NARRATIVE & IMAGES BY MARK ROURKE
Paya Lebar Open House 2016
Over the weekend of May 21st and 22nd the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) opened its arms to welcome the public to the Bi-annual Open House, held this year at Paya Lebar air base.
Scramble! Klaxons wail as part one of the two chapter scenario begins in earnest. On the dispersal in front of the excited crowd, pilots and ground crews rush out of their military vehicles to start and launch four fast-jets; two Lockheed Martin F-16C Fighting Falcons and two Boeing F-15SG Eagles of the (RSAF). Minutes earlier on the big screen facing the crowd, the commentator explained the pictures on display, an unidentified aircraft was approaching Singapore airspace. Though for this demonstration the bad guy was a Singapore Youth Flying Club (SYFC) Diamond DA-40- the exercise had an eerie feel of reality about it.
The action taking place is shown to good effect with live footage on the big screen, interspersed with audio and video footage of the interception as it was taking place. But first the aircraft had to launch. The two F-16’s, one each from 140 and 143 Squadrons, took of simultaneously before heading into a steep climb to intercept the oncoming unidentified aircraft. The Paya Lebar based 149 Squadron F-15’s launched moments later and looked very impressive as they roared their way into the Singaporean skies. That both sets of aircraft used the taxi way as well as the runway to take off added to the excitement.
While the fighters headed to meet the airborne threat, the showground in front of the large crowd witnessed vehicles of the ground based batteries showing-off their abilities. These included 165 Squadron with their Rafael Advanced Defense Systems SPYDER-SR weapon system. This is an Israeli built short range (hence the SR in the name) mobile air defence system purchased in 2008. SPYDER stands for Surface to air Python and DERby, a rather roundabout way to get a cool name! Also on show was the M-113A2 Ultra Mechanised IGLA IFU short range SAM (Surface to Air Missile) system. This small, maneuverable tank like vehicle is one of the most effective systems of its kind in the world.
The commentator then brought the crowds attention to what was happening to their right. In the distance the two F-16’s could be seen doing a race track pattern around the hapless DA-40, the big screen showing what the pilots would be doing and seeing in a real event with an uncommunicative aircraft. As the little Diamond landed the F16s completed the interception and headed full burner into the moody skies. The screen showed the pilot of the DA-40 getting arrested and then it was time for chapter two; the ground attack phase.
Out in front of the spectators, and rising above the tree line, were two 120 Squadron Boeing AH-64D Apache attack helicopters. Moving into attack position, they proceeded to perform a simulated gun run on an area in the middle of view from the grandstand, suitable pyrotechnics enhancing this experience. More explosions followed as the two F-15SG’s returned for their simulated bomb runs. Approaching from the front and rear of the crowd line, the two aircraft began to maneuver hard in the dense humid air above, creating their own cloud formations as they did so.
The familiar ‘thud thud thud’ sounds of the twin rotors from a 127 Squadron Boeing CH-47SD Chinook was heard in the distance. Sure enough, from the same direction as the Apaches, the huge helicopter, carrying an underslung load hustled into view.
The Chinook dropped off its cargo, a fast armoured vehicle (FAV) , then moved slightly ahead and disgorged the heavily armed troops inside, who used the FAV to speed into the arena area. This was under the protection of the still circling Apaches, which stayed with the Chinook as it made a sprightly get away.
It was time for the fighters to return as a line astern four-ship before breaking into the circuit and ending this role demo, which started just 30 minutes earlier. Now it was time for the crews and participants to relax until repeating the process in the afternoon and the following day.
It would be a mistake to think that because of this short period of action in the air the open house was lacking entertainment because on the ground, the excitement and events were nonstop. One huge hangar told the story of the RSAF in air conditioned luxury, another was made into an entertainment venue with music and competitions, and yet another into a massive food stop with all conceivable appetites served.
‘Interaction’ was the key word for the RSAF at the Open House; a chance to really mix and talk to the local population. All the aircraft in the static display were open to the public with crews on hand to show them around, and small gifts in the form of stickers and badges for the enthusiastic and patriotic public. Though this made it difficult for photographs, if one was in early enough pictures could be made. It would be a disservice to criticize when so much effort is made to include the Singaporeans in their Air Force, who really appreciated being able to get so close to the aircraft and crews.
This enthusiasm to include the locals was shown in the days leading up to the show, when online you could register to actually fly in a RSAF aircraft at the Open House. Two Lockheed C-130H Hercules, a CH-47SD and a Fokker F50UTA-B were made available to take the public on circuits of the island. Thus, aircraft movements were still available for the crowds of aircraft enthusiasts from around Asia who had made the journey to Singapore. And to add to this, there was also two displays a day from the RSAF parachute team – The Red Lions, who seemed to defy any thunderstorms as a mere inconvenience as they jumped no matter what the weather!
As said the static park attracted a lot of attention, with most aircraft in the RSAF inventory on display. These included from 120 Squadron another two AH-64D Apaches based at Sembawang, the base where the two 125 Squadron Eurocopter AS.332M’s and lone Sikorsky S-70B Seahawk are also located . Paya Lebar is home to the 122 Sqn Hercules fleet, and the oldest of the creed, a 1958 built KC-130B was on show in the static display looking pristine.
Paya Lebar is also home to the Boeing F-15SG Eagle, the most potent aircraft in the RSAF, and 149 Squadron had two of these advanced combat aircraft on show. Making its debut was the reformed 142 Squadron with the F-15SG proudly showing-off the orange and black chequered fin-band and Griffin head. 145 Squadron from Changi East had three of its Lockheed Martin F-16D Fighting Falcons at the Open House, with one of these joining one of 149 Squadrons Eagles for a weapon loading demonstration which was shown twice a day. To add to this plethora of aviation assets was the most secretive aircraft in the RSAF- the Gulfstream G550 AEW (Airborne Early Warning). One of the four in service with 111 Squadron at Tengah Air Base was surprisingly on static display.
Free entry, a welcoming atmosphere, and with something always going on for the public made the 2016 edition of the Republic of Singapore Air Force Open House a complete success. A big thank you to all those who made this event a memorable occasion.