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Here comes the flag – Majulah Singapura

SINGAPORE — Introduced four years after the first National Day Parade (NDP) in 1966, the state flag flypast during the National Anthem has become one of the most iconic and well-loved NDP traditions. From its debut with a flag the size of a pool table, the flypast today features a flag the size of a basketball court.

The various flypasts of the state flag as seen at the National Day Parades. Photos: MINDEF, TODAY file photos

The various flypasts of the state flag as seen at the National Day Parades. Photos: MINDEF, TODAY file photos

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SINGAPORE — Introduced four years after the first National Day Parade (NDP) in 1966, the state flag flypast during the National Anthem has become one of the most iconic and well-loved NDP traditions. From its debut with a flag the size of a pool table, the flypast today features a flag the size of a basketball court.

Recalling the first appearance of the state flag at the NDP in 1970, carried by an Alouette III helicopter, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) (Ret) Leo Tin Boon told reporters at a National Day Parade media briefing on Saturday (July 15) that it was important to showcase the air force then.

“(It was staged) to give confidence to the public, to the nation and also to the world at large that Singapore has the will and the ability to build up its own defence capability,” said the 67-year-old, who was the escort aircraft pilot for the Alouette III. “And I was glad that I was part of the … pioneer … (batch of pilots).”

And since then, the state flag flypast has become an annual affair — except in 1975, 1977 and 1979.

(Then and now: Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) (Ret) Leo Tin Boon stands by the Super Puma (left) and Alouette III helicopter (right), which carried the state flag at the National Day Parades.)

“In those three years ... the parades were decentralised to different locations throughout Singapore ... So during those years, there was no (state flag) flypast at all,” said LTC (Ret) Leo, who retired from the Air Force in 2000.

The Alouette III helicopter remained the state flag bearer and escorts till 1979. Between 1980 and 1985, the UH-1H Huey helicopter did the honours, followed by the Super Puma helicopter from 1986 to 2000.

The original flag was the size of a pool table, measuring three metres by two metres. The current flag that the public is familiar with was not introduced until 1987.

It took 20 riggers and three weeks to machine-stitch that flag, which measured 28 metres by 19 metres. So huge was it back then that it earned a spot in The Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest state flag in the world to be underslung.

But that gigantic flag did not fly “very well”, said Major (Maj) (Ret) Teo Keng Yong Frankie, the co-pilot of the Super Puma helicopter carrying the newly-upsized state flag.

“The captain did a few turn to the left and the flag still wasn’t flowing,” said the 56-year-old who retired from the Air Force in 2012. He then asked the air crew specialist on-board which side of the flag was folded. The answer — the right.

“(The pilot) wanted to put the aircraft down already, but I didn’t want to because it was my first time flying the National Day flypast,” said Maj (Ret) Teo. “So I said, 'why don’t you do a turn to the right'; and when he did that, the flag (unfolded) beautifully.”

That was not the first experience Maj (Ret) Teo, who was involved in the event for a total of eight times, had with an uncooperative flag.

In 1990, Maj (Ret) Teo said they had to deploy three flags as none of them flew well after taking off. Luckily, on the fourth try with the first flag, it decided to behave and flew beautifully.

(Today, the flag is carried by the CH-47 Chinook, seen here accompanied by a pair of AH-64 Apache helicopters. TODAY file photo)

Since its debut 47 years ago, the state flag has always been a part of the NDP — rain or shine.

One year in the 1990s, other air craft formations were put on hold as the weather was “quite bad”, but the state flag flypast still took off, Maj (Ret) Teo said. “The significance we place on the flag showing up on National Day is something (that) is very huge, it’s a heavy responsibility for every one of us flying the flag … So when we were told to … move on, to start up and then to take off … we did.”

Today, the CH-47 Chinook helicopter is the aircraft carrying the state flag for the flypast.

Although retired veterans like LTC (Ret) Leo no longer fly, he said witnessing the event never fails to bring a “great sense of belonging, a great sense of nostalgia, and a great sense of accomplishment and pride that we have built up a capable set of subsequent leaders and pilots and aircrew who continue to look after and provide security and safety for the nation”.

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, we quoted  LTC (Ret) Leo Tin Boon as saying one of the reasons for staging the state flag flypast was to give confidence that Singapore "has the will and the ability to build up its only defence capability". That is incorrect. The quote should be to give confidence that Singapore "has the will and the ability to build up its own defence capability". We are sorry for the error.

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