging through empty space.

Then, tunnel vision kicked in, and as we hurtled earthward, the tremendous acceleration that brought my stomach into my mouth was the only feeling I could recall with horrifying clarity.

Moments later, a freefall cameraman floated into my field of view, so with my arms outstretched, I gave him a thumbs-up and the biggest grin I could muster, although I will never know what I looked like, because we later found out that his camera had not been turned on.

Still, I imagine that my cheeks must have been contortedly flapping about in the 200 kilometre-per-hour rush of cold air.

Breathing felt like I was drinking from a fire hydrant.

While I was busy drowning in these interesting sensations, there came two taps on my shoulder.

"Position one," said my brain to its body.

I crossed my arms over my chest, brought my knees together, and braced for the shock of the parachute opening.

There was a loud rustling as it shot out above us, followed by a twanging heave as the red-and-white canopy blossomed.

A giant hand had plucked us out of our headlong rush through the sky.

In the sudden stillness, I almost expected to hear birds singing. Instead, a voice spoke to me from above.

"Our lines are twisted", 1WO Tan casually remarked, as if commenting on the price of oranges at the supermarket.

I had a vision of spinning madly into the ground under tangled lines.

1WO Tan gave a sideways kick to untwist the lines, and we began to spin.

Yishun and Sembawang went by slowly at first, then as we picked up speed, Admiralty, Woodlands and Marsiling dissolved into a madly whirling kaleidoscope of blue, green and brown.

It felt like I was riding on an out-of-control carousel. I waited for the blood to start pooling in my fingers and toes, and wondered how long it would be before I blacked out.

Then the blue, green and brown came back into focus, and I looked up to see my tandem master also looking up.

Relief hung in the air as both of us gazed at the now-fully developed parachute. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.

The next few minutes were sheer delight, as I tried steering the enormous tandem parachute, heaving on the toggles to turn us left and right.

In every direction, the view was spectacular.

Cars were passing silently in the distance. I wondered if the drivers could see us.

From our height, the reservoir glinted a deep, emerald green, with luscious foliage all around it.

Housing estates formed shapes and patterns that the town planners envisioned decades ago. I wondered what the residents were doing.

Surely, nothing as exciting as this, I thought.

All too soon, the airfield loomed up beneath us. I could see the earlier jumpers bundling up their canopies on the grass.

"Legs up!" ordered my tandem master. Years of not doing sit-ups had left me with no abs to speak of, but I made a special effort as the green came skimming under us.

"Flare, now!" he cried, and we hauled on both toggles. Bits of fresh earth peppered my face as I landed on my buttocks and ground to a halt.

1WO Tan was evidently pleased with the landing.

"Good jump!" he said, as we slapped hands.

"Can we do it again?" I asked.

The thrill of the jump stayed with me all afternoon.

When I finally got home and told my mother all about it, she was expectedly disapproving, as any mother would be about her children jumping out of a plane.

I had, however, developed the technique of regaling her with tales of my unorthodox exploits only after surviving them intact.

She, in turn, learned to respond with no more than a raised eyebrow.

Apparently, she had been out walking near the Admiralty Road West when we were jumping.

"You should have waved at me," she said.

Publish date: 1 August 2012

Copyright The Straits Times

Freefall photos and video courtesy of MINDEF

The Straits Times photojournalist Alphonsus Chern recounts the day he and defence correspondent Jermyn Chow went skydiving with The Red Lions and lived to tell his tale. Watch a video of Jermyn doing his tandem jump, and read Alphonsus' story below:

One afternoon, two weeks ago, I took three tests that would decide if I was fit enough to be a passenger on a tandem freefall with the Singapore Armed Forces Parachute Team.

First up, the x-ray. I gasped audibly in the air-conditioned vault as I plastered my bare chest on the cold surface of the machine to welcome a dose of particles equivalent to ten days of natural background radiation.

Next was the blood test. I grimaced while a male nurse nonchalantly waved a nasty-looking needle in the air, and gazed in morbid fascination as he finally sank the steel
shaft into my arm.

Then came the questions.

The doctor, a straight-faced army major, asked if I was married.

"Yes," I replied, truthfully.

"Does your wife know what you are going to do?" he ventured.

