SINGAPORE - Sixteen seconds. That's about how long the crowd at the National Day Parade (NDP) gets to see the state flag in all its glory during the flypast each year.
But for the flight crew from the Republic of Singapore Air Force behind the feat, it's a different experience.
The Straits Times went on board a Chinook helicopter on Saturday (July 6) to see, for the first time, what goes on behind the scenes of the flypast segment at the first National Education (NE) show, ahead of this year's Parade at the Padang.
STEP 1: ROLLING
The whole process starts about three days before the parade or rehearsal, with safety briefs and trainings. The flag is also prepared and rolled up at Sembawang Air Base.
The flag measures 30m by 20m. When unfolded, it is larger than a tennis court and takes about 25 men to painstakingly roll, tuck and secure in preparation for the next step.
STEP 2: RIGGING
After it is rolled up, the flag is transported to Pulau Sudong for rigging onto a Chinook helicopter. Shackles, along with three ballasts each weighing about 226kg, are attached to it.
The entire set-up weighs over 1,000kg, requiring about 14 people for the rigging of the flag.
STEP 3: RELEASE
It takes about one to one and a half hours from the time of the flag pick-up to its release.
Along the flight route, with the flag secured and unfurled, the crew keeps a watchful eye out for landmarks that can help them gauge how much time they have to make it to the correct position.
It is a deliberate process that needs "utmost cooperation between the crew and the pilots", said First Warrant Officer (1WO) Vijaikumar Rangabashayam, an air crew specialist leader who will be participating in his fifth NDP in August.
The helicopter makes its entrance overhead the Padang somewhere around the middle of the national anthem.
During this time, 1WO Vijaikumar has to maintain a prone position on the floor of the helicopter, near an open hatch above the flag where he can get a good view of how it unfolds.
If there are any hiccups - perhaps if one corner of the flag is folded in - he alerts the pilot so the aircraft's speed can be adjusted to rectify the problem.
Wind direction, weather conditions such as rain, and the pilots' control over the aircraft are all factors that can affect the unfurling of the flag.
But even when the Chinook is out of sight from NDP spectators, the job is not over.
"We are still flying over sea lanes, and quite close to the shoreline of Singapore - people are watching," said 1WO Vijaikumar.
"We still have to maintain the integrity of the flag to make sure that we fly through and until it is out of sight of everyone."
STEP 4: RECOVERY
The Chinook circles back the way it came and drops the flag at Pulau Sudong, where the shackles and ballasts are removed and the flag is folded back up, to be brought back to Sembawang Air Base.
Third Sergeant Dax Singh, an operationally ready national serviceman (NSman) who is helping out with NDP preparations for the flypast segment, said the whole process requires a great amount of teamwork.
"People just see how the flag flies over the Padang but they don't know the type of preparation that goes into it," he said.
3SG(NS) Dax also previously worked with Apache helicopters, which accompany the Chinook in the flypast segment.
"I was part of the crew with regards to launching and receiving the aircraft, and servicing the Apache helicopters - so being called in to work with the flag party team and with the Chinook aircraft, I feel like I've completed this entire experience of the state flag flypast."
Added 1WO Vijaikumar: "You feel a sense of pride when you see your own state flag flowing majestically in the wind. It's an honour to be part of the team that does it."
More than 24,000 spectators, including primary school students from 59 schools, watched the first NE show on Saturday. The reviewing officer for the parade was Second Minister for Finance and Education Indranee Rajah.
Meanwhile, an award ceremony for a video competition to appreciate national servicemen was held at Safra Toa Payoh.
Several students from tertiary institutions were selected to receive awards, which were given out by Senior Minister of State for Defence and president of Safra Maliki Osman, the guest of honour at the event.