RSAF celebrates 20 years of copter training in Oakey

RSAF officers and their Australian defence partners do a "20" formation with a CH-47D Chinook (left) and AS332 Super Puma (right). Among those in the front row are Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How (white shirt), and Australian Assis
RSAF officers and their Australian defence partners do a "20" formation with a CH-47D Chinook (left) and AS332 Super Puma (right). Among those in the front row are Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How (white shirt), and Australian Assistant Minister for Defence David Fawcett (blue shirt).ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

More than 150 S'pore Super Puma pilots have trained in Australia's vast and natural terrain

Compared with urbanised Singapore, the vast farmland, forests, and valleys in Oakey, Australia, provide a more conducive training ground for helicopter pilots.

In the last 20 years, training in the Queensland area - which is 17 times the size of Singapore - has benefited more than 150 Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Super Puma pilots.

The air force marked 20 years of helicopter training yesterday in Oakey at a commemorative event in Warriors' Camp, Rockhampton.

It was attended by Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How and Australian Assistant Minister for Defence David Fawcett.

The Oakey Detachment, opened in August this year, operates the CH-47D Chinooks, while the Oakey Training Centre operates the AS332 Super Pumas - the first of which arrived in 1998.

They run courses to train pilots to become operationally ready, basic qualification courses for aircrew specialists, and refresher courses.

Mr Heng said the anniversary celebration is yet another reflection of the deep and longstanding friendship between the two defence establishments and countries.

"We have grown closer by exercising and deploying together," said Mr Heng, before unveiling with Mr Fawcett a symbolic mural of the Super Puma and Chinook helicopters as part of the celebrations.

Mr Fawcett said: "The fact that Singapore and the United States are the only two nations that Australia allows to train unilaterally is an indication of the depth of trust we have."

That the RSAF has integrated well with the local community, he added, gave Australia the confidence to expand its relationship with Singapore.

The RSAF's history in Oakey began with the Oakey Agreement signed by then Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Tony Tan and Australia's then Defence Minister Ian McLachlan in 1996.

Lieutenant-Colonel Roy Chew, 41, who is Oakey Detachment Commander, said the vast training area and natural terrain provide an excellent opportunity to hone the flying skills and core competencies of RSAF's air crew operators.

"It helps pilots understand the challenges in flying through terrain such as narrow valleys and circumnavigating high features. That allows us to sharpen our terrain identification as well," he told reporters.

More than 200 airmen and their families live in the city of Toowoomba, about 30km from Oakey and 125km west of Brisbane.

Second Warrant Officer Premnath Chandran, 36, a Super Puma Air Crew Specialist with Oakey Training Centre, has been in Australia for 20 months with his wife, 35, their seven-year-old son and one-year-old daughter.

He said: "The pace of life here is slower compared with Singapore. The people of Toowoomba are very used to having SAF personnel here. They are familiar with us and are very welcoming and friendly."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 11, 2018, with the headline 'RSAF celebrates 20 years of copter training in Oakey'. Print Edition | Subscribe