"Sure, she does," I said, beginning to see where this was going.

"And what does she have to say?" he pressed on.

"She wants to come along," I deadpanned.

Tandem skydiving is a sport made popular by first-timers wanting to experience the instant thrill of freefall without the intensive training needed to go solo.

At most commercial centres around the world, half-an-hour is all it takes for a beginner to watch the liability waiver video, learn the correct body positions, and pay the fee.

The armed forces, too, has perfected its own tandem techniques.

Military Freefall parachutists are trained to carry strategically important but untrained personnel into otherwise inaccessible areas of operation, and canisters of supplies can be
ferried in the same way.

The combined weight of these loads can exceed 200 kilogrammes - equivalent to parachuting an upright piano into the jungle - and requires a huge canopy, twice the size
of those used for solo skydiving.

So when The Red Lions, the military freefallers who gamely glide into the National Day Parade showground every year, offered me the opportunity to bail out of a perfectly good
aircraft with them, I jumped at the chance.

Five days after the medical, I was warmly zipped up in a past-season Red Lions jump suit, snug in a tandem harness, and clad in my decade-old army boots (in my limited wardrobe, the alternative was a pair of dress leather shoes, which I rejected as being quite unsuitable for the occasion).

Strapped into the vibrating cabin of an Air Force Super Puma helicopter with me were two other nervously excited journalists also jumping for the first time.

As the thudding rotors bit the air and lifted us to height, I had time to study the seemingly supine poses of our tandem masters sprawled on the cabin floor.

Their unflappable constitutions and laconic wit belied impressive jump credentials.

First Warrant Officer (1WO) Tan Lee Khoon, the team leader of the Red Lions for this season, had logged over 1,400 jumps.

1WO Oh Beng Lee had logged 2,000.

Second Warrant Officer (2WO) Krishnan, with more than 2,800 jumps, had stepped out of a moving plane more times in his life than I had taken the train in mine.

All were military freefall instructors - the stocky, chiselled-jaw sort who teach soldiers to jump out of planes from a height of seven kilometres while carrying their body weight in
combat gear and oxygen supplies, at sub-zero temperatures and in complete darkness, to land at the right place and in one piece so they can go to war.

Our jump, in comparison, would be from a balmy three kilometres up, in broad daylight and with no kit to carry.

Our only objective was to look more nonchalant than we felt.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed to make himself heard over the clatter of the blades churning the thin air outside.

We had reached altitude.

The supine bodies began to stir, for it was time to hook the jumpers up to the tandem
masters.

Movements were precise and purposeful. Conversations were matter-of-fact statements.

On a signal, the Aircrew Specialist pulled open the doors. Sunlight flooded into the cabin and the screaming of the engine increased several-fold.

To the left, I could see the smokestack of the Senoko Power Station on the banks of the East Johor Strait, and beyond that, Malaysia; to the right, Marina Bay and the entire East coast of Singapore. From our height, the country seemed tiny.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed again. It was time to go.

Not giving the first-time jumpers any opportunity to balk, the tandem masters did not linger at the door.

As my camera chattered, the two journalists were hurled into space, willingly or otherwise.

Then the doors were slid shut while I was hooked up to 1WO Tan.

I made doubly sure that the straps were tight, for the thought of coming apart in mid-air did not appeal to me very much (the tandem master, not the passenger, wears the parachute).

As a parting gesture, the jumpmaster, 1WO Chan Teck Seng, looked at me, pointed to his head, and circled his index finger.

The doors were opened for a second time, and we shuffled to the yawning gap.

As I contemplated the Woodlands estate sprawled beneath us, it dawned on me that this jump was, for the moment, the epitome of my airborne dream.

After spending seventeen years amassing a collection of military parachute badges from nearly every country in the world, there was nothing more I wanted than to try leaping
out of a plane.

Ironically, I am the sort who would go queasy merely driving over a dip in the road. The slightest turbulence in mid-air would cause me to grasp, with unreasonable force, the
armrests of my economy class seat.

Roller coasters were off-limits lest I frightened my fellow passengers with my unearthly howls.

As we counted off the final seconds, I tried to calm myself.

