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‘A world of difference’: How RSAF’s first fighter jet compares to its current warplanes (Singapore)
Channel NewsAsia ^ | 04 Feb 2018 | Aqil Haziq Mahmud

Posted on 02/09/2018 6:25:14 AM PST by sukhoi-30mki

The Hawker Hunter (top) and F-15SG. (Photo: Mindef)

SINGAPORE: Back in the day, a bombing run with the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s (RSAF) earliest fighter jet, the Hawker Hunter, meant first completing a math exercise.

Before setting off, pilots would bury themselves in charts and tables, manually calculating the perfect trajectory for the bomb drop.

They must consider the day’s wind and humidity, then figure out how high the aircraft should fly and how much it will drift. Once airborne, they intentionally aim off target and release the bomb.

“One degree off your dive angle and the bomb will drop short,” said Colonel (COL) (Ret) Peter Wong, a 65-year-old former Hunter pilot. “Everything has got to be right.”

The RSAF has come a long way since 1970, when it bought its first British-made Hawker Hunter. As it turns 50 this year, it boasts a fleet of fourth-generation fighters, the F-16 and F-15SG.

The F-16. (Photo: Mindef)

COL (Ret) Wong said with the current warplanes, "everything is calculated for you.” Dropping a laser-guided bomb would require the pilot to just point a laser at the target and release the bomb.

Indeed, Senior Lieutenant-Colonel (SLTC) Tham Yeow Min, an F-15SG pilot, called the aircraft a “huge technological advancement”.

While the Hunter could only hit enemy planes that were within sight, the F-15SG comes equipped with beyond-visual-range missiles. For bombing, Hunter pilots sought out targets using their eyes. F-15SG pilots can rely on some of the latest air-to-ground radars.

“It was quite crucial to be able to see the guy. If not, you could never engage him properly,” COL (Ret) Wong said. “Today’s situation is very different. From miles away, you already start to get yourself ready.”

“It’s quite a world of difference,” he added.

The same goes for repairs, as current fighter jets are designed for ease of maintenance.

While a Hunter would be out for three months during a major service, it would take about 10 days for an F-16. Minor fixes on a Hawker would require three technicians; an F-16 would only need two.

“The Hunter was built to fight, maintenance was secondary,” explained Military Expert 6 (ME6) Mike Pathi, a Hunter technician and F-16 ground crew. This meant the Hunter only came with three technical maintenance manuals. In contrast, the F-16 has more than 200.

ME6 Pathi, 58, said moving between the two platforms was a “culture shock”. “Because there’s so much data collected on the F-16 through the years, it’s started to become more reliable.”


Today’s warplanes might be easier to fly and maintain, but this doesn't mean a pilot’s job has become a walk in the park, said SLTC Tham, who is also deputy commander of the fighter group.

“It seems simpler because everything is automated, but now we are tasked to do more in one pass,” the 47-year-old said. “So, we just pile up the workload.”

For example, fighter crew now focus on operating a range of sensors and weapons simultaneously, he added. This enables them to drop multiple bombs and strike more targets in a single mission.

The focus was different for the older aircraft.

“In terms of workload for the older platforms, it was just flying the aircraft,” he noted.

Technical specifications of the Hawker Hunter.

COL (Ret) Wong’s first solo flight on the Hunter is something he will never forget. It was 1973 and the Hunter was the fastest thing he’d ever flown then.

“The first time I took off, they always say your brains sit on the runway and you’re up a few thousand feet already,” he said.

Still, the “graceful” Hunter handled steadily, even at low altitudes. This was unlike other aircraft Singapore had at the time, he added. “The A-4 Skyhawk at low levels shakes like hell, but this guy just glides through.”

While the Hunter wasn’t the most advanced aircraft at the time, COL (Ret) Wong said it was an “appropriate” addition to the then-fledgling air force. “You did not have a lot of technical expertise to support any sophisticated aircraft.”

COL (Ret) Wong went on to fly the Hunter in overseas exercises in countries like Indonesia and the Philippines. He also took part in a number of aerobatic displays as part of the Black Knights.

So when the Hunters made a final appearance at West Coast Park on Singapore Armed Forces Day in 1983, before being retired nine years later, he felt sad.

“Most pilots that flew the Hunter really loved the aircraft,” he said. “It was a joy to fly.”


But even before the Hunters were phased out, the RSAF had delved into supersonic flight by acquiring the F-5 in 1979. In 1983, it acquired its first F-16, before unveiling the F-15SG more than two decades later.

“The RSAF is always trying to acquire the latest technology to meet our demands,” said SLTC Tham. “We also ensure our procedures are up to date to fulfil our national defence requirements.”

Technical specifications of the F-16 and F-15SG.

The “awesome” F-15SG is one example of the latest technology there is, as SLTC Tham likened it to an “extremely powerful” American muscle car.

“The key thing is it’s an air superiority fighter,” he said. “We have a weapon systems officer employing a whole array of weapons with advanced sensors.”

In the bigger picture, the fact that RSAF’s warplanes and personnel do well in overseas exercises that involve foreign forces is a huge deterrence against potential enemies, he added.

SLTC Tham looked back proudly at the 2011 RSAF Open House, when he was part of the team that showed off the F-15SG to the public for the first time.

“It’s always a privilege to show Singaporeans that we have this capability and that we are here for them,” he said. “Individually, we feel proud that we are able to operate this platform to its full capability in such a short span of time.”

COL (Ret) Wong was asked if he dreamt of flying modern jet fighters.

“Every time I see the F-15 and F-16 fly, I wish I was up there sometimes,” he said with a laugh. “With the sheer power of the aircraft, you also feel shiok.”

Source: CNA/hz


TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: aerospace; f15; rsaf; singapore

1 posted on 02/09/2018 6:25:14 AM PST by sukhoi-30mki
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