RSAF cel­e­brates 20 years of copter train­ing in Oakey

The Straits Times - - FRONT PAGE - Lim Min Zhang In Rock­hamp­ton, Aus­tralia

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 Min- is­ter 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 f a mi l i e s 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.”

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