"This is perfectly normal", said my brain to my body, knowing fully well that there was nothing normal about jumping out of a moving helicopter.

"I have imagined myself doing this hundreds of times," I tried again. "I am perfectly clear about what happens after I step out of this plane."

In fact, I had no idea what would happen once I stepped out.

Then, I felt my tandem master giving the signal by swinging our bodies.

One.

Two.

We leapt out the door.

I kept my eyes open, forcing my brain to make sense of its body plunging through empty space.

Then, tunnel vision kicked in, and as we hurtled earthward, the tremendous acceleration that brought my stomach into my mouth was the only feeling I could recall with horrifying clarity.

Moments later, a freefall cameraman floated into my field of view, so with my arms outstretched, I gave him a thumbs-up and the biggest grin I could muster, although I will never know what I looked like, because we later found out that his camera had not been turned on.

Still, I imagine that my cheeks must have been contortedly flapping about in the 200 kilometre-per-hour rush of cold air.

Breathing felt like I was drinking from a fire hydrant.

While I was busy drowning in these interesting sensations, there came two taps on my shoulder.

"Position one," said my brain to its body.

I crossed my arms over my chest, brought my knees together, and braced for the shock of the parachute opening.

There was a loud rustling as it shot out above us, followed by a twanging heave as the red-and-white canopy blossomed.

A giant hand had plucked us out of our headlong rush through the sky.

In the sudden stillness, I almost expected to hear birds singing. Instead, a voice spoke to me from above.

"Our lines are twisted", 1WO Tan casually remarked, as if commenting on the price of oranges at the supermarket.

I had a vision of spinning madly into the ground under tangled lines.

1WO Tan gave a sideways kick to untwist the lines, and we began to spin.

Yishun and Sembawang went by slowly at first, then as we picked up speed, Admiralty, Woodlands and Marsiling dissolved into a madly whirling kaleidoscope of blue, green and brown.

It felt like I was riding on an out-of-control carousel. I waited for the blood to start pooling in my fingers and toes, and wondered how long it would be before I blacked out.

Then the blue, green and brown came back into focus, and I looked up to see my tandem master also looking up.

Relief hung in the air as both of us gazed at the now-fully developed parachute. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.

The next few minutes were sheer delight, as I tried steering the enormous tandem parachute, heaving on the toggles to turn us left and right.

In every direction, the view was spectacular.

Cars were passing silently in the distance. I wondered if the drivers could see us.

From our height, the reservoir glinted a deep, emerald green, with luscious foliage all around it.

Housing estates formed shapes and patterns that the town planners envisioned decades ago. I wondered what the residents were doing.

Surely, nothing as exciting as this, I thought.

All too soon, the airfield loomed up beneath us. I could see the earlier jumpers bundling up their canopies on the grass.

"Legs up!" ordered my tandem master. Years of not doing sit-ups had left me with no abs to speak of, but I made a special effort as the green came skimming under us.

"Flare, now!" he cried, and we hauled on both toggles. Bits of fresh earth peppered my face as I landed on my buttocks and ground to a halt.

1WO Tan was evidently pleased with the landing.

"Good jump!" he said, as we slapped hands.

"Can we do it again?" I asked.

The thrill of the jump stayed with me all afternoon.

When I finally got home and told my mother all about it, she was expectedly disapproving, as any mother would be about her children jumping out of a plane.

I had, however, developed the technique of regaling her with tales of my unorthodox exploits only after surviving them intact.

She, in turn, learned to respond with no more than a raised eyebrow.

Apparently, she had been out walking near the Admiralty Road West when we were jumping.

"You should have waved at me," she said.

Publish date: 1 August 2012

Copyright The Straits Times

Freefall photos and video courtesy of MINDEF

The Straits Times photojournalist Alphonsus Chern recounts the day he and defence correspondent Jermyn Chow went skydiving with The Red Lions and lived to tell his tale. Watch a video of Jermyn doing his tandem jump, and read Alphonsus' story below:

One afternoon, two weeks ago, I took three tests that would decide if I was fit enough to be a passenger on a tandem freefall with the Singapore Armed Forces Parachute Team.

First up, the x-ray. I gasped audibly in the air-conditioned vault as I plastered my bare chest on the cold surface of the machine to welcome a dose of particles equivalent to ten days of natural background radiation.

Next was the blood test. I grimaced while a male nurse nonchalantly waved a nasty-looking needle in the air, and gazed in morbid fascination as he finally sank the steel
shaft into my arm.

Then came the questions.

The doctor, a straight-faced army major, asked if I was married.

"Yes," I replied, truthfully.

"Does your wife know what you are going to do?" he ventured.

"Sure, she does," I said, beginning to see where this was going.

"And what does she have to say?" he pressed on.

"She wants to come along," I deadpanned.

Tandem skydiving is a sport made popular by first-timers wanting to experience the instant thrill of freefall without the intensive training needed to go solo.

At most commercial centres around the world, half-an-hour is all it takes for a beginner to watch the liability waiver video, learn the correct body positions, and pay the fee.

The armed forces, too, has perfected its own tandem techniques.

Military Freefall parachutists are trained to carry strategically important but untrained personnel into otherwise inaccessible areas of operation, and canisters of supplies can be
ferried in the same way.

The combined weight of these loads can exceed 200 kilogrammes - equivalent to parachuting an upright piano into the jungle - and requires a huge canopy, twice the size
of those used for solo skydiving.

So when The Red Lions, the military freefallers who gamely glide into the National Day Parade showground every year, offered me the opportunity to bail out of a perfectly good
aircraft with them, I jumped at the chance.

Five days after the medical, I was warmly zipped up in a past-season Red Lions jump suit, snug in a tandem harness, and clad in my decade-old army boots (in my limited wardrobe, the alternative was a pair of dress leather shoes, which I rejected as being quite unsuitable for the occasion).

Strapped into the vibrating cabin of an Air Force Super Puma helicopter with me were two other nervously excited journalists also jumping for the first time.

As the thudding rotors bit the air and lifted us to height, I had time to study the seemingly supine poses of our tandem masters sprawled on the cabin floor.

Their unflappable constitutions and laconic wit belied impressive jump credentials.

First Warrant Officer (1WO) Tan Lee Khoon, the team leader of the Red Lions for this season, had logged over 1,400 jumps.

1WO Oh Beng Lee had logged 2,000.

Second Warrant Officer (2WO) Krishnan, with more than 2,800 jumps, had stepped out of a moving plane more times in his life than I had taken the train in mine.

All were military freefall instructors - the stocky, chiselled-jaw sort who teach soldiers to jump out of planes from a height of seven kilometres while carrying their body weight in
combat gear and oxygen supplies, at sub-zero temperatures and in complete darkness, to land at the right place and in one piece so they can go to war.

Our jump, in comparison, would be from a balmy three kilometres up, in broad daylight and with no kit to carry.

Our only objective was to look more nonchalant than we felt.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed to make himself heard over the clatter of the blades churning the thin air outside.

We had reached altitude.

The supine bodies began to stir, for it was time to hook the jumpers up to the tandem
masters.

Movements were precise and purposeful. Conversations were matter-of-fact statements.

On a signal, the Aircrew Specialist pulled open the doors. Sunlight flooded into the cabin and the screaming of the engine increased several-fold.

To the left, I could see the smokestack of the Senoko Power Station on the banks of the East Johor Strait, and beyond that, Malaysia; to the right, Marina Bay and the entire East coast of Singapore. From our height, the country seemed tiny.

"Whoa!" the jumpmaster bellowed again. It was time to go.

Not giving the first-time jumpers any opportunity to balk, the tandem masters did not linger at the door.

As my camera chattered, the two journalists were hurled into space, willingly or otherwise.

Then the doors were slid shut while I was hooked up to 1WO Tan.

I made doubly sure that the straps were tight, for the thought of coming apart in mid-air did not appeal to me very much (the tandem master, not the passenger, wears the parachute).

As a parting gesture, the jumpmaster, 1WO Chan Teck Seng, looked at me, pointed to his head, and circled his index finger.

The doors were opened for a second time, and we shuffled to the yawning gap.

As I contemplated the Woodlands estate sprawled beneath us, it dawned on me that this jump was, for the moment, the epitome of my airborne dream.

After spending seventeen years amassing a collection of military parachute badges from nearly every country in the world, there was nothing more I wanted than to try leaping
out of a plane.

Ironically, I am the sort who would go queasy merely driving over a dip in the road. The slightest turbulence in mid-air would cause me to grasp, with unreasonable force, the
armrests of my economy class seat.

Roller coasters were off-limits lest I frightened my fellow passengers with my unearthly howls.

As we counted off the final seconds, I tried to calm myself.

"This is perfectly normal", said my brain to my body, knowing fully well that there was nothing normal about jumping out of a moving helicopter.

"I have imagined myself doing this hundreds of times," I tried again. "I am perfectly clear about what happens after I step out of this plane."

In fact, I had no idea what would happen once I stepped out.

Then, I felt my tandem master giving the signal by swinging our bodies.

One.

Two.

We leapt out the door.

I kept my eyes open, forcing my brain to make sense of its body plunging through empty space.

Then, tunnel vision kicked in, and as we hurtled earthward, the tremendous acceleration that brought my stomach into my mouth was the only feeling I could recall with horrifying clarity.

Moments later, a freefall cameraman floated into my field of view, so with my arms outstretched, I gave him a thumbs-up and the biggest grin I could muster, although I will never know what I looked like, because we later found out that his camera had not been turned on.

Still, I imagine that my cheeks must have been contortedly flapping about in the 200 kilometre-per-hour rush of cold air.

Breathing felt like I was drinking from a fire hydrant.

While I was busy drowning in these interesting sensations, there came two taps on my shoulder.

"Position one," said my brain to its body.

I crossed my arms over my chest, brought my knees together, and braced for the shock of the parachute opening.

There was a loud rustling as it shot out above us, followed by a twanging heave as the red-and-white canopy blossomed.

A giant hand had plucked us out of our headlong rush through the sky.

In the sudden stillness, I almost expected to hear birds singing. Instead, a voice spoke to me from above.

"Our lines are twisted", 1WO Tan casually remarked, as if commenting on the price of oranges at the supermarket.

I had a vision of spinning madly into the ground under tangled lines.

1WO Tan gave a sideways kick to untwist the lines, and we began to spin.

Yishun and Sembawang went by slowly at first, then as we picked up speed, Admiralty, Woodlands and Marsiling dissolved into a madly whirling kaleidoscope of blue, green and brown.

It felt like I was riding on an out-of-control carousel. I waited for the blood to start pooling in my fingers and toes, and wondered how long it would be before I blacked out.

Then the blue, green and brown came back into focus, and I looked up to see my tandem master also looking up.

Relief hung in the air as both of us gazed at the now-fully developed parachute. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.

The next few minutes were sheer delight, as I tried steering the enormous tandem parachute, heaving on the toggles to turn us left and right.

In every direction, the view was spectacular.

Cars were passing silently in the distance. I wondered if the drivers could see us.

From our height, the reservoir glinted a deep, emerald green, with luscious foliage all around it.

Housing estates formed shapes and patterns that the town planners envisioned decades ago. I wondered what the residents were doing.

Surely, nothing as exciting as this, I thought.

All too soon, the airfield loomed up beneath us. I could see the earlier jumpers bundling up their canopies on the grass.

"Legs up!" ordered my tandem master. Years of not doing sit-ups had left me with no abs to speak of, but I made a special effort as the green came skimming under us.

"Flare, now!" he cried, and we hauled on both toggles. Bits of fresh earth peppered my face as I landed on my buttocks and ground to a halt.

1WO Tan was evidently pleased with the landing.

"Good jump!" he said, as we slapped hands.

"Can we do it again?" I asked.

The thrill of the jump stayed with me all afternoon.

When I finally got home and told my mother all about it, she was expectedly disapproving, as any mother would be about her children jumping out of a plane.

I had, however, developed the technique of regaling her with tales of my unorthodox exploits only after surviving them intact.

She, in turn, learned to respond with no more than a raised eyebrow.

Apparently, she had been out walking near the Admiralty Road West when we were jumping.

"You should have waved at me," she said.

Publish date: 1 August 2012

Copyright The Straits Times

Freefall photos and video courtesy of MINDEF

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