50 aircraft to dazzle NDP crowd with special formation

4 Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Black Knights (left & right) performing the "Criss Cross" manoeuver while the other 2 Knights (behind) executing a near-vertical climb during the Aerial Flypast. Photo: Jaslin Goh
"Five Stars" Tribute Aerial Flypast to commemorate the passing of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Black Knights will be executing this during the Prologue of the NDP 2015 Show to signify Singapore's ideals of democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality. Photo: Jaslin Goh
The State Flag Flypast across the Padang will take place during the singing of the National Anthem. Photo: Jaslin Goh
The Salute-to-Nation segment will be made up of the "50" Formation and an Aerial Bomb-Burst. Photo: Jaslin Goh
The Combined Helicopter "Arrowhead" formation will kickstart the Aerial Flypast segment. Photo: Jaslin Goh
Part of the Aerial Flypast segment will include the 1 C-130 (centre) with 2 FK-50s (left & right) in "VIC" formation. Photo: Jaslin Goh
The KC-135 (front) and G550-AEW (back) escorted by 4 F-5s fighter jets as part of the Aerial Flypast segment. Photo: Jaslin Goh
A solo F-15SG fighter aircraft executing a combat turn during the Aerial Flypast. Photo: Jaslin Goh
To round off the Aerial Flypast segment, three F-15SG fighter jets will execute a "Flat Burst" manoeuver. Photo: Jaslin Goh
NDP Committee Chairman Colonel Francis Ngooi (in white) with some of the fighter pilots, who will be flying the jets during the NDP Parade 2015. Photo: Jaslin Goh
Published: 6:22 PM, June 18, 2015
Updated: 12:32 AM, June 19, 2015

SINGAPORE — It will be over in a matter of seconds – 20 F-16 fighter jets cruising through the air in a “50” formation for this year’s National Day Parade (NDP).

But preparation for this formation, and the rest of the NDP Air Participation segment — which will involve a record 50 aircraft — began more than a year ago.

For example, just deciding the ideal placement of the “5” and the “0” — adjacent or at a diagonal — was a process in itself. The final decision was to fly the “5” and “0” in a trail-in formation, said Flight Lead Lieutenant-Colonel (LTC) Chan Ching Hao, 33, as it provided the best view for audiences.

This year’s NDP will have two ticketed parade grounds, the Padang and The Float @ Marina Bay. The last NDP held at the Padang in 2010 featured 20 aircraft. Last year, less than 10 aircraft participated in NDP at The Float @ Marina Bay.

Apart from the traditional State Flag flypast, there will be a “Five Stars” tribute aerial flypast for the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew this year, an aerial bomb-burst by the Black Knights and a four-minute aerial flypast with fighter jets, helicopters and transport aircraft.

With the large number of aircraft involved, the main challenge was coordinating the entire segment, said Colonel Francis Ngooi, 50, NDP Chairman of Air Participation, at a media briefing on Tuesday.

Organisers had to deliberate on the formations and paths of each aircraft, said Col Ngooi, noting the difficulty of orchestrating a complex formation in Singapore’s tight airspace, while allowing spectators to get a sustained and good view of the performance.

With 20 fighter jets involved in the “50” formation, coordination is paramount. A slight speed difference of “one or two km/h” between aircraft would affect those in the back row due to a ripple effect, said LTC Chan. “As a flight lead it’s important for me to fly and make the speed changes as predictable as possible.”

The team has done the flight together 10 times to date, completing one or two flights a week since May. The “50” formation team first trained with simulators last year, then as individual “5” and “0” formations, before putting both together, said Major Lee Mei Yi, 30, a fighter pilot in the “50” formation.

Major Lee, who is participating in the NDP for the first time, added that comprehensive on-the-ground preparation and a “calm, level-headed” disposition are necessary for the pilots. “(We) make sure we cover all the profiles that we’re doing so everybody is on the same page and there are no surprises when we go up. We also cover contingencies (such as) when there’s (bad) weather,” she said.

Asked where the best views will be, Col Ngooi said spectators at The Float @ Marina Bay will have a “vantage view” looking out towards the skyline. Those without tickets can also head to the Marina Bay area to view the aerial display and fireworks.

Also participating in the NDP aerial display for the first time is Captain Muhammad Iskandar, 26. Watching the aerial display as a child was what inspired him to be a pilot, and this year’s NDP is a chance to “live the dream”. “I saw the Black Knights flying in the A-4 Skyhawks in the NDP in the 90s,” he said. “To be given that opportunity to live the dream is definitely a memorable experience and I’m glad to do it,” he